Rick Wilson is a seasoned Republican political strategist and infamous negative ad-maker. His regular column with The Daily Beast is a must-read in the political community. Published in The Washington Post, Politico, The Hill, The Federalist, Independent Journal Review, he’s also a frequent guest on Real Time with Bill Maher, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, With Friends Like These, and the national networks. The author of Everything Trump Touches Dies, Rick Wilson lives in Tallahassee, Florida with his wife, four dogs, and a nameless cat. They have two grown children.
But who is Burns referring to? It’s not easy to answer if you go beyond naming him as the poetic phenomenon that was Robert Fergusson and try to pin down his complex, mercurial character. But because that complexity intrigues when set beside the short-but-sweet intensity of his life and remarkable output, this picture of him becomes more than a technical appreciation of his work; it becomes romantic too, rather in the way that we tend to view Robert Burns.
That’s how Rick Wilson tells this story; shining a modern light on this high-spirited son of old Edinburgh who was born in 1750 and flashed briefly across the literary firmament like a meteorite, too quickly expired. But not before being called the laureate of the city he loved with a fierce affection that celebrated its towering beauty as well as the colour of its characters and the vulgarity of its dark corners.
He has been described as ‘the chief forerunner of Burns’ and even as his John the Baptist; though Burns himself saw him more as an equal and even addressed him as ‘by far my elder brother in the muse’.
Indeed, the great bard was so impressed by Fergusson – and his bold use of vernacular Scots – that he took fresh confidence from him and happily acknowledged the debt by even paying for his gravestone.
So how important was the ‘Other Robert’? If he could so inspire Burns to a bold new trajectory that brought global fame, he must have been a hugely significant, if tragic, figure. Significant because of the undeniable quality of his work; tragic because he died at the cruelly young age of 24, which makes his achievement all the more admirable – and so deserving of more popular attention today.
"The election happened," remembers Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, then deputy secretary of the Department of Energy. "And then there was radio silence." Across all departments, similar stories were playing out: Trump appointees were few and far between; those that did show up were shockingly uninformed about the functions of their new workplace. Some even threw away the briefing books that had been prepared for them.
Michael Lewis’s brilliant narrative takes us into the engine rooms of a government under attack by its own leaders. In Agriculture the funding of vital programs like food stamps and school lunches is being slashed. The Commerce Department may not have enough staff to conduct the 2020 Census properly. Over at Energy, where international nuclear risk is managed, it’s not clear there will be enough inspectors to track and locate black market uranium before terrorists do.
Willful ignorance plays a role in these looming disasters. If your ambition is to maximize short-term gains without regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing those costs. If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it’s better never to really understand those problems. There is upside to ignorance, and downside to knowledge. Knowledge makes life messier. It makes it a bit more difficult for a person who wishes to shrink the world to a worldview.
If there are dangerous fools in this book, there are also heroes, unsung, of course. They are the linchpins of the system—those public servants whose knowledge, dedication, and proactivity keep the machinery running. Michael Lewis finds them, and he asks them what keeps them up at night.