IT’S A WONDERFUL LIE

a beloved holiday story…

Trump-Pinoccio-nose

FADE IN:

ARLINGTON MEMORIAL BRIDGE OVER THE POTOMAC RIVER—NIGHT

A hulking figure in a dark overcoat is crossing the bridge, slogging along aimlessly, gaze lowered. It’s snowing hard but he’s oblivious. He stops to stare down at the water dotted with floating ice, desperate, trying to decide whether to act. He leans over, glances furtively around, hunches himself as if about to jump, then hesitates, unsure.

“Donald!”

The figure in the overcoat turns to see, not ten feet away, a tiny man with a pointy goatee and glowing eyes beneath a top hat.

“Who are you?” asks Donald.

“I’m Seymour, your guardian angel.”

“Sent from above?”

“No, sent from below.”

“By the Big Guy himself?”

“Almost. By Lucifer, his chief of staff. I’m a dark angel. That is, a dark angel Second Class. Coming here to encourage you is how I can earn my horns.”

Donald groans. “I’m such a failure.”

“Nonsense. Get hold of yourself, man. Your obscene presidency is everything the Big Guy could ever want, corroding U.S. government institutions and striking at the very heart of democracy. You’ve told thousands of lies in just two years, not including your delusions, flip flops and contradictions. On top of that, you repeat the lies of others again and again. All of us below are awed. What you’ve achieved is disgusting!”

“Not entirely. The Washington Post fact checker claims five per cent of my statements are true.”

“That many? Well, get over it. Nobody’s perfect.”

“I’m perfect.”

“That’s the stuff. Another stunning whopper.  Keep it up. Your assertions about the great things you’ve done are extraordinary bullshit, lifting our spirits after eight years of Obama.”

“You know he wasn’t born in this country—he’s a Muslim. I saw Muslims on TV celebrating in New Jersey after 9/11.”

“Yes, yes, that’s the spirit. Let’s hear more.”

“I didn’t want to go into Iraq. We have the greatest economy in history. We pay most of the cost of NATO. The fake news media are America’s greatest enemy. The New York Times covered the election so badly they were forced to apologize. I signed more bills than any other president in my first six months in office. The families of shooting victims are in my thoughts and prayers. Everybody wants to be my chief of staff. Kim jong-un is a beautiful person and North Korea is denuclearizing. Seven million illegal votes caused me to lose the popular vote.”

“You originally said five million; seven is even better.”

“I never said five million.”

“Another fabulous lie. Keep going.”

“My inaugural crowd was the biggest ever. Obamacare covers very few people. Obama had my wires tapped. We’re the highest taxed nation in the world.  Mueller is on a witch hunt with conflicts of interest and a staff of angry Democrats.”

“And my personal favorites, your lies about Russia?”

“Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Democrats colluded with Russia during the election.”

“Your deceit warms me. The Big Guy has a request. As a personal favor, please repeat that crap he loves, about your deals and your intelligence. I’ll record it on my phone.”

“I make the best deals and I’m the smartest person.”

“Such a hoot. And the imaginary border wall?”

“We’ve started building our wall. I’m so proud of it. Mexico will pay for it.”

“So incredibly dishonest. You’ve made reality irrelevant.”

“I try.” Donald shakes his head. “But five percent truth!  Where did I go wrong? Sometimes I wish I’d never been born.”

“Seriously? Have a look at what that would be like.”

“What are you showing me, Seymour? Why it’s the Oval Office. And who is that woman in a pants suit behind the desk? It’s…it’s…”

“Yes, Hillary Clinton.”

“Lock her up! Lock her up!”

“There’s no one to say that, Donald, because you were never born.”

“And that woman with her…isn’t that?”

“Yes, the vice president, Elizabeth Warren.”

“Pocahontas!”

“But you aren’t around to call her that.  And does this next site look familiar?”

“It’s Fifth Avenue, between 56th and 57th. Where is the Trump Tower?”

“There are no Trump Towers—anywhere—because there’s no Trump. Instead, the building before you is the Stormy Daniels Home for Retired Porn Stars.”

“Oh nohhhh. And what’s this you’re showing me next?”

“A newsroom. Observe closely the woman on her computer.”

“It’s Melania.”

“She’s fashion editor at The New York Times. Took the job because you weren’t there to feed her lies about the paper.”

“What are you saying, Seymour?”

“Despair not, Donald. Can’t you see, your entire life is a wonderful lie? That’s why the Big Guy wants you below, with him.”

“And you’re here to encourage me?”

“Yes. JUMP!”

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DONALD WRITES SPEECH TO CONGRESS (FIRST DRAFT)

congress

Powerful opening: Greetings Congress—and Pocahontas—so overrated—and Schumer—terrible, terrible person. But I don’t hold grudges though I never forget. And greetings fellow legal citizens because if you’re illegal you’re so outa here—it’s happening right now—bad dudes gone—except Democrats, they’re still here but like Arnold’s ratings—way down. So sad. Think NBC misses Trump or what? Sad so very sad.

Build on powerful opening: I’m a very smart person—you know that—maybe the smartest ever (repeat elsewhere in speech for emphasis). And I have the biggest (apply to brain, heart, hands, crowds). Look at this crowd—I hope the cameras show it, maybe not—they don’t want Trump to look good—stretching  all the way—room is packed and people lined outside up in the… pick one later: (1) rain (2) snow (3) sleet (4) typhoon—can’t even get in. The Electoral College was, right, huh? Huge victory—just overwhelming.

(Pause for Pence standing Bravo!)

Topic: Enforcement of emigration laws. So beautiful what’s happening. Just beautiful. Rounding them up in a very nice, very humane way (Sessions/Kelly fill in details). We’re showing Sweden how to do it. Sweden—so overrated. And the wall—getting it built. (smile—give thumbs up). So beautiful (send to McConnell/Ryan for fill on wall financing).

Topic: Leaks. The leaks—fake news from the… pick one later: (1) dishonest press (2) very dishonest press (3) very dishonest and ridiculous press (4) devil press. Leaks about Gen. Flynn—great patriot, folks—great, great patriot. And they’re all lies.—fake news. The failing New York Times-CNN-terrible people—enemies of America. We’ll round them up in a very nice, very humane way. And sources—they have no sources—made up sources. They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources. Am I right? Am I right? Sources are outa here. Gonna round up sources—send ‘em back to Mexico. And they’ll take ‘em. They’ll take ‘em.

(Pause for Pence standing Bravo!)

Insert hilarious joke: Maybe we should grab the media by the…pick one later (1) pussy (2) balls (3) pussy and balls. (read attitude of crowd before delivering).

Alternative hilarious joke: Shall we take a leak on the leakers? (join Congress in chant: Take a leak! Take a leak!).

Topic: Affordable Care Act. A disaster. Just a disaster. We’re repealing it and replacing it with something much, much better. Really beautiful. You’ll love it. Doing it…pick one later: (1) next year (2) next month (3) soon (4) tomorrow. (5) Already done. (have McConnell/Ryan fill in how this is doable).

(Reminder to self: If bored while speaking, disguise yawn, don’t fidget).

Topic: National Security. We’ll be so safe. We deserve it, huh? Don’t we deserve it? Trump will make you so safe. (Bannon fills in why we’ll be safe).

Topic: The economy. Jobs (repeat ten times). And Gross National Product.  Why do people—and it’s just people who don’t like Trump—don’t want America to win—why do they say our national product is gross? Give me a break—give me a break, huh? If it’s gross, that could hurt our balance of trade situation. Sweden would love that. Unfair, so unfair (Google to see if I’m right on this).

Topic: My secret plan to defeat Isis. We’re starting that tomorrow. So beautiful. Isis is history (ask Mattis/Bannon to come up with something).

(Pause for Pence standing Bravo!)

Topic: Peace in the Middle East (Jared fills in).

Topic: Transgenders and bathrooms. I love transgenders. Gotta be nice to our transgenders—but not the ones here illegally. Pouring over the border. Get ICE going on this, huh? No illegal transgenders, right? Get ‘em out. (join in chant: Get ‘em out! Get ‘em out!)  And Jewish transgenders—I love Jewish transgenders (acknowledge Jared and Ivanka giving thumbs up). Caddie transgenders, too. At Mar-a Lago, they’ll tell you we get along. Trump gets along with everybody—I’m really a likable guy. And the bathroom thing—an easy fix. I’m very good at fixing things—maybe the best ever. And the Electoral College agrees, right? Huh, right? (pause for standing ovation/check to see if Melania is awake).  So here’s what we do—give transgenders their own bathrooms. But make ‘em pay for ‘em, huh? Gotta pay, and they will. Believe me, they’ll pay. (join in chant: Make ‘em pay! Make ‘em pay!).

Topic: Spending on infrastructure (Miller/Bannon will do this and rest of speech—so boring).

Reminder to self: After speech, tweet Vlad for response.

 

TRUMPZILLA

Famed journalist H.L. Mencken had a way with words and a crystal ball, predicting in 1920:

“On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron.”

Nahhhhhh.

A coarse racist and Nietzsche admirer who disliked democracy, Mencken himself was no sweetheart. By “plain folks” he clearly meant those he regarded as simpletons, the herd of inferiors holding back the tiny-in-number superior minds who know what’s best for the rest of us. Oh, yeah, sure they do.

If a repugnant elitist, Mencken was also prescient. Omit “plain” and his quote is on the money—describing perfectly the lug who is about to take over the White House like Godzilla clomping into a closet filled with crystal. To say nothing of the gang of Mothras, Rodans and three-headed Guidorahs sweeping in with him.

Trump-Godzilla similarities can’t be ignored. Both front a sprawling franchise. Both are crudely designed with no sense of humor or awareness of their mutation. Both are guided entirely by impulse. Both tend to hulk and lumber while leaving destruction in their wake. Both anger easily and breathe fire when rubbed the wrong way. Both have a distinctive roar. Both are best appreciated with your brain turned off. Both disdain reading and thoughtful discourse. Both have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, though unlike Trump’s, Godzilla’s hasn’t been defaced.

But our present crisis is not funny, is it?  We’re not characters in a campy Japanese monster movie and Trump is not computer generated or an actor in a latex lizard suit, though if ever a plot screamed out for a rewrite, his stunning rise to the presidency tops the list.

In fact, what someone once said about the Draculaic resilience of Richard Nixon—you’d have to drive a silver stake through his heart to get rid of him—may also apply to Trump.

I’ve been hitting the books and book reviews lately. For reasons that should be obvious, I’m drawn to accounts of the unlikely power surge of Adolph Hitler in the 1930s—while much of the planet responded passively as if witnessing actors in a play with no real-life relevance.

Although Ian Kershaw is arguably the preeminent Hitler biographer of our time, Volker Ullrich’s recent “Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939” earned high marks in The New York Times.  Now look, we’ve no evidence Trump is lethal and loopy or that Hitler was a hotel and real estate mogul who invaded much of Europe and murdered millions on the side. Yet frightening Trump-Hitler parallels surface in Ullrich’s book, as reviewed by Michiko Kakutani.

Kakutani: “Hitler was often described as an egomaniac who ‘only loved himself’—a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization and what…Ullrich calls a ‘characteristic fondness for superlatives.’ His manic speeches and penchant for taking all-or-nothing risks raised questions about his capacity for self-control…”

If that doesn’t sharpen the picture, Ullrich writes that a former German finance minister found Hitler “so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between lies and truth.”

Ullrich also notes that Hitler staged big theatrical rallies, vowing “to lead Germany to a new era of national greatness,” though vague about how he would do it. Still, his supporters saw him as a “man of iron” who would facilitate change. And much like Trump, as well, Hitler was initially laughed off by some Germans as merely an “evening’s entertainment.”

I was most struck, however, by a passage in Erik Larson’s earlier “In the Garden of Beasts,” that portrays William E. Dodd, the first U.S. ambassador to Hitler’s Germany, observing:

“The strange indifference to atrocity that had settled over the nation, the willingness of the populace and of the moderate elements in the government to accept each new oppressive decree, each new act of violence. It was as if (Dodd) had entered the dark forest of a fairy tale where all the rules of right and wrong were upended.”

Today we call that a bizarro world in which up is down…down is up…and Godzilla is about to become President.

 

 

 

EBENEZER SCRUMP

EBENEZER SCRUMP
A Christmas Story

The darkened penthouse of Scrump Tower on Christmas Eve….

Ebenezer Scrump, asleep after hours of heavy tweeting, is jolted awake by loud clanking sounds and a terrifying sight.

Scrump: Who are you?

Ghost: Look upon me, Scrump, for I am the Ghost of Your Past.

Scrump: What do you want of me at this hour, ghost?

Ghost: I’m here to show you the errors of your ways.

Scrump: Errors? Where are you taking me?

Ghost: The Peace Center in Greenville, S.C.

Scrump: Looks familiar.

Ghost: As it should. The date is Feb. 13, 2016, the occasion a Republican presidential debate where you insisted you always opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

I fought very, very hard against us going into Iraq!

Ghost: You repeated that often during the campaign. But now behold Sept. 11, 2002, months before the invasion. It’s a New York radio studio, and here was your reply when asked by Howard Stern if you favored invading Iraq.

Yeah, I guess so.

Ghost: You later lied about this repeatedly.

Scrump: A little white lie is all.

Ghost: Was it a little white lie, too, when you claimed you never crashed the dressing rooms of beauties at your Miss USA Pageants to catch them undressed and cop a feel?

Scrump: Absolutely untrue. Never happened.

Ghost: Behold the 2003 pageant in San Antonio.

Eeek!

He’s here again!

Call the cops!

Get out of here, you creep!

Scrump: I thought it was the men’s room. It was all a big mistake.

Ghost: Was this, too, a big mistake? Observe Burbank, Ca. in 2005.

Scrump: I see a bus.

Ghost: The “Access Hollywood” bus, with you and that obsequious toad, Billy Bush. You said this about women.

You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. I don’t ever wait.

Scrump: A little kiss, what’s the harm?

Ghost: Only a kiss? Listen.

And when you’re a star, they’ll let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.

Scrump: Locker room talk.  You know how it is when boys get together.

Ghost: Boys? You were 59.

Scrump: Please stop. Why do you torture me so?

******

A second ghost appears. “Look upon me, the Ghost of Your Present, and observe.

Scrump: Why is my son, Baron, laughing himself silly? What is he watching on TV?

Ghost: “Saturday Night Live.” He loves Alec Baldwin.

Scrump: I beseech you to stop.

Ghost: Now cast your eyes on Indianapolis, Ind. A small house, fallen into disrepair.

Scrump: Who lives here?

Ghost: Bob Cratchit and his family, facing a penniless Christmas now that Bob has lost his job—one of hundreds of Carrier jobs you didn’t save despite vowing to save them all. It’s Monday night, and the Cratchits are watching TV.

Scrump: But not “Celebrity Apprentice,” which I still profit from.

Ghost: They stopped watching after you publicly ridiculed Tiny Tim’s disability.

Scrump:  Please, spirit, no more.

Ghost: It gets worse. The Cratchits are a Nielsen family.

Scrump: Take me away, please.

Ghost: Behold the security agency that offers the critical daily briefings you irresponsibly reject.

Scrump:  Borrrrring. I don’t need security briefings.  I’m very smart.

Ghost: Smart, when you don’t read?

Scrump: False! I like nothing better than curling up with a good tweet.

******

A third ghost appears.

Scrump: Who are you?

The Ghost of Your Future, bearing footage of you on “Dancing with the Stars,” hardly a presidential activity.

Scrump: But if they asked me…

Ghost: They didn’t ask you to tango wearing one of your stupid long ties.

Scrump: They’re part of my brand.

Ghost: Not in Berlin,

Scrump: Berlin?

Ghost: This is your first private summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Scrump: But why is she racing out of the room screaming?

Ghost: Instead of shaking hands, you groped her.

Scrump: Please, torment me no further.

Ghost: There’s more: in Russia the opening of your five-star Scrump Vladivostok.

Scrump: Huge hotel deal.

Ghost:  And huge conflict of interest. That’s you on a horse trail in the Urals, riding shirtless with Vladimir Putin.

Scrump:  Must we go on?

Ghost: Yes, to a televised trial.

Scrump: Judge Judy?

Ghost: No, she becomes your attorney general when Jeff Sessions isn’t confirmed. This is an impeachment trial—yours—in the U.S. Senate. Behold Kellyanne Conway testifying about your foreign policy.

Crimea desperately needs a luxury golf resort.

Scrump: What happened to my Republican support?

Ghost: You will lose much of it when you mount your SCRUMP sign on the White House.

Scrump: I can bear no more. Why have you taken me to this graveyard, ghost?

Ghost: Read the tombstone.

Scrump: Must I?

Ghost: You must.

Scrump: It says, “Here lie the democratic principles undermined by our woeful president.”

Ghost: What say you now?

Scrump: I implore you, no more. I’ve seen the errors of my ways.

Ghost: One more thing, Ebenezer Scrump.

Scrump: End the comb over?

Ghost: No, doofus. End the tweets.

THE A-HOLE ACHE

So does this mean Billy Bush is back?

Maybe in the Trump administration as special assistant in charge of procuring “P” for someone destined to be a hands-on President in the most literal sense.

It’s hard to respect the office when it is about to be occupied by someone of such low character.

Black Tuesday:

One glass of wine helped a little, a second glass helped more. But an entire bottle wouldn’t have washed away the crushing tonnage of watching election coverage into the wee hours. And then—affirming this was no nightmare from which we would awaken and spring from bed in joy and relief—watching Hillary Clinton make her concession speech in the morning.

That Americans would elect this ignorant bum president—and that nearly half of voters endorsed him win or lose—has to be a watershed moment in U.S. history. Much less a footnote than a foot on our throats.

My wife, Carol, and I spent Wednesday strolling the gorgeously sprawling Getty Center in Los Angeles, where she is a docent. It was the perfect oasis to soften the excruciating ache of the election outcome.

We both love art museums, their venerable collections and sense of ageless continuity a reminder, especially now, that 2016 and our lives are a tiny blip on the landscape of history. We tend to forget that many cultures have spent time under a warming spotlight while assuming there were no term limits to greatness. But there are, and the spotlight inevitably moves on.

My brother, a very smart, thoughtful guy who voted for Trump, thinks I’m nutty. But I believe that with Trump in command, this nation, at the very minimum, is now in great peril. While in a long line waiting to board a tram to this enthralling museum on a hill overlooking much of the city, I thought of us as doomed characters in a science fiction movie with the corniest of plots: everyone here seemed happy and unconcerned, unaware they were in great danger.

The Getty was calming. But the excruciating ache hasn’t gone away.

WHAT THEY HAVE TO DO TO WIN

The first of three televised Presidential debates—the Holy Grails of electioneering—arrives Monday as the race enters its homestretch. Finally.

Lights, cameras, arrrrrrrgh!

Somehow we feel cheated if we are not entertained by two candidates who aspire to head the planet’s most powerful nation. Or see it as failure when they don’t come across as warm and fuzzy TV characters yucking it up with Jimmy Fallon.

By historically framing presidential debates as entertainment, in fact, TV creates expectations among voters that have no bearing whatsoever on the realities of good governance. And they use the expectations they’ve created to justify their future reporting.

So get ready for even more excruciating noise, high-volume hooey and crescendoing gab. From Trumpet and Hillary Clinton? Oh, sure.  But equally those tuneless kazoos known as media.

After a stint as party convention critics, many TV reporters and pundits have spent September recasting themselves as debate coaches, just as Trumpet himself has made several dozen costume changes since this odyssey began.

Instead of media chewing on what Trumpet and Hillary must do to serve wisely and honorably in the White House—do you believe in miracles?—their comments about each candidate these days center mostly on potential debate performance and stagecraft.  In other words, the image each must present on camera to prevail in November.

It’s the horse race within the horse race, as if the candidate who meets the most of his or her debate goals is best suited to be President.

Forget that most TV journalists and pundits have no idea what it takes to “win” a presidential debate. Or even what that means. The very idea that many reporters believe their role is to give advice to candidates of either major party—in effect offering tips on campaign strategy and how to sway voters through image rather than substance—is not only surreal but outrageous. It contradicts every tenet of responsible journalism.

The few that remain.

The question of the hour: What does he/she have to do to win Monday?

An MSNBC voice cautioned Hillary not to be “mean” with Trumpet, adding:  “She should be gracious and show “good humor.”

Noted a chin-stroking CNN sage: “He tugs at the heart, she tugs at the head, So she’s got to up her game in talking to the heart, he’s got to up his game in talking to the head.” And if one of them tugs a different body part? Don’t ask.

“She’s very defensive,” noted another CNN voice. “If that Hillary surfaces, the show’s up.” And a guest on Bill Maher’s HBO show proclaimed: “She must come out aggressively.”

But not too aggressively, right? After listening to all of this, I think I get the picture:

Hillary must be aggressive without appearing to be aggressive. She must convey softness through strength and resoluteness. She must make Trumpet appear to be a bully without appearing to be bullied. She must demonstrate she has prepared for the debate but not overplay her hand by appearing to have prepared.  She must display superiority while not giving viewers the impression that she regards herself as superior. She must display command of facts, but not too many facts. She must have knowledge but not too much knowledge. She must show humility, for otherwise she’ll come across as someone Americans just cannot tolerate.

A smarty pants.

If Hillary must show strength without appearing insensitive, Trumpet, on the other hand, must show sensitivity without appearing weak. He must exploit Hillary’s aggression by veiling his own aggression in passivity without appearing passive.  He must avoid the trap of being himself by not being himself while appearing to be himself. He must avoid being overbearing by being underbearing, letting Hillary appear to control the debate while actually controlling the debate himself.  He has to be superior by appearing to be inferior while turning inferiority into a strength that makes Hillary appear inferior. He has to talk straight but not too straight, for what Americans despise almost as much as a smarty pants is a straighty pants.

Yet this strategy could favor Hillary, whose best chance to win the debate is to appear to lose the debate without sacrificing superiority.  Got it? I thought so.

STILL MOWING THEM DOWN

No contest!

Donald Trump wins TV interviews through attrition, abetted by his questioners’ incompetence or resistance to bending their rigid program formats in the interest of truth and clarity.

Trump famously wears down interviewers with marathon stream-of-conscious riffs, benefiting hugely when they don’t require him to back up his tall tales—demand it on the spot—before speeding forward to the next question. Most of these interviewers haven’t the will or mental dexterity to engage in close-quarters combat with Trump. So they wilt; after each encounter, you can see his footprints on them.

And the smarter, more competent interviewers are too shackled by their stopwatches—must get on to the next interview—to go off script and take time to make him fully accountable.

Take the host of ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” a very bright guy who does better than most with Trump. But still falls way, way short. That was true Sunday morning in an interview that was taped the day after the Democratic National Convention.

George Step-Trump interview

To his credit, GS threw in some pointed follow-up questions. But not nearly enough I found when watching the interview and later picking through the transcript.

His missed opportunities were plentiful, a list as long as Trump’s Pinocchio-lying nose. Here are a few:

–When questioned about former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Trump-trashing speech at the Dem convention, Trump responded, “…I think he made a deal with Hillary where he gets a job because he’d like to— ’’

STOP!

GS should have interrupted and asked: Do you have evidence that Bloomberg agreed to speak in exchange for a job in the Clinton administration? If Trump obfuscated (who, him?) or didn’t answer, GS should not have continued until he did answer. But the clock was ticking, and he moved on.

–Trump all but accused Clinton of rigging the coming three televised Presidential debates so that two would air against highly popular NFL games, implying she was fearful of losing and wanted as few voters a possible to see her face Trump: “You know, Hillary wants to be against the NFL—”

STOP!

GS should have cut in and demanded that Trump cite his evidence. But he didn’t.

–When GS brought up the anti-Trump Dem convention speech of Khizr Kahn, whose Army captain son, Humayun, died in Iraq, Trump asked, “Who wrote that? Did Hillary’s script writer write it? Everybody—”

STOP!

GS should have asked Trump for evidence to support his message that someone in the Clinton camp had written Khizr Kahn’s heartfelt speech. But he didn’t, instead letting Trump ramble on and leave behind his usual dungy trail of nasty innuendo.

Trump appears to have a very limited vocabulary and little command of the language. But the one word he’ll understand is the one he never hears.

STOP!