It wasn't that long ago in Hollywood that casting a generic American president was as easy as flipping through a binder full of square-jawed, clean-shaven, tall American men.
If you wanted a Jack Kennedy type, you'd find someone youthful, natural hair color but with a bit of gray around the temples -- the Dad President. Or if you wanted the Granddad kind of president, you'd add some wrinkles and a splash of Ronald Reagan's Vitalis. If you wanted to go way out on a limb, you could cast a black guy, but only if his name was Morgan Freeman and his one job was to tell the world the human race's gig is up.
The Presidential Archetype is broken, blown to hell by a reality bomb. Now you can cast just about anybody -- Gary Busey, Bobcat Goldthwait, Pitbull. Anybody but a woman, of course. The audience would have to suck it up and suspend its disbelief, because whatever you put on the screen wouldn't be as surreal as what's waiting outside past the box office.
This was the week @realdonaldtrump became @potus, and the results were pretty much what everybody but sycophants and red-hat fanboys were expecting.
Character is destiny, they say, and @realdonaldtrump's ship of state floats on a stream of narcissism and bullying. On Saturday, as hundreds of thousands marched on Washington, @potus stood before a wall of stars blathering about the lying media and crowd sizes.
Those stars on the wall of the Central Intelligence Agency represent men and women -- many whose names will never be known, some who weren't even citizens -- who gave their lives for this country and its secrets. But to @realdonaldtrump it was a backdrop for media-bashing and self-aggrandizement. He'd have done better to stand in front of the Vietnam Memorial and rant about Jane Fonda being a skank who hasn't been more than an eight since she did those aerobics videos back in the 80s. Sad!
We've never seen this recipe for a president before, but many of us in Alabama have tasted some of the ingredients -- three in particular.
Take a dash of Mike Hubbard
Of the Alabama politicians we've seen in the mold of @realdonaldtrump, former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard is the most benign, but he's the best example that, when politicians promise to run government like a business, they usually make government into their personal business.
While @realdonaldtrump stood on a stage a week ago next to a big pile of paper his aides wouldn't let the media actually see, pointing to that pile and insisting that all those reams of paper were documents he'd signed divesting himself of his companies, as Politico reported last week, there's no evidence he's done any such thing.
"To transfer ownership of his biggest companies, Trump has to file a long list of documents in Florida, Delaware and New York," Politico reported Friday. "We asked officials in each of those states whether they have received the paperwork. As of 3:15 p.m. today, the officials said they have not."
Mix in a gallon of Larry Langford
I've written before about the former Birmingham mayor's "Beat-Your-Kids" Speech -- how he ranted about the thing that's wrong with (Birmingham/Alabama/America) is that we just don't whup our young people the way we used to. But a reader reminded me of a joke I'd forgotten -- how Langford would put his hand out to his side, about even with his thigh, and say, "What we need is an electric chair about this big."
And we in the press would shake our heads and scribble those zingers in our notebooks, dutiful stenographers. Nobody hacked the media's blind spots like Langford. We were his Twitter without the Internet, @realmayorlangford.
And it worked -- an idea every minute, a line over the line -- because it was entertaining and it distracted his fans and haters alike from the real carnage: a bankrupt publically funded amusement park, a bankrupt county and a broken city not far behind but for the feds carting him away in cuffs.
On a roux of Richard Scrushy
There was a moment during the first debate when Hillary Clinton questioned @realdonaldtrump's worth, when you could see his ego tearing at the seams. At first composed, the GOP nominee turned into a word salad.
I'd seen this sort of thing before. About 10 years ago, on the steps of the federal courthouse in Birmingham, the defendant Richard Scrushy told the media that, after his acquittal on accounting fraud charges, he would take back his company.
I asked him why HealthSouth shareholders would ever want him back. After all, I said, by his own admission, every chief financial officer he'd ever hired turned out to be a confessed criminal, and his defense in court was that he was duped by them all. Was that the sort of record that made one CEO material?
I wish we'd had cell phone cameras then to show you what happened next, because it needs to be seen to be understood. Something inside him broke. The tectonic plates of his ego slipped. A volcano of spittle and invective erupted. Finally, one of his lawyers led him by the elbow into a nearby SUV. I'm by no means a psychiatrist, but I'm confident I've seen the emotional crack-up of a narcissist.
Maybe you see a pattern here
We've seen @realdonaldtrump's kind before, but while we see these men now through the lens of their crimes, all of them were not only taken seriously once, but also empowered by the people they betrayed. Stockholders looked past Scrushy's nouveau riche egomania in the hope that he would make them rich. Birmingham voters elected Langford when he didn't even live in the city. Hubbard's constituents re-elected him while he was under indictment, and his colleagues in the Alabama House re-elected him Speaker -- a reminder that we can't trust government's checks and balances to save us from cults of personality disorder.
Nonetheless, liberals should be overjoyed to have @realdonaldtrump as their foil. If he had done as some moderate Republicans (cucks!) had wanted, and stepped aside when any sane man would, Mike Pence would be standing in his place right now, signing into law all the same legislation the Republican Congress pushes across the Resolute desk. Instead, they have a clinical narcissist in the early stages of a spectacular self-destruction.
This is a little man with big buttons to push. As long as he doesn't push the biggest one, this will end well for his enemies.
As for those who will inevitably try to work within the system and with @realdonaldtrump -- it will end badly.
Just look this weekend at the disaster of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer arguing the inaugural crowd was the largest in history, or Kellyanne Conway coining next year's new entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, "alternative facts." (Syn. See: lies.) This is media relations by the North Korea handbook, but this is still America and that crap won't work here.
We've seen this sort of thing before, and it ends with cell blocks occupied by the greedy, the treasonous, and the self-serving accomplices, and long rows of padded cells, filled with failed White House apologists, from Spicer to Sims, pasting together Pepe the Frog memes with construction paper and safety scissors, ceaselessly muttering to themselves ..."... buildthewall ... draintheswamp ... make ... america ... great ... again ..."