by Roxanne Tellier
At a party last summer, I met someone who looked very like Patrick Stewart, aka, Captain Picard of Star Trek fame.
He seemed like a nice enough guy. He had a lovely smile, and a soft, even childlike, air.
Picard, the character, is universally beloved, and, in that role, exhibits extraordinary intelligence, patience, kindness, and empathy, while he simultaneously pilots a starship and its crew to adventures and destinations unknown.
The fellow that I met, the Picard lookalike, was a very nice man. What he WASN’T … was Patrick Stewart. And there’s an odd thing about how humans process information; when we see someone who looks like someone we admire, we expect them to be very like that person. It’s like we believe that our appearance is the augur of our destiny.
One of these things is not like the other.
Our society lionizes the successful, the beautiful, rich, famous, and powerful. Accordingly, we have a surplus of people ready and willing to jump at the chance to ‘pretend’ to be one of our idols, to imitate them, in the hopes of drawing from the fans a little of the same love and respect – and maybe some wealth of their own. “Tribute’ or clone acts fill the entertainment world, and those lucky enough to resemble actors or world leaders can make a ton of money, just showing up at conferences, conventions, and forums, and shaking hands with the faithful.
But of course, looks have very little to do with ability, intelligence, artistry or character. Sow’s ear, silk purse … you can dress a clown in an expensive suit, but that doesn’t mean the clown can do much more than twist a balloon into a poodle shape. And, no matter how persuasive the clown, or how nice the suit, you really shouldn’t give that clown access to a button that can potentially blow up the world.
We are so enamoured by fame that we’ve gone from idolizing those who were indisputably the best in the world at what they did, to pedestalling those who are famous for simply being famous. To this, we can now add those who are famous simply because they look like someone famous.
The people of the United States of America love fame so much that they appointed a failed businessman cum reality show actor to lead and control the enormous wealth and power of their nation. Hasn’t gone quite as well as they’d expected. But that’s because, as I mentioned above, the fact that someone APPEARS a certain way, does not mean that they have any of the attributes of that façade.
Trump was a creation, a confection fashioned by hanging an expensive suit on a broken coat rack, and surrounding him with what the hoi polloi imagine is luxury…. beautiful women, gilded spittoons, champagnes and yachts. In reality, the trump that strutted on the stage sprang nearly fully formed from the forehead of Mark Burnett, show creator extraordinaire.
After the success of Survivor, Burnett wanted to try another ‘social experiment’ – ‘Survivor in the City’ This one would feature contestants competing for a corporate job in the URBAN jungle.
From The New Yorker magazine, January 2019. “He needed someone to play the role of a heavyweight tycoon. Burnett, who tends to narrate stories from his own life in the bravura language of a Hollywood pitch, once said of the show, “It’s got to have a hook to it, right? They’ve got to be working for someone big and special and important. Cut to: I’ve rented this skating rink.”
In 2002, Burnett rented Wollman Rink, in Central Park, for a live broadcast of the Season 4 finale of “Survivor.” The property was controlled by Donald Trump, who had obtained the lease to operate the rink in 1986, and had plastered his name on it. Before the segment started, Burnett addressed fifteen hundred spectators who had been corralled for the occasion, and noticed Trump sitting with Melania Knauss, then his girlfriend, in the front row. Burnett prides himself on his ability to “read the room”: to size up the personalities in his audience, suss out what they want, and then give it to them.
“I need to show respect to Mr. Trump,” Burnett recounted, in a 2013 speech in Vancouver. “I said, ‘Welcome, everybody, to Trump Wollman skating rink. The Trump Wollman skating rink is a fine facility, built by Mr. Donald Trump. Thank you, Mr. Trump. Because the Trump Wollman skating rink is the place we are tonight and we love being at the Trump Wollman skating rink, Mr. Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump.” As Burnett told the story, he had scarcely got offstage before Trump was shaking his hand, proclaiming, “You’re a genius!”………………
Trump had been a celebrity since the eighties, his persona shaped by the best-selling book “The Art of the Deal.” But his business had foundered, and by 2003 he had become a garish figure of local interest—a punch line on Page Six. “The Apprentice” mythologized him anew, and on a much bigger scale, turning him into an icon of American success. …
“The Apprentice” portrayed Trump not as a skeezy hustler who huddles with local mobsters but as a plutocrat with impeccable business instincts and unparalleled wealth—a titan who always seemed to be climbing out of helicopters or into limousines. “Most of us knew he was a fake,” Braun told me. “He had just gone through I don’t know how many bankruptcies. But we made him out to be the most important person in the world. It was like making the court jester the king.” Bill Pruitt, another producer, recalled, “We walked through the offices and saw chipped furniture. We saw a crumbling empire at every turn. Our job was to make it seem otherwise.”
This is an oddly common refrain among people who were involved in “The Apprentice”: that the show was camp, and that the image of Trump as an avatar of prosperity was delivered with a wink. Somehow, this interpretation eluded the audience. Jonathon Braun marvelled, “People started taking it seriously!”
To paraphrase Burnett – cut to: Trump on an escalator.
“Trump has succeeded in politics, in part, by borrowing the tropes of the show. Jonathon Braun pointed out to me that when Trump announced his candidacy, in 2015, he did so in the atrium of Trump Tower, and made his entrance by descending the gold-colored escalator—choreography that Burnett and his team had repeatedly used on the show. After Trump’s announcement, reports suggested that people who had filled the space and cheered during his speech had been hired to do so, like TV extras, for a day rate of fifty dollars. Earlier this year, the White House started issuing brief video monologues from the President that strongly evoke his appearances on Burnett’s show. Justin McConney, a former director of new media for the Trump Organization, told New York that, whenever Trump works with camera people, he instructs them, “Shoot me like I’m shot on ‘The Apprentice.’ ”
On the days that I am feeling generous about what would make any human, never mind a professional politician who has sworn an oath on a Bible they claim to hold dear, to believe that trump is a leader ordained by god, elected by 60 million Americans to hold their futures in his tiny hands, I assume it must be, overall, about their own buy-in to his apparent ‘fame.’
Because it can’t be based on any type of actual success he has achieved; his business history is strewn with bankruptcies, court orders, and law suits from people who have been royally ripped off by trump and his family. It can’t be from his success with interpersonal relationships; his three marriages, all of which were plagued by his cheating with any female within grabbing range, would belie his ability to maintain a close, intimate relationship, even with a mate. And although trump has leaned heavily upon, and capitalized on the fawning adoration of the Evangelicals, he himself shows less than a passing interest in religion. Even ‘two Corinthians’ had to be coerced out of him.
I have to come to the conclusion that this mist, this miasma of perceived fame, is what blurred the vision of those who opted to follow trump down the escalator and into a perversion of a Republican party concocted by the Machiavellian Mitch McConnell.
Even those who ran against his presidential bid, whom he skewered like so many cocktail weenies and left to wither on the sidelines, have had a ‘come to Jesus!’ moment, in which they substituted the Jesus for the two faced Janus.
Maybe we’ll learn, years from now, exactly how trump’s former opponents became some of his fiercest defenders. For now, we can just watch, goggle-eyed, as the like of Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio abase themselves at his feet.
Few in the GOP are courageous enough to face the POTUS’ wrath, and really, you can’t blame them for being such cowards. The power of his office is vast, and there is no atrocity he will not countenance. After his yawning dismissal of the murder of Kashoggi by bone saw, it’s pretty clear that he believes all is fair when it comes to disposing – literally – of your enemies.
So I think most of us were rather surprised when Matt Gaetz, another fawning sycophant who seemed to be on the fast track to some prestigious position or posting, suddenly found a conscience, and lent his support to the House’s war powers resolution, which would limit the ability of the president to engage in further military action against Iran without congressional approval.
Gaetz was immediately excoriated by his party, and summarily removed from the defense team being put together for the Impeachment trial. While Gaetz seemed genuinely hurt by the cold shoulder, he also had a few choice words for the media after watching how the Dems and GOP conducted themselves in said trial. While he praised the House Dems for their presentation, saying that ‘they made their case as if it were cable news,” and commending their use of multimedia to make points, he had little respect for the (unpaid) trump defense team, whom he said ‘looked like an eighth-grade book report. Actually, no, I take that back. An eighth-grader would know how to use PowerPoint and iPads.”
Gaetz is, of course, one of the many angry Republicans who just can’t seem to speak without screaming their ‘truth’ over whomever is attempting to make a point. I won’t give him a pass for seeing the defense team as sloppy and lazy; his disdain seems primarily motivated by his narcissistic belief that it is their loss for keeping him off that team.
After the first few hours of the lacklustre defense provided by trump’s defense, he may well be right. After all, we’ve just seen three days, a solid 24 hours, of superior, informed, well-expressed, cogent, political rhetoric, which outlined in every detail exactly WHY trump has to be removed from office, culminating with Adam Schiff’s powerful summation, that – assuming there’s a nation and a democracy after trump’s evil reign – will likely become as renowned as the signature speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., John F Kennedy, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was that good.
“If right doesn’t matter, if right doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how good the constitution is. It doesn’t matter how brilliant the framers were. It doesn’t matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is. It doesn’t matter how well-written the oath of impartiality is. If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost. If truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost. The framers couldn’t protect us from ourselves, if right and truth don’t matter. And you know that what he did was not right. You know, that’s what they do in the old country, that Colonel Vindman’s father came from or the old country that my great-grandfather came from, or the old countries that your ancestors came from or that maybe you came from. But here, right is supposed to matter.
It’s what’s made us the greatest nation on Earth. No constitution can protect us if right doesn’t matter anymore. And you know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. He’ll do it now. He’s done it before. He’ll do it for the next several months. He’ll do it in the election if he’s allowed to. This is why, if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters. Because right matters. And the truth matters. Otherwise, we are lost.”
No, one of these things is not like the other.
It is beyond me how those in the trump cult can continue to follow their false Messiah, even as he tears down the foundations of their once great nation. Indeed, even as the Impeachment trial attempts to decide if his crimes are sufficient to remove him from office, he’s flaunting his obstruction, (“We have all the material. They don’t have the material.”) overturning legislation that for 50 years has protected the waters and environment of the country, and telling the politicians and billionaires attending Davos the ‘entitlements’ of social security, Medicare, and Medicaid are his targets to be cut, should he win a second term.
“It’ll be toward the end of the year,” Trump said from Davos, Switzerland. “And at the right time, we will take a look at that. You know, that’s actually the easiest of all things, if you look, cause it’s such a big percentage. “
And really, how big a deal is the prospective deaths of a couple of hundred million Americans through his actions, in the face of climate change, and the accelerated political unrest around the globe, that has enough people so on edge and fearful that it’s moved us to a mere one hundred seconds from Doomsday?
One of these things is not like the others. One spells the end of democracy, and possibly the planet. The other hopes that the children of the world are strong and determined enough to snatch back all of our futures from the brink that crazed, populist, right wing politicians have dragged us toward.
And, unless humanity makes some smart decisions very soon, that direction may ultimately have very little to do with what we would choose, even assuming that we’re given a choice.