Spear’s revisits the diary of the author ‘Fire and Fury’, where he covers his interview at Trump Tower weeks before the election
Three days before election night and we still haven’t nailed the details and guest list for our party. That’s partly because we have a fifteen-month-old and non-standard bed times to consider, but also this is an election that you might want to do in private. If an upset occurs, however remote that might be, there is no telling how one’s guests might react — each differently, no doubt, but each in the kind of unpredictable state in which you might not want to find yourself as the host.
In elections past, most of my friends being journalists, there was a cool kind of knowingness to an election evening, the interest being as much in the nature of the coverage as in the result. But the proscenium has been breached. Nobody’s detached.
Among the people I know, I am, curiously, the most Trumpcentric — hardly a supporter, but not necessarily seeing immediate darkness at noon. This is the result of a long interview I did with Trump in late spring, in which I found him — in his Beverly Hills mansion, leaning back in his deeply upholstered couch and eating a pint of ice cream — to be, if hardly presidential, quite a friendly and open sort.
In the interview, a few weeks before the Brexit vote, Trump appeared entirely unaware of what Brexit was. ‘Huh?’ is what he said. That was the headline. But my larger point was that, despite Trump’s combative persona, he was pretty likeable — something that might not translate for the media but was perhaps evident to his evergrowing crowds of supporters. I made the mental note I always make during an election: likeability goes a long way.
Forty-eight hours before the election, I write a column about why I don’t vote and am greeted with a tsunami of opprobrium. My rationale is that, as a journalist, not voting helps me to maintain a little more openness. Even if I lean, I don’t commit. At a time when media bias is a constant accusation, not voting might seem to be an honourable stance. But, in fact, judging from the minor Twitter uproar and the horror my admission draws from friends, nobody believes anybody can be neutral, and, it seems, nobody wants anybody to be truly neutral. Everybody has to choose their side.
It’s easy to forget that a central point about an election is an upset. Otherwise, why bother having them. But the possibility of a Trump victory is an upset too upsetting for anybody, at least anybody in the media, to contemplate. Virtually every major news outlet has condemned Trump as unfit.
That rather makes it difficult for any editor or reporter careful about his or her own career to be partial to Trump or even open to the possibility that he could win. The media might protest the charge of bias, but, in this instance, openly brands Trump as anathema. A bias against the racism and sexism that the media believes Trump represents is not only a bias the media is proud of, but also one that has become part of the raison d’être of a modern media organisation.
The Trump campaign is a lot more open than the Clinton campaign. An invitation into the centre of the Clinton organisation demands having many friends and taking various loyalty oaths. But Steve Bannon, the editor of the conservative news website Breitbart, who took over the Trump campaign in early summer, says ‘come on over’ a few minutes after I email him. At Trump Tower, where the campaign is based (it houses both the Trump family and the company offices), he clears a seat for me beside his desk and proceeds sanguinely to outline what seem like totally screwball numbers anticipating a Trump win, including doing better with African-Americans and women than Mitt Romney did. Bannon’s is a singular and preposterous data point in one of the biggest seas of data points ever. Indeed, the biggest brains in data, seeming to revolutionise the craft of journalism and political reporting, have all concurred that the Trump threat, down to a single-digit probability, is dead.
On election night, there’s a helicopter in a holding pattern somewhere above my house in Greenwich Village (a week later, as I prepare this diary, it’s still there, waiting for what may come). There is not a reasonable or informed person on earth who believes a Trump victory is possible. And yet I have passed on inviting anybody but family — my sister comes down from the Upper West Side.
I make pappardelle with a wild mushroom sauce and open two exceptional bottles of wine. I am thinking, without inspiration or enthusiasm, about the Hillary Clinton victory column I’ll have to write in the morning, the world continuing on its predictable course. I’m hardly paying attention as early returns come in. With great amusement, we all notice that fifteen-month-old Louise is clearly interested in the television. All eyes are on Louise, with her intent new focus on cable news as the numbers shift and the age of Trump begins.
This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2017 edition of Spear’s. For more exclusives, subscribe at https://www.spearswms.com/subscribe/