Book Review: Trump is F*cking Crazy

Trump is F*cking Crazy [This Is Not a Joke]by Keith OlbermannBlue Rider Press, 2017The new book by Keith Olbermann – he of Countdown and ESPN's SportsCenter – is a collection of transcripts from the series of short videos he started doing for GQ's YouTube channel during the 2016 US Presidential campaign. The book, lamentably titled Trump is F*cking Crazy [This Is Not a Joke], charts the disillusionment of a large chunk of the electorate in real time.The YouTube uploads began as The Closer, signaling the commonly-held “hers to lose” confidence that Hillary Clinton couldn't realistically lose the election. Olbermann's quick segments, delivered with his signature pitch-perfect comedic timing and sonorous voice, were watchdog reports on the campaign that began with at least a semblance of bipartisan scrutiny (Olbermann being no big fan of Clinton). But they quickly began centering on the race's alarming aberration, a blowhard real estate swindler in a garish hair-weave, sucking the oxygen out of every serious debate or press event. And the more Olbermann concentrated on candidate Trump, the more his outrage seemed to heat up.The brief Introduction to this book hints at why: for Olbermann, Trump is not just a national outrage but a personal one. Olbermann recalls talking with Bill Maher on November 6, 2015 about his pre-election contacts with Trump:

But now I found myself on [Bill] Maher's HBO show, hopelessly lost in a Trump story. I had mentioned that I'd first met him in 1984 and had since run into him in the hallways of NBC as well as the lobby of the apartment building that bore his name where I owned a condo. I had observed that – contrary to this hybrid of Huey Long, Mussolini, and Buzz Windrip that seemed to inhabit Trump's body during the campaign – the conversations were low-key, rational, pleasant each time I had talked to him. Even accounting for the likelihood that he was sucking up to me because you don't want an unhappy condo owner with a public profile, these conversations were, stunningly, about me and not him. He had even written me a fan letter at ESPN.

"I was confessing to Maher,” he concludes, “of having been conned.”That outrage went nuclear when Trump won the election. The uploads changed from The Closer to The Resistance, and as Olbermann made president-elect and then President Trump his sole focus, the viewership shot up and now sits at an audience of hundreds of millions. Four times every week, Olbermann intones “I'm Keith Olbermann, and this is the Resistance” and then hammers away at some new outrage committed or embodied by President Trump and his administration. He is animated. He is angry, often loudly outraged. He screeds and scolds. He views Trump as both the worst president in United States history and also a real, existential threat to both the fabric of American democracy and all life on Earth. It's a bravura performance. Many presidents in the past have faced that one prominent and powerfully intelligent Cato, but this is the first time the Cato has had a platform not only as big as that of the administration but also as visible; this isn't a case of a President with access to the three TV networks and the White House briefing room being gadflied by a weekly print newspaper column – this is two social media figures duking it out on a startlingly level playing field.The very nature of The Resistance works against the effectiveness of this new book with its scabrous title (whoever opted against calling it The Resistance ought to be sacked, unless it was Olbermann himself; no amount of outraged gravitas can survive an asterisked obscenity and the photo of the middle-aged author sitting on the floor draped in an American flag). These screeds are scripts, not essays; laid out here like peas on a knife, they read more like words up-scrolling on a teleprompter than considered ruminations on an unprecedentedly dangerous time in American history. At various points in the book, the text manages to stand on its own feet, as when on November 28 Olbermann indulges in some caustic armchair psychologizing about the man who was then scheduled to take the Oval Office very soon:

If there were still doubts about what we face and how our hands are tied just a little more tightly every day – if there needs to be a debate about how sick this man is, whether this is a treatable neurosis or an illness brought on by a physical calamity or injury, or full-on malignant narcissism or paranoia or psych- or sociopathy – so be it.We may still have time for a national dialogue about exactly what is wrong with him.But in pronouncing, after arguably the greatest upset in American electoral history, that he would have won by more because the vote he won was still rigged against him, Donald John Trump has made it inarguably certain that there is something desperately wrong with him and he is not psychologically fit to assume the presidency on January 20.

But most of these bits feel incomplete – because they are incomplete: they lack Olbermann's inimitable performance, his oddly convincing hybridization of Walter Cronkite and Ted Baxter. That performance, in video after video, is magnetically watchable – a megaphone for millions of Americans who feel as though Election Day 2016 dropped them into a nightmare that's vertiginously worsened over the ensuing months. The central question here is why anybody would buy the book when the Resistance videos are all right there on their phones at any time. Since the book's content is essentially unadorned, its only answer is archival: here are the written transcripts of the first 160 or so YouTube segments of what promises to be a long project of pointed opposition.The implied goal of that opposition is that it won't be long; Olbermann ends every video with the mantra, “Resist. Remove. Peace” – with the emphasis always on “Remove.” But in any case, the Resistance now has this book – and all the ones to follow.