2016 Election, Baseball, Biden, Clinton, Politics, Travel, Trump, World Cup

Worthy of Winning…

“Sincerity – if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

                                                    – Comedian George Burns

– – – – –

We’ve just experienced a week in politics that was in turn sincere and something a good deal less. For once during this pre-primary season the guy with the squirrel on his head didn’t completely dominate the news. Rather two guys who will never be president and one who might, but hasn’t – and maybe won’t – announce showed us what the “real” campaign has been missing.

Let’s call it sincerity or, if you prefer, authenticity.

Joe Biden with Stephen Colbert
Joe Biden with Stephen Colbert

Vice President Joe Biden’s wrenchingly candid visit last week with Stephen Colbert on late night television was the “authentic” political moment of the week – maybe the decade. Biden, still coming to grips with the too-early death of his son, Beau, talked from the heart (not from the talking points) about loss, love, politics and what’s really important. Only a complete cynic could have watched the conversation and not felt that the oft maligned, gaffe prone vice president wasn’t a real guy dealing with the kind of real loss only a father (or mother) can know.

The pundits are all over the map about whether Biden will make a “late” entry into the Democratic primary contest and I won’t hazard a guess, but regardless of what Biden ultimately decides to do he has shown the tired and hungry voters what a politician who is also human looks like.

Two Guys Who Will Never be President…

Rick Perry, the oft-maligned former governor of Texas, in a way did something similar. Facing reality, as in no money and no support, Perry became the first of many to exit the Republican race. He might have held on a while longer, gone through the motions of another debate, but it seems as though Perry knew he was toast and pulled the plug on his toaster, er, campaign. For a guy who stumbled and bumbled through the 2012 campaign and spent the last three years attempting to re-invent himself with new glasses and serious policy pronouncements, Perry’s announcement seemed like a statement of authenticity from a guy who always looked like a deer caught in the political headlights once he got north of Austin.

The Never Will and the Never Should Be...
The Never Will and the Never Should Be…

The other unusually authentic moment in recent days was, from of all people, the stumbling, bumbling governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal. Jindal did what every other Republican presidential candidate and most every responsible person in the party wants to do – he went all Trump on The Donald.

During a speech in Washington, Jindal called Trump “unstable,” “a narcissist,” “unserious,” and “a carnival act.”

“I want to say what everyone is thinking about Donald Trump but is afraid to say,” Jindal said as he ripped Trump the same way Trump rips everyone.

“He is shallow, there is no substance. He doesn’t know anything about policy, he has no idea what he is talking about. He makes it up on the fly,” Jindal said.

Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker correctly said Jindal was a “1 percenter [in the polls] with nothing too lose.” But give the governor credit for candor even if he was playing his Trump card in order to gin up attention for a campaign that is going no where. For good measure Jindal condemned Trump’s latest broadside disparaging Carly Fiorina’s looks, a comment Trump, of course, denied, but also clearly said.

“I think it’s pretty outrageous for him to be attacking anybody’s appearance when he looks like he’s got a squirrel sitting on his head,” Jindal told CBS News. Thanks to Jindal we have a new metric for the campaign: Trump leading in Iowa and in also in squirrels siting on his head. At long last the GOP campaign is getting down to substance.

The chattering classes – yours truly included – have spent the summer trying to fathom the rise of the Bloviator from 5th Avenue and, I think, the answers are many, complex and disturbing. But nothing explains Trump and the current political season more than the American longing for something real, even if in Trump’s case “real” means beneath contempt.

Say what you will about Trump, and I’ll say more soon about where he may be taking the Grand Old Party, but what you see is what you get. A letter to the editor writer in a paper I regularly read said it pretty succulently.

“I like what Donald Trump is doing even though I could never vote for him,” she wrote. “He is busy bulldozing the barricades of political correctness. Donald “Trumps” them all with his bravado. His campaign is a momentary breath of fresh air — freedom to speak our minds; thus the high rating in the polls. He has cleared the way for men like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul to be even bolder without the media spinning their thoughts into unrecognizable smudge. Perception is everything. The number of people viewing the debates has doubled, and those voters are hearing the candidates for themselves. Yes.”

Yes, indeed. Trump may be a bully, a bore and buffoon, but he is a real bully, bore and buffoon. You can’t fake Trump’s kind of sincerity.

The Appalling Success of Trump…

Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan
Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan

The gifted historian Margaret MacMillan, a Canadian who understands leadership and American politics, correctly describes a significant part of Trump’s appeal.

MacMillan told the Globe and Mail newspaper: “I think there’s a real longing among the public for leaders who say, ‘Look, this is where I stand and this is what I think and, if you don’t like it, let me explain what I want to do and why.’ This dynamic is part of the appalling success of Donald Trump. He’s not afraid to say what he thinks, and people – in my view completely mistakenly – find this authentic and refreshing in a politician.”

Trump’s appeal is more complex and more troubling than his “truth telling” in the cause of destroying political correctness, but his say-what’s-on-his-mind approach to politics is so completely at odds with the poll tested sound bites of John Boehner and Hillary Clinton as to truly make him appear to be something special to a sizable group of Republican voters.

Clinton’s handlers meanwhile are so desperate to set free their inauthentic candidate from her stilted self that they have hit the re-set button for about the twelfth time in the effort to try and make Hillary human.

“They want to show her humor,” one Clinton adviser said recently. “They want to show her heart.” The coming months for the still front-running Democrat will “be a period of trying to shed her scriptedness.”

The latest Clinton makeover prompted the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank to quip, “Planned spontaneity? A scripted attempt to go off script? This puts the ‘moron’ into oxymoron.”

Ironically, perhaps the one thing each party’s polling leader shares is a need to behave like an authentic real person. Trump needs to begin to act and talk like a mature adult and not a completely self absorbed teenager who meets every challenge with a put down, while Clinton needs to act and talk like she’s not the political equivalent of the voice of GPS system in your car – all business and no humanity.

Joe Biden’s favor to the country last week was to show us how much we dislike phonies and appreciate authenticity. Being human after all shouldn’t require practice or makeovers.

The famous photo of Stevenson with a hole in his shoe...
The famous photo of Stevenson with a hole in his shoe…

“I’m not an old, experienced hand at politics,” Democrat Adali Stevenson said as he was about to lose the presidency for the second time in 1956. “But I am now seasoned enough to have learned that the hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving that you are unworthy of winning.”

Most of us intuitively know that Trump’s deliberate bluster and Clinton’s scripted calculation are manufactured characteristics that have more to do with their own deep seated insecurities than with the qualities we actually admire and seek in a leader. Real leadership is about being secure enough to listen, not just talk. It’s also about sincerity, humility, self-awareness, humor, empathy and decency. Gosh, those sounds like human characteristics.

Neither candidate currently leading the polls is likely during the interminable campaign to convince a majority of voters that they are real people with real human characteristics and are deserving of leading the country. Neither seems likely to win, as Adali Stevenson said, without proving they are unworthy of winning.

While fearing that we’ll be forced to settle for something less we keep looking for someone who doesn’t need to re-invent themselves in order to be “authentic,” we keep looking for a winner worthy of winning.

 

2016 Election, Bush, Trump, World Cup

Suppose You Were An Idiot…

“Well I think he had really no choice. He’s doing very poorly in the polls, he’s a very low-energy kind of guy and he had to do something, so they’re spending a lot of money on ads.”

— Donald Trump quoted by Politico on Jeb Bush’s latest attacks.

– – – – –

Suppose you were an idiot and suppose your were running for president, but I repeat myself.

OK, I appropriated that line from Mark Twain, but it so perfectly captures the Summer of Trump and besides I couldn’t help myself.

Over our long summer of political discontent focused on “anchor babies,” insults aimed at “losers” and women who bleed, well, let’s don’t go there, the vast Republican field of presidential candidates has allowed a low-class real estate developer whose only high office has been in one of his tacky office buildings to repeal the essential rules of politics. Maybe the cooler fall temperatures have finally caused them to wake up and stop the madness.

Jeb Bush - low energy or finally fighting back?
Jeb Bush – low energy or finally fighting back?

It’s reported that the “low energy” Jeb Bush, the one-time GOP frontrunner and former governor of Florida, has finally decided to take off the kid gloves – they must wear them up at the Bush estate in Kennebunkport – and start hitting back at the man who has been “emasculating” him for weeks.

“Look, Jeb Bush was a very successful governor,” says Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, “he’s a thoughtful man, he was a good, conservative governor. But every day, Donald Trump is emasculating Jeb Bush, and Republican primary voters are not going to default to the establishment candidate who is being weakened by these attacks that go unresponded to.” Bingo.

At least since June most of the Republican field, and many observers (yours truly included) have maintained that Trump’s half-life as a contender would last about as long as his hairdo in a windstorm. But the big boor kept on boring, tapping into the deep resentment and, of course, nativism that has come to define those who populate the outer planets of the GOP solar system. In retrospect it should have been obvious that someone in the massive Republican field would vault to the front of the pack by channeling the anger that has fueled so much of the over the top opposition to Barack Obama for the last seven years. Trump, as my father use to say, may be crazy, but he isn’t stupid and he has tapped that deep vein of resentment, even hatred, directed toward Washington, immigrants, the Kenyan-Muslim president, Wall Street, organic food and, who knows, maybe even Megyn Kelly. She is a card-carrying member of the elite, after all.

Until Jeb Bush realized that “staying under the radar” was a political path back to forever being referred to as the younger brother who couldn’t cut the Republican mustard, Trump has completely dominated the political summer. He did so because he is different, which is more than just loud and offensive. He has ridden the crest of a wave of mostly white, middle class resentment about a country that is changing rapidly in a way that many Americans must find downright scary, even scarier than a bloviating real estate developer.

Mr. Charm's Twitter photo
Mr. Charm’s Twitter photo

As numerous commentators have pointed out, Trump is just the latest incarnation of the “outsider” in American political history, the out sized personality willing to rhetorically attack the status quo, while offering little more than fire, brimstone and bluster. George Wallace played the part in 1968 and later. Huey Long in the early 1930’s did the same. Long was probably never a serious national threat to Franklin Roosevelt, but for a few brief moments in 1934 and before his death in 1935 he must have seemed a real threat. Ross Perot, Henry Wallace, Jesse Ventura and a host of lesser names have regularly appeared to appeal to the thirty percent or so of Americans who are always really pissed off about something.

What has been different with Trump is his mastery of the new tools of political communication and, of course, that the American public has never been subjected to such a full-fledge narcissist for such an extended period of time. Talk about different. Trump has been able to sustain his summer run with crude but effective marketing skills, four-minute hits on cable television, late night tweets that become early morning headlines and lately Instagram mini-commercials that may have been the catalyst convincing Jeb to jab back.

Every Trump tactic is just like the man: over the top, mostly devoid of fact, nasty and guaranteed to generate lots of attention. That’s the point – attack, attack, attack. Trump’s aggressiveness on the offensive – both meanings – makes General Grant in the Wilderness Campaign look like a low energy loser.

One of the oldest rules in politics is that the attack gets the attention, while the major policy speech gets ignored. Trump understands that rule and has been on the attack constantly since he joined the Republican race. Another old rule, especially true for Jeb Bush, is the fact that any political attack gone unanswered is an attack believed. When Trump repeatedly refers to Bush as “low energy” – essentially a wimp – and a “loser” who is “weak” he is really attacking Bush’s character rather than his policy positions. It’s a brilliant strategy that Bush had better match tweet for tweet.

So put me down in the camp of those, like Steve Schmidt, who think Bush had no choice but to get down in the hog swill with Trump. His task is very complicated, however, because of the dynamics of the Republican electorate. Bush wants to pull some of those thirty percent or so of really unhappy Republican voters over to his cause, but even more realistically he needs to present himself as a tough, decisive alternative to the loudest mouth in the race. Bush’s strategy of going after Trump is right, but the quality of his message and execution of his plan will determine if he has enough of the political attack dog in him to make the strategy work. I have my doubts.

Bush’s first major push back against Trump was ripped from the oldest and moldiest Republican playbook. Bush called The Donald a “liberal” and highlighted the nice things Trump has said over time about the Clintons. If Trump were a conventional politician that line of attack might have some legs, but the issues with Trump aren’t based on policy or anything that has to do with facts and reason. The disaffected won’t quit liking Trump because he got Hillary to his latest wedding or has had more positions on abortion than he had neckties. The Republican Party might reject him, however, if he starts to be seen as lacking in the essential quality that measures the ultimate success of any American president.

It’s all about the guy’s character. Bush needed to get under than mop of orange hair and tweak – and tweet – The Donald’s outsized personality, his enormous ego and his inability to let any slight go unanswered.

Trump is the grade school bully who couldn’t be stopped by appeals to reason or by complaints that he broke the rules or by tattling to the playground teacher. You have to shame him and call him what he is – a man whose ego and self-regard are so outside the realm of normal human interaction that he is dangerous, to himself, the Republican Party, the country and more.Reagan - There you go again

Bush needs to dust off Ronald Reagan and say “there you go again…” when Trump unloads and Trump will keep unloading because he can’t help himself. Jeb might even anticipate a Trump attack on him by making the attack himself. “Donald says I’m low energy, and I admit that I like to sleep at two o’clock in the morning rather than sit up inventing nasty things to say about people.”

A more direct line would be to simply say: “Trump is erratic, undisciplined, a hothead, an egomaniac completely full of himself. He may have the right character to succeed in the unethical world of New York real estate where you buy and sell contacts with mayors and governors, where people cheat and cut corners to get ahead, but he lacks the character to represent the American people.”

I’d never refer to Trump as a “reality television star,” since that gives him too much credit. He’d always be a “frequently failed real estate developer.” I’d point out that some of the great companies in America have declined to work with Trump because he lacks honesty and character. “Trump’s made a career out of being a bully when American needs a leader.”

Belittle the man where it hurts him the most: his mattresses are uncomfortable, his ties are badly constructed (I’ve never had one, but I bet they are), the towels in his hotels are too small, he’s getting old and can’t chase younger women any longer so he’s decided to run for president.

Trump would come back, of course, from such an attack with a discourse on how successful he has been, how rich he is, etc., but Bush will need to stay focused on the great man’s character, which even those who current support him must know is hardly a match for any president since Warren Harding.

Bush is an inherently clumsy candidate who often seems unsure of what he wants to say or what he really believes, but the circumstances of the Summer of Trump and his declining poll numbers have now pushed him into a strategy he might have wisely adopted weeks ago. Trump reminds us that attacking is often succeeding in politics and he who would attack also needs to defend.

Bush had better jump in with both feet and start landing some haymakers. Such are the moments that define candidates. Can Bush be a better retail politician than he has been? Is there any fire in that gut? Is there any ‘there’ there? With regard to Trump, can he finally find a language to point out what most of the country already knows?

Sometimes you just need to call the schoolyard bully a jerk and hit him upside the head with your lunch box.

 

2016 Election, Baseball, Politics, Trump, World Cup

Trump and NPD…

It dawned on me Sunday as I reviewed the latest round of news regarding the presidential candidacy of one Donald John Trump that it is really not possible to explain Trump, as he habitually refers to himself, using classic political terms. He is in a wholly different category. More on that in a moment.

Donald John Trump
Donald John Trump

Search online for stories about Trump and you’ll see references to the blow dried real estate developer as “a showman,” or “a celebrity” or “reality television star” or my personal favorite “business leader.” He’s described as “a truth teller” who disdains “political correctness” and refuses to play by the conventional rules or politics. He’s also frequently called “a bore,” and “a bully” and even your local blogger has called The Donald “a clown.”

Maureen Dowd, writing in the New York Times, summarizes the conventional take on the clown who, even after his antics in the recent GOP debate, still leads the Republican field. “Trump is, as always, the gleefully offensive and immensely entertaining high-chair king in the Great American Food Fight.” The pundits are united in their assessment that the heart of Trump’s appeal is his “candor” and “unpredictability.”

Conventional Politics Can’t Explain Trump…

Yet none of this really or adequately explains Trump and its not enough to merely dismiss him as a blowhard with a massive ego. To understand the man and his approach one needs look to science, and not political science. I know I’ve called him a clown, but Trump’s behavior is more complicated. Trump displays, I’ve come to believe as have other observers, the classic symptoms of a person suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD.

Narcissus and his reflection
Narcissus and his reflection

NPD is, of course, a mental health condition described by the prestigious Mayo Clinic as a personality state, “in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

Sound like anyone you know?

The American Psychiatric Association only characterized NPD as “mental disorder” in 1980 and the “disorder” and the symptoms used to describe it remain somewhat controversial. Nonetheless, a year ago Time magazine published an online quiz under the headline “Are you a narcissist?,” which seems like it might have been created to describe the current Republican front runner. You might want to take the quiz and share the results with your spouse. It may just explain a lot of things.

Here is a brief sample of the 40 questions (and choices) that help determine your level of narcissism:

“Modesty doesn’t become me” or “I’m essentially a modest person.”

“I can usually talk my way out of anything” or “I try to accept the consequences of my behavior.”

“I’m no better or worse than most people” or “I think I’m a special person.”

“I insist on getting the respect that I am due” or “I usually get the respect that I am due.”

You get the idea. The Mayo Clinic lists the “symptoms” of NPD as:

  • Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerating your achievements and talents
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
  • Requiring constant admiration
  • Having a sense of entitlement
  • Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
  • Taking advantage of others to get what you want
  • Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Being envious of others and believing others envy you
  • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner

Any of that sound like a fellow who might paint his last name on the side of own personal 757 and every piece of real estate he touches? This mash-up of “Trump’s Greatest Hits” looks like a NPD training film.

Conceited, boastful or pretentious…

There’s also this from the Mayo Clinic’s explanation of the condition: “If you have narcissistic personality disorder, you may come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious. You often monopolize conversations. You may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior. You may feel a sense of entitlement — and when you don’t receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry. You may insist on having “the best” of everything — for instance, the best car, athletic club or medical care.

“At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior. Or you may feel depressed and moody because you fall short of perfection.”

When you consider Trump – he loves to refer to himself in the third person – has a disability as opposed to a political agenda it then becomes obvious that classic, time-honored political responses to his behavior are pointless. He’s a master, for example, of turning the probing question – just ask Megyn Kelly – back on the person asking the question, which is a typical response from a person exhibiting the condition. Nothing is ever about Trump unless he choses to articulate something about his superior talent or success, like “I’ll be phenomenal for women” or “I’m rich – really rich” or “I’m a really smart guy.”

Trump’s NPD symptoms help explain why he has become so combustible to the rest of the Republican field. As the New York Times notes, “If candidates denounce Mr. Trump’s provocations, they ensure that he will attack them, which then forces them to respond to Mr. Trump. And on it goes.”

When Trump was asked, for example, if his comments about women are demeaning and inappropriate he simply articulated his own success – at least the “success” that exists in his own mind – and then he immediately pivots to tee off on Jeb Bush, or John McCain or Lindsay Graham or anyone else who is enough of “a loser” to question him. Kelly, the aggressive Fox New questioner during the recent debate, should apologize to him for asking “stupid” and “dumb” questions Trump now says.

The only woman in the GOP field, Carly Fiorina, who chastised Trump for his response when challenged by Megyn Kelly, got this by now classic Trump put down on Twitter: “I just realized that if you listen to Carly Fiorina for more than ten minutes straight, you develop a massive headache.”

Trump’s personality refuses to allow him to be called to account since, after all, it’s never about him unless he choses to make it about him. Trump is superior, Trump is unbelievably talented, Trump is outrageously wealthy and – perhaps most importantly to the political world – Trump displays an “inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.” He displays none of the usual characteristics that we have come to associate with American politicians – modesty, self-control, empathy, humor, or even reticence because, well, he can’t. He suffers from NPD.

Age of the 'selfie'
Age of the ‘selfie’

Trump’s condition, amazingly, makes him an unusually effective candidate in the current age of “the selfie” – self obsessed, self important and unwilling, or more likely unable, to understand why anyone would presume to challenge him or his success. While the “beltway gasbags” wring their hands and fret, Trump’s mind churns out lines like my current favorite from his round of weekend interviews. “Of course it’s very hard for [women] to attack me on looks because I’m so good looking,” Trump told NBC’s Chuck Todd. What do you do with that as a reporter, candidate or voter?

The Dark Side…

The old White House hand David Gergen, now a CNN contributor, sees the same thing in Trump that I see, but also points out that there can be “productive narcissists,” people like Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, even Gandhi. The corporate world is filled with the type. The late Apple CEO Steve Jobs seems to have qualified – a brilliant, driven man who verbally abused many people close to him.

Gergen’s recent piece led me to a particularly revealing Harvard Business Review article by Michael Maccoby, a psychoanalyst and anthropologist who has counseled governments and corporations. Maccoby notes that Sigmund Freud was among the first to identify that, “People of this type impress others as being ‘personalities.”

Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud

But Freud also recognized, Maccoby wrote, “that there is a dark side to narcissism. Narcissists, he pointed out, are emotionally isolated and highly distrustful. Perceived threats can trigger rage. Achievements can feed feelings of grandiosity. That’s why Freud thought narcissists were the hardest personality types to analyze. Consider how an executive at Oracle describes his narcissistic CEO Larry Ellison: ‘The difference between God and Larry is that God does not believe he is Larry.’ That observation is amusing, but it is also troubling. Not surprisingly, most people think of narcissists in a primarily negative way. After all, Freud named the type after the mythical figure Narcissus, who died because of his pathological preoccupation with himself.”

Looking on the bright side…

Trump is clearly a political phenomenon, but understanding his methods and, yes, even his appeal requires a broader frame than what we think of as “politics.” His race to the top of the Republican field cannot last, but it will nevertheless be commented on for years. His statements will be deconstructed and marveled over when Bobby Jindal and Ben Carson are reduced to answers in a political trivial pursuit game. Eventually the Republicans who are presently enamored with Trump will realize, as David Gergen says, that they aren’t comfortable with a guy who stays up until 3:00 am tweeting insults having his finger anywhere near the nuclear button.

Trump would be the last to recognize it, but ironically his bizarre candidacy and even more bizarre behavior could result – admittedly I’m looking for a silver lining here – in expanding awareness of a real problem – the NPD sufferer and how they might receive help.

Trump is obviously not a poster boy for presidential greatness, but he is, in a weird way, Exhibit A for better understanding the depth and breath of mental illness in our tightly wound society. The clown in the flashy tie with the orange hair might not be crazy, as some have said, but he really needs help, which sadly Trump will be the last to realize.

 

2016 Election, Baseball, Italy, Politics, Shakespeare, Trump, World Cup

He’s Melting, He’s Melting…

“I like people that weren’t captured, OK?”

An old political friend once remarked, not altogether in jest, that the most “enjoyable” part of politics is watching a rival candidate meltdown. I confess to enjoying the secret and obviously perverse pleasure of seeing a candidate, typically one who has little if any business in the business of politics, crashing and burning.

Politics ain’t for amateurs. Pros survive, amateurs’ meltdown.trump

The wounds that typically begin the meltdown are almost always of the worst type, self-inflicted, and often born of that frequently fatal political disease – hubris. The meltdowns almost always happen to candidates who are momentarily riding high and the next minute are struggling, like a drowning swimmer, to keep their head above political water.

My favorite line in politics is the one that holds “you can go from hero to zero just like that.” On the biggest stage – running for president – politics is a high wire act without a net. If the fall doesn’t get you the bounce certainly will. Zero is the score you get when you meltdown.

We can enjoy the guilty pleasure of watching and enjoying the inevitable meltdown even when we know it is coming. The anticipation makes it all the more special. The big ego and big mouth getting gassed by the candidate’s own hot air. The fatal line is often a throw away, initially unrecognized by the person beginning to melt. But as you watch the early stage of the meltdown you instinctively know this is it. We’ve seen this all before – the words that a candidate would wish to haul back, but of course can’t.

Next comes the confrontation with the press and the almost certain denial that our meltdown candidate meant what they really said. But the videotape doesn’t lie. Next comes the chorus of denunciation and the demands for apology, often accompanied by the first suggestions that the meltdown is going to be so damaging as to end the candidacy and therefore why not just call it quits. The meltdown enters the slow, steady burn phase.

Phase three of the meltdown begins when what the candidate said to ignite the meltdown in the first place starts to become compared to the candidate’s own record. Criticize a U.S. Navy veteran held captive and tortured for five and a half years who is then awarded the Silver Star versus, say, a candidate with a bunch of draft deferments. The pile of excelsior is now in full flame.

At this point there are two possible strategies: back off and say sorry or double down. Since hubris dare not apologize, double down is the default position.

Donald Trump, our current meltee, is a fully formed disgusting person. He’s made a lucrative career out of saying outrageous and almost always ridiculous things. The vast majority of Americans know that already. Those Republican primary voters who have momentarily vaulted Trump to the top of the polls on the strength of his “truth-telling” now have a look at what recent Italian politics have been like under the sway of Trump’s Latin alter ego.

Berlusconi  -Italy's Trump
Berlusconi -Italy’s Trump

“Those Italians whose art we bow down before and whose food we fetishize have a Trump of their very own, a saucy, salty dish of Donald alla parmigiana,” wrote – rather brilliantly, I think – the New York Times Frank Bruni. “They repeatedly elected him, so that he could actually do what Trump is still merely auditioning to do: use his country as a gaudy throne and an adoring mirror as he ran it into the ground.

Trump is Berlusconi in waiting, with less cosmetic surgery. Berlusconi is Trump in senescence, with even higher alimony payments.”

Trump’s attacks on John McCain’s military record – “he’s not a hero” – may not be the fatal blow that finally melts down his silly, unserious and ultimately hateful and harmful campaign, but if not this, something else – and soon. Americans enjoy a sideshow, but, so far at least, we’ve not elected a Berlusconi president. The “Real Trump of CNN” won’t play in the White House Situation Room.

Guys like Trump burn hot from the oxygen of publicity, including the kind of attention that holds that you can say anything as long as the name is spelled correctly. But soon enough, one can hope, a fire that consumes all the available oxygen burns itself out. The biggest current clown in American politics will melt into a puddle of his own making. The wicked witch in Oz comes to mind. Just like in the movie it will be a great scene to watch.

 

Trump, Typewriters

My Royal

photoMore than 30 years ago, as occasionally happens, I was in the right place at the right time. I invested $20 in a piece of writing history – a 1935 vintage Royal portable typewriter. In the intervening three decades I have schlepped my Royal from one address to the next, long ago having put aside any pretense of actually using the machine that I had once envisioned employing, Dashiell Hammett-like, to write a sparse novel about a hard boiled, but loveable detective.  My Royal quietly collected dust, became a joke for those who noticed it sitting on my desk – “pretty old school, Johnson” – and an object of genuine curiosity for any person under 30.

Tom Hanks – the actor Tom Hanks – prompted me to fall in love again with my Royal. Turns out Mr. Hanks collects typewriters and obviously loves the technology as he wrote recently in the New York Times. “I use a manual typewriter — and the United States Postal Service — almost every day,” Hanks wrote in an August essay. “My snail-mail letters and thank-you notes, office memos and to-do lists, and rough — and I mean very rough — drafts of story pages are messy things, but the creating of them satisfies me like few other daily tasks.”

I have rediscovered the same pleasure.

Although you can’t really say I had abused my mostly unused Royal over the decades I’ve owned it, it was in serious need of cleaning and a tune-up. A new ribbon was in order and a couple of keys stuck over and over. What to do? Like everything else these days one takes to Google to find a service, if it still exists, that once you could look up in the Yellow Pages. My online look-up of typewriter repair lead me to the perfectly named “Ace Typewriter & Equipment Company” on Lombard Street in Portland, Oregon.

The Yelp review says Ace is “the only typewriter repair shop” on the west coast, which may be a little like saying you run the only vacuum tube business in North America, but one step in the door and I was a goner. The dimly lit front rooms were cluttered with old machines. The air was thick with smells of oil and ink. The extremely pleasant and superbly knowledgeable repair guy was certainly old school. He wrote my repair order on a ticket pad, said it would cost $55 for the tune-up, including a new ribbon, and I should check back in a month. “Do you need a deposit?” I asked. “Nope,” was his reply. If any place could make my once very serviceable Royal sing again this was that place.

A month later I was back to collect my lovely refurbished clacker. The unique Royal “touch control” worked perfectly and the years of accumulated dust and grime had been polished away. The new ribbon transferred the ink perfectly. Well, not perfectly, since using a 75 year old typewriter requires a certain discipline that years of tapping on a PC keyboard allows you to forget. You must strike the keys with some passion and, of course, you need to strike the right keys and that, I soon discovered, will require a little practice. I never mastered, even with a high school typing class – remember those – the “touch method.” In the days when a typewriter was the only instrument of choice in the newsroom I pecked away, as I imagined William L. Shirer or Edward R. Murrow once did, with two fingers and both thumbs. It feels good to do it again.

Spend a little time on the web and amazingly you’ll discover a world of typewriter lovers out there. A wonderful paper, card and printing store in Portland – Oblation – celebrated International Typewriter Day this summer by setting up machines on the sidewalk and supplying the paper for passersby. Oblation’s owner Jennifer Rich told the Oregonian, “A type-written love note to somebody or a poem is something you can’t get just anywhere.” Yup.

The guy at Ace said my trusty Royal has been dubbed the Kit Kittredge model because the 10-year-old heroine of The American Girl stories used one in the movie, which I confess I missed, and he said he gets calls every week from some parent looking for such a typewriter for a youngster. That may be one of the more gratifying things I’ve heard in a long, long time.

“Short of chiseled words in stone, few handmade items last longer than a typed letter,” Tom Hanks wrote, “for the ink is physically stamped into the very fibers of the paper, not layered onto the surface as with a laser-printed document or the status-setting IBM Selectric — the machine that made the manual typewriter obsolete. Hit the letter Y on an East German Erika typewriter — careful now, it’s where the Z key is on an English language keyboard because German uses the Z more often — and a hammer strikes an ink-stained ribbon, pressing the dye into the paper where it will be visible for perpetuity unless you paint it over or burn the page.”

I’m expecting to hear that my embrace of my Royal – it’s right here at my right elbow – has taken me from “old school” to “eccentric.” I’m OK with that. Some things old can be new again and besides I have a few letters I need to write.