Best Trump Book Title (Thus Far)
The winner for the best title of a tell-all Trump book (thus far) goes to Greg Miller of The Washington Post, who, next month, will publish: “The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy.” An excerpt is available today on the Post site.
The article is mostly about Trump's visit to CIA headquarters on Jan. 21, 2017, his first full day in office, and how, in front of a marble wall with 117 hand-carved stars, each for an agent/contractor killed in the line of duty, Trump began to brag and lie about: 1) the size of the crowds in the final days of the campaign; 2) the size of the inauguration crowd the day before; 3) the new bigger room he would build so every CIA officer who wanted to see him, could. One CIA vet called it “one of the more disconcerting speeches I‘ve seen”; another said it was a “freewheeling narcissistic diatribe.”
The second part of the article, about Trump’s love for Putin and seeming intolerance for our allies, is even more disturbing. But thus far, none of it is news.
Here's the excerpt that connects the dots on the title:
In the reality show that had propelled him to great fame, Trump was depicted as a business titan with peerless instincts — a consummate negotiator, a fearless dealmaker, and an unflinching evaluator of talent. Week after week, contestants competed for the chance to learn from a boardroom master — to be, as the show's title put it, his apprentice.
In the reality that commenced with his inauguration, Trump seemed incapable of basic executive aspects of the job. His White House was consumed by dysfunction, with warring factions waiting for direction — or at least a coherent decision-making process — from the president.
His outbursts sent waves of panic through the West Wing, with aides scrambling to contain the president's anger or divine some broader mandate from the latest 140-character blast. He made rash hiring decisions, installing Cabinet officials who seemed unfamiliar with the functions of their agencies, let alone their ethical and administrative requirements.
Decorated public servants were subjected to tirades in the Oval Office and humiliating dress-downs in public. White House documents were littered with typos and obvious mistakes. Senior aides showed up at meetings without the requisite security clearances — and sometimes stayed anyway.
Trump refused to read intelligence reports, and he grew so visibly bored during briefings that analysts took to reducing the world's complexities to a collection of bullet points.
The supposedly accomplished mogul was the opposite of how he'd been presented on prime-time television. Now he was the one who was inexperienced, utterly unprepared, in dire need of a steadying hand. Now he was the apprentice.
George Papadopoulos in Crime School
Last night I was watching the 1938 Warner Bros. movie “Crime School,” a remake of the 1933 Warner Bros. movie “The Mayor Hell,” which was remade again as the 1939 Warner Bros. flick “Hell's Kitchen.” They‘re all about a gang of tough kids sent to a draconian reform school, run by a corrupt superintendent, and the adult, a former tough guy, who helps them out. Since they’re Warner Bros. flicks, they‘re more about reforming the reform school system than the kids. In the last two movies, the gang is played by the Dead End Kids: Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, et al.
Early in “Crime School,” after they’ve been caught in the midst of a serious crime—seriously injuring or possibly killing a corrupt pawn broker—and after they refuse to rat on the one kid who struck the blow, everyone is brought before a judge to explain themselves. Most of the kids have monickers: Squirt, Goofy, Fats, Spike, Bugs. But the judge calls them by their real names. This is the real name for Fats (Bernard Punsly):
I practically fell over. Afterwards I kept on the lookout for any Manaforts, Cohens, Flynns, Kushners or Trumps that might creep by. Crime school, indeed.
By the way, here are the stars who play the adult tough guy/social reformer in the various movies. See if you can spot the dropoff:
- The Mayor of Hell (1933): James Cagney
- Crime School (1938): Humphrey Bogart
- Hell's Kitchen (1939): Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan—social reformer? Of course, he was a Democrat then. And Jack Warner wasn't a rat.
Yes, George, it is.
A Housley Divided Against Herself
I spent last weekend in Minneapolis visiting my mother, who suffered a stroke two years ago and a bad bowel obstruction last year. This year she's in pretty good spirits. She's also well cared for at Jones Harrison nursing home near Cedar Lake, for which me, my sister and my brother are forever grateful.
Yesterday morning, just before heading to the airport, I read a few pieces on the front page of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune—where my father once worked and where my sister now works. The first piece, by Chrisopher Snowbeck, might hit home:
Anxiety, frustration and hints of exasperation are all in the mix as more than a quarter-million Minnesota seniors face the prospect of selecting new Medicare health plans in the coming months. An estimated 320,000 Minnesotans with Medicare Cost health plans must switch to a new policy because a federal law is eliminating the coverage next year across much of the state.
I asked my sister what coverage our mother had but she wasn't sure. We‘ll have to wait and see if she’s one of the 320k forced to do this because of a 2003 law stating that Medicare Cost can't be offered “in areas with significant competition from Medicare Advantage plans.” Why this was so, why it wasn't implemented until 2019, I'm not sure, and few of the news stories are telling. Anyway, it's worrisome.
More worrisome is what Congress might do to Medicare if the GOP maintains control of both houses in the mid-terms. They‘re already talking “reform.”
The other Strib story, featured more prominently, was the horse race for both U.S. Senate seats: Amy Klobuchar’s (good luck: she's got a 60-30 lead), and the seat formerly known as Al Franken‘s. After the #MeToo non-scandal last year, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith became the appointee, and now she’s running to fill out Franken's term, which ends in 2020. Her opponent is state rep Karin Housley. Smith has a much smaller lead—something like 44-36. According to the Strib poll, Housley does poorly with younger voters, but the highlighted is what really caught my eye:
Just 16 percent of those [younger] voters backed Housley, who did best among voters ages 50-64 and older. Housley has made senior citizen issues a focal point of her campaign. Smith could be the beneficiary of a national Democratic effort to mobilize young voters.
I would really like to know how Housley has made senior citizen issues a focal point of her campaign. Has she stated she won't go along with her party, the GOP, which wants to cut Social Security and Medicare? Which views them as “entitlements”? Which cuts taxes for the superrich and makes up the literal deficit by calling Medicare an “entitlement” and trying to slash it to the bone? There's a real disconnect in our news coverage in all of this.
Anyway, I hope the DFL and Smith make senior citizen issues a focal point of their campaign, too. I hope they hammer Housley on it.
Another Death of Superman
This was my favorite response to the news yesterday that DC and Warner Bros. were going in a different direction with their “extended universe” and Henry Cavill was out as Superman.
WB got rid of Henry Cavill? I'm fucking done with those imbeciles.— Swagatha Christie (@grantdlewis) September 12, 2018
If you'd asked me what was wrong with DC's universe, I would‘ve most emphatically begun with director Zack Snyder, who made the problematic “Man of Steel,” then the disastrous “Batman v. Superman,” and gone on from there. Most of the bad follows from the decision to hire him. Snyder’s not just form over content, he's vainglorious form over idiot content. The whole “Martha” thing will be a joke for decades to come—for as long as superhero movies are made. Introducing half of the Justice League in “Justice League,” before they had a movie of their own, or at least been in someone else's movie, wasn't smart, either. Hey, here's three origin stories along with the continuing story of the death of Superman in one movie. Have at.
But at the bottom of the list? I.e., What‘s right with the DC universe? Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and Henry Cavill as Superman.
Many men have played the Man of Steel but only one has played him better—and even then it’s pretty close. Cavill was perfect in looks, form, content. There was a gentleness and quiet to his spirit as Superman, as if he knows he might break the world otherwise. But Snyder gave him an idiot world to act in. He didn't give him a reason for being. After the search for himself, for his origins, he had no motivation other than hanging with Lois and rescuing Lois and confronting Batman. His Clark Kent, reporter, was never grounded in anything—let alone J school. He seemed like Superman playing dress up—or dress down. They never addressed this: Why be Clark when the world was in such trouble? Their answer made it seem like he didn't want to be Superman. Helping people? What a drag. He seemed lost and no writer or director reached out to lend a hand.
The tweeter above also gave us this: “Besides being distressingly handsome, Cavill perfectly blended humanity and an ethereal otherworldliness that makes Supes Supes.” I love that “distressingly handsome” bit. So true. Every so often I'd call Patricia over to view some photo of Cavill and say, “My god, look at this.” For some reason, Patricia was less impressed—until she saw the photo montage with his dog, Kal; then she became a fan.
Remember the promise?
Superman: illegal alien. Unwelcome. Incarcerated. It had even greater meaning than we knew. Then it all got lost in Zack Snyder's noise.
My boy. Look what they did to my boy.
Shallow Deep Background
One thing's for sure about Bob Woodward's book, “Fear: Trump In the White House”: Steven Bannon was one of his “deep background” sources.
It's not just that he comes off well. We actually know what he's thinking. As in this scene between Bannon and Gov. Chris Christie after the “Access Hollywood” story broke in Oct. 2016 and Bannon urged Trump to follow his instincts and play offense (“that's in the past,” “locker room talk,” “Bill Clinton was way worse”) rather than defense (“I'm sorry, so sorry”):
“You‘re the fucking problem,” Christie said to Bannon. “You’ve been the problem since the beginning.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You‘re the enabler. You play to every one of his worst instincts. This thing’s over, and you‘re going to be blamed. Every time he’s got terrible instincts for these things, and all you do is get him all worked up. This is going to be humiliating.” Christie was in Bannon's face, looming large. Bannon half-wanted to say, You fat fuck, let's throw down right here.
The only way Bannon isn't a source is if Bannon told several people this story, including his thoughts, and they relayed it to Woodward.
You can pretty much tell when someone is a source. At one point, Sen. Lindsey Graham makes an appearance and it's suddenly all about him. That's actually when they book gets dull: When Graham enters the room, dispenses wisdom, and saves the world to—one imagines—the applause that's only going on in his head.
His Own Asshole
I‘ve said if often: Trump supporters think Donald Trump is their asshole—the guy who will tear down the opposition—but he’s not. He's his own asshole. It's always been about him; the rest of us are merely flunkies. Bob Woodward's book, “Fear,” which I began last night, is confirmation. As if we needed it.
Here's an excerpt. It's not anything that anyone's written about really. It's not “orange jumpsuit” or “fucking moron” or any of that. It's something no one's denied.
It takes place the weekend after the Access Hollywood story broke in early October 2016, when all of the Donald's political cover began to run from him. Everybody. There was talk of dropping him fromthe ticket and running Pence with Condoleezza Rice as his running mate. Pence/Rice 2016.
There was also internal debate about what to how to respond to the tape. Most wanted an apology tour. Kellyanne Conway arranged for ABC News to do an interview. But Trump, buoyed by Steve Bannon—who is an obvious source for Woodward—went on the attack. He talked “locker room talk” and “Bill Clinton actually did worse things.” He trotted all that out in the first debate. But before then, there were the Sunday morning news shows. Who would go on to defend Trump? Nobody. Priebus, Christie, and Conway had all been scheduled; they all canceled. Only one guy agreed to do it: Rudy Giuliani. And not just one news show—he went on all five, completing, Woodward writes, “what is called a full Ginsburg—a term in honor of William H. Ginsburg, the attorney for Monica Lewinsky, who appeared on all five network Sunday programs on February 1, 1998.”
I'm reading this, and some part of me is thinking, “Well, no wonder Giuliani is where he currently is. Trump is rewarding his loyalty.”
Giuliani was exhausted, practically bled out, but he had proved his devotion and friendship. He had pulled out every stop, leaning frequently and heavily on his Catholicism: “You confess your sins and you make a firm resolution not to commit that sin again. And then, the priest gives you absolution and then, hopefully you‘re a changed person. I mean, we believe the people in this country can change.”
Giuliani, seeming punch-drunk, made it to the plane for the departure to the St. Louis debate. He took a seat next to Trump, who was at his table in his reading glasses. He peered over at the former mayor.
“Rudy, you’re a baby!” Trump said loudly. “I‘ve never seen a worse defense of me in my life. They took your diaper off right there. You’re like a little baby that needed to be changed. When are you going to be a man?” Trump turned to the others, particularly Bannon. “Why did you put him on? He can't defend me. I need somebody to defend me. Where are my people?”
“What are you talking about?” Bannon asked. “This guy's the only guy that went on.”
“I don't want to hear it,” Trump replied. “It was a mistake. He shouldn't have gone on. He's weak. You‘re weak, Rudy. You’ve lost it.”
To be continued.
Last night, my friend Nick IMed me about recent deaths. For Burt Reynolds, he said, “My fave of his is Breaking In, directed by Bill Forsyth (Local Hero &) , written by J Sayles (that guy). A little jewel.” I said I'd just gotten a Filmstruck subscription (Criterion, Warner Bros.: expect a lot of Cagney reviews) and had come across my own forgotten Forsyth jewel: the once beloved “Gregory's Girl.” A few years back I'd been looking for good movies about adolesence/growing up for my nephew, got a few good ones (“Dazed and Confused”), couldn't find others (“Twist and Shout”), and had completely spaced on “Gregory‘s.” For shame.
“Whatever happened to Forstyth?” I wondered. “Is he still making movies?”
Nope. Done before 2000, according to IMDb. This quote in his bio may explain:
And so the passion ultimately fizzles out because of the limitations of the goal; because movies are really not that important. At the very end of the day you’re sitting with an audience of four or five hundred people and all they want is to be entertained. You see we‘re dealing with a medium which really only wants to involve itself in the superficial manipulation of emotions.
That’s one of two “personal quotes” IMDb lists. As much as it jibes with my own experience, I think I like the second quote better. It's actually a lot like the first, it just sounds more Forsythian. I‘ve put it in dialogue form:
Reporter: Why aren’t there any bad guys in your films?
Forsyth: Everybody has reasons.
Stingy for Bernie
David Denby's recent New Yorker piece, “A Great Writer at the 1968 Democratic Disaster,” about how Norman Mailer's “Miami and the Siege of Chicago” contains lessons for our time, sent me back to the book to read it, or skim it, again. It's great writing. Unbelievably so. Norman, with just his memory, notes and a typewriter, created this document, which is complex, existential, political; then went on talk shows to talk aobut it. People listened. Enough people. That was the world we lived in back then.
Of course, that world still elected Richard Nixon president, and then again in a landslide four years later.
One thing Denby doesn't call out? Mailer's description of the “Clean for Gene” students who backed McCarthy for the Democratic ticket in 1968 over more establishment candidates. Who does it remind you of?
No, like all crusaders, their stinginess could be found in a ferocious lack of tolerance or liaison to their left or right—the search for Grail seems invariably to lead in a straight line.
It's the Bernie Bros. And they‘re still out there, Daniel. I’d underlined the sentence back in the '90s when I first read it. Not sure why. But it packs a whallop in 2018.