Tag: Hillary Clinton

Sticky Images: Notes on “Two Ways To Say Goodbye To Milford”

“Two Ways”, which the good people at Elsewhere Lit decided to put in their 7th issue (out today) has its origins in two images, one from a real event, the other from a sitcom, that stuck with me long enough for me to combine them into something new. This isn’t unusual. Fiction writers do this a lot, but often times it’s hard to remember precisely where the images that inspire us come from. Here, it’s easy.

The first image comes from the fourth season of the TV sitcom Wings. In the episode “Goodbye, Old Friend” airplane mechanic Lowell Mather’s friend and mentor Weeb Gilroy passes away, and Lowell is asked to deliver the eulogy. But Lowell is not a words man, so he has no end of trouble penning something appropriate. In the end, he decides that in lieu of words, he’ll finish the project he and Weeb had been working on together for years: the restoration of an old biplane. He finishes the plane, and he gets Joe, his pilot friend, to fly it for him during Weeb’s funeral as a tribute. The show, presumably hampered by budget considerations, never shows the plane in the air, but the image I pictured of it buzzing the funeral stuck with me for decades afterward.

I’m a soft touch sometimes. Sue me.

The other image is more recent, and I remember it with less pleasure than I thought I would when I first saw it. When last year’s third presidential debate ended, Hillary Clinton had once again taken Donald Trump apart on stage, and you could tell that he knew it. Hillary had left her podium to shake hands with the moderator, meet her family, and wave to well-wishers in the audience–typical stuff politicians do, win or lose, at the ends of debates. Trump, by stark contrast, stayed behind the podium, seething. None of his family went near him. He’d been bested, by a woman, again, in front of the whole country, and he had no way of dealing with it. He just stood there, ripping pages from his notebook.


In the end, combining these two images was quite simple. Howard Zez is already established as my Trump stand-in, and putting him in a situation where he feels like he’s going to shine, as the one who delivers his brother Milford’s eulogy, puts him in a lovely situation for a comic face plant. And letting Howard’s sister deliver the coup de grace to his eulogy by flying the WWI plane she and Milford had been building over the funeral home let me to preserve the dynamic of the third presidential debate by having a woman show Howard up.

It was fun to write.

One more note. This is the first story I’ve written in this series told from Howard’s point of view. In other stories I’ve done, Howard comes of as a bluff, right-wing, vain, incompetent heel, which he certainly is. He’s Archie Bunker with more money and a camera. But when I wrote a story from his point of view, I had to find a way to connect with him, some aspect of me that I could see in him to humanize him. What I found was Howard-as-frustrated-artist. Howard decided to stay away from the family business to devote himself to making movies–a thing his has tremendous passion and no talent for. However much he tries to puff himself up, on some level he suspects that his relatives and friends think of his work as a joke, which contrasts sharply with the rest of the world’s utter indifference to it. Howard is desperate for acclaim and respect, and underneath his bluster he wonders if he’ll ever get it. I know I’ve felt like this from time to time, like I’m the only one who gives a damn whether I keep writing or not. And when I see social media posts from friends and relatives and strangers who seem to be doing so much better than I am, it makes me feel lousy about what I do and I wonder when or if it’ll get better, or if I am, in the end, any better at my art than Howard Zez is at his. It’s that insecurity, which I confront daily, that helped me connect with Howard Zez in “Two Ways To Say Goodbye To Milford”. To the extent that he isn’t just the two-dimensional butt of one of my jokes, that’s why.

We’ll most likely return to this next when my next story in the Zezverse, “The Day Molly Got Into Room”, appears in Constellations sometime in the spring of 2018.



“There are times when I’m ashamed to be a member of the human race and this is one such occasion.” –Colonel Dax Paths of Glory

I am in a state of utter desolation. My country has done something I didn’t believe it had it in itself to do. Something broke tonight, and broken things are hard to mend, if we’ll even still have the will to mend them. I don’t know. I don’t know anymore.

I can’t excuse it by saying the country was desperate. It had no cause to feel desperate. Its pathologies, now embodied in its likely President-Elect, are ancient, yes, but they have no relationship to understandable, common, rational reality. They’ve just festered here, an ugly undergrowth of what we’ve hoped was a worthwhile civilization, and we’ve allowed them to become very dangerous.

I don’t know where we go from here. Many will suffer real and great harm, and it saddens me to think that the winners of this election will take joy in its infliction, all to sate a rage that comes from…what? A President who tried to get them health care?

I don’t know who or what we are anymore, or if enough of us care enough to even bother to try to make sense again. I fear the damage we’ll do to ourselves and to the world in this state. Countries that give themselves over this this kind of raging, paranoid, sexist, racist nationalism seldom come to happy ends. I know. I wrote a book about one.

Comfort? I have none to offer. I’d like some if anyone has some. The best I can offer are a couple of poems to take you into the dark night.

Why I Take Trump Personally

img_0482This was my Dad, seven decades ago:


He shattered his leg jumping out of a plane just like that one during the Second World War. He studied chemistry. He built rockets, and helped U.S. intelligence figure out how the Soviets were building theirs. He shepherded me to adulthood. He faced racism, both subtle and gross, his entire life. He lived just long enough to see, and to vote twice for, America’s first black president, and he’d have been thrilled to see Hillary accept tonight’s Democratic nomination.

Here’s what Trump said about my Dad and millions of other black men:

Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.

Laziness is a trait in blacks.

Don’t tell me he didn’t mean it. He did. Don’t tell me he’s taken it back. He hasn’t. My Dad never made a huge amount of money–working as a scientist is seldom a path to riches–but he was worth a million Trumps, and a harder worker than an infinite number of Trumps, yet Trump wouldn’t have let him balance his books or live in one of his apartments because of his skin color.

That’s why I feel a particular, personal loathing for Donald Trump. I want him to lose. I want him beaten so bad that bigots will be afraid of running for office for the next 200 years.

That’s all.

Just Who Is Trump Anyway?



The strange, orange man giving a prime time speech tonight has been described in many ways. To his fans, he’s a brilliant businessman, a winner, a smart negotiator, a populist, “one of us”. To most other people he’s a bigot, a misogynist, a fraud, a charlatan, a pathological narcissist, a sociopath. You can guess where my sympathies lie. But as a novelist, I find myself wondering who Trump is to Trump. How and why did he build this persona for himself? What need does it serve?

We all construct personas for ourselves. They don’t necessarily feel like the real us, but as far as whatever people we’re dealing with at the moment are concerned, they are. We put on personas when we go to work. If our jobs involve a lot of interaction with people, we put the friendly, helpful, social version of ourselves (the introverts among us find this horribly draining, but we do it if we have to). If we have to project strength and authority as part of our work, we create that version of ourselves. In unfamiliar situations, when we’re nervous, we find a persona that won’t expose our fear to people who could exploit it. Our brains are, among other things, persona manufacturing machines, sticking on us whatever masks seem appropriate to our moments. Underneath this, we imagine we’re in control of these personas–and to some extent we are. That’s why we can speak of putting on our game faces. But persona selection, even when done consciously, still arises from and reflects emotional states, wounds, and pathologies we don’t control.

Let’s think about Trump’s persona. This is the Trump that we see on television and read in interviews. It’s also the Trump that Trump’s ghostwriters are instructed to replicate on the page.


  1. Trump is smart. He’s the shrewdest man in the room. If you shake his hand, he will almost certainly relieve you of some of your fingers. His perspicacity in all matters–financial, personal, governmental–isn’t open to question. Trump’s is the first and last word on any subject, and if you’re lucky enough to be in his presence, don’t talk. Just listen and learn.
  2. Trump is strong. He dominates every room he’s in. Every situation is a chance for him to humiliate the weak. Women, in his view, want nothing more than to abase themselves before his powerful presence. Men aspire, as men, to be more like him.
  3. Trump is immaculate. Around Trump there is no filth, no ugliness. Everything is clean and golden and shiny and luxurious. Everything he owns is the biggest, the classiest, the best. Imperfection? Intolerable.

There’s more we could add to this list, but I think this summarizes how Trump wants to be seen and how he’d like to view himself. We don’t have to guess that he wants to be seen this way. Twenty years ago, he assumed a fake identity just to tell people these things about himself. And I can understand wanting to see oneself in such Zarathustrian terms. Who wouldn’t?  But the reality of Trump doesn’t come close to living up to it. Far from a shrewd businessman, his ventures and investments have underperformed their markets while taking on far too much risk. (If Trump were your investment advisor, you would have long ago screamed at/fired/cuckolded/defenestrated him.) Far from an Übermensch, Donald Trump was thoroughly dominated, just last night, by none other than the man he defeated in the primaries, Ted Cruz, whose speech Trump and his staff never even bothered to read. A strong person, you’d think, would be able to shake off the sting of criticism, but you can still needle Trump by pointing out his stubby fingers, which will elicit from him a tirade about an article written about him 25 years ago in a magazine that no longer exists. As for being immaculate, it is true that Trump is a germaphobe who won’t even touch the ground floor button in elevators because too many dirty people have pushed it, but he’s far from a connoisseur. Trump’s tastes tend toward the garish and vulgar. Even his fine art purchases are more about the price tag than the canvas:

I was prepared to like him as I boarded his black 727 at La Guardia for the flight to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida home—prepared to discover that his over-the-top public persona was a clever pose. That underneath was an ironic wit, an ordinary but clever guy. But no. With Trump, what you see is what you get. His behavior was cringe-worthy. He showed off the gilded interior of his plane—calling me over to inspect a Renoir on its walls, beckoning me to lean in closely to see . . . what? The luminosity of the brush strokes? The masterly use of color? No. The signature. “Worth $10 million,” he told me. Time after time the stories he told me didn’t check out, from Michael Jackson’s romantic weekend at Mar-a-Lago with his then wife Lisa Marie Presley (they stayed at opposite ends of the estate) to the rug in one bedroom he said was designed by Walt Disney when he was 18 (it wasn’t) to the strength of his marriage to Maples (they would split months later).

It was hard to watch the way he treated those around him, issuing peremptory orders—“Polish this, Tony. Today.” He met with the lady who selected his drapery for the Florida estate—“The best! The best! She’s a genius!”—who had selected a sampling of fabrics for him to choose from, all different shades of gold. He left the choice to her, saying only, “I want it really rich. Rich, rich, elegant, incredible.” Then, “Don’t disappoint me.” It was a pattern. Trump did not make decisions. He surrounded himself with “geniuses” and delegated. So long as you did not “disappoint” him—and it was never clear how to avoid doing so—you were gold.

In a healthier person, the cognitive dissonance between how Trump presents himself and how he is would occasion some reflection, and possibly an adjustment of the persona to align more with reality. This has not happened. Instead, Trump’s version of himself has become, if anything, more cartoonish with the passage of time, as he’s doubled, tripled, and quadrupled down on the lies needed to keep his image spotless. This seems like a lot of effort to go through, and it seems likely to leave Trump open to one enormous crash, probably this November. So why does he think the game worth the candle?

When I think of this question, I think of my grandmother, who died of Christian Science in 1988. Toward the end she was firing left and right Christian Science practitioners who urged her to seek “alternative help” (CS French for medical assistance). When I asked my Dad why she was continuing to follow this nonsensical faith-healing treatment method even though it was obviously killing her, my Dad told me she’d “spent too much time in”. Her beliefs had hurt her children, lost her a husband and a brother, and to abandon them now would mean abandoning the sense of self she’d built up over a lifetime. For her to give up Mary Baker Eddy would be like me giving up writing fiction, or Trump giving up his strong, smart, immaculate persona.

Trump really needs to believe that the persona he’s created to face the public is him. He probably needs it because the inner Trump, who I imagine is a perpetually perplexed, terrified entity, a mass of insecurities and phobias formed in childhood about dirt, women, people of color, and any part of the world not under his direct control. He’s built this public persona to stand on the battlements that separate this scared inner Trump from the forces of chaos that have laid siege outside, eager to tear him to pieces. To admit that his persona isn’t real would be to leave this inner Trump naked against those who would annihilate him. So the Trump persona must be maintained, updated, caparisoned in the newest and shiniest and classiest armor. For outside there be dragons. Dragons with cooties.

I wonder what losing in November will do to this man. His persona is based on being smarter and stronger than everyone else. To lose, particularly to lose to a woman…how will the little boy in the big wig come to terms with that? I picture him in his offices in Trump Tower, like Hitler in the bunker, barking out orders to underlings to rally nonexistent volunteers and uninterested donors.  Or I picture him like late stage Howard Hughes, with fingernails longer than his fingers and surrounded by jars of his own urine. The one way I don’t picture him coming out is totally fine, relaxed, and himself. No rubber duck is that unsinkable.

(If this wasn’t enough of a preview of coming attractions, you might want to spend a day or two reading the OSS’s psychological profile of Hitler, which contains some helpful parallels to Trump.)

Update: 7/25

Scientific American takes a look at Trump’s psychology and comes to similar conclusions.

The Week in Weak

Here are the weakest things that caught my attention this week.

Getting too Happy That Trump Lost

A Slate piece captures the attitude: “Donald Trump Lost the Iowa Caucus. Good job, America.” Man, don’t be patting America, or at least the 150,000 or so very white people in it who voted their preference for Ted Cruz over The Donald last night, because here’s the thing. They voted for TED FUCKING CRUZ. Why should we congratulate them for that? That’s like saying to your daughter, “Congratulations for not marrying Warren Jeffs. I’m sure this nice Charles Manson fellow is a much happier choice.”

The thing about Trump is that he makes all the GOP’s other crazy candidates appear more sane than they are, at least in the eyes of the vapid motherfuckers we overpay to be media pundits. This is unfortunate, because it means that guys like Marco Rubio, whose actual policy positions put him to the right of Mussolini, gets credit for being a conventional, responsible politician:

The worst thing about the GOP primary is that someone will win.

Staying on the Presidential race for a second.


Hillary versus Bernie Rage Olympics

As the Iowa Caucuses approached this week, fans of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders took turns flaying each other on social media. The nasty flies in both directions.




Folks, I doubt this’ll do a lot of good, but let me say this right now. A lot of you social media progressives are middle class types who get your health care from your jobs and don’t need things like the Affordable Care Act and EITC to see you through. I need at least one and sometimes both of those things, and I really, really can’t afford to let the Republicans take control of all three branches of the Federal Government, knock off the ACA, start a war with Iran, stick another two or three Alitos on the court, and in general fuck things up royal. This is going to be hard election. It’s going to be close. And if a bunch of half-wits shouting they won’t vote for the Democratic candidate if it isn’t the one of their choice make it so I lose my health insurance, I will be beyond pissed off.

I happen to like both candidates. I feel that Bernie Sanders has opened up conversations on a lot of issues that are important to me, but I also think that his view of the other side is inaccurate–Republicans don’t take the positions they do because the 1% pay them; The 1% pay Republicans for taking positions they’re already ideologically predisposed to hold–and his appeals to political purity leave me mistrustful. I’m not saying Bernie Sanders isn’t a basically honest person, but let’s not insult our own intelligence by pretending he’s not a politician and would never disappoint us as President. Still, I’ve admired his advocacy and his work in both Houses of Congress since he started. Bernie has moved the Overton window in a healthy direction, and if his ideas don’t win this time (as I think they won’t), they and the movement backing them will stand much better chances of winning down the road thanks to what Bernie’s doing in this campaign.

On the other side, Hillary Clinton does tailor her politics to the moment, but that’s true of everyone who’s been at or near the top of the political world for decades, and it has its uses. Such people can be pushed, which means, if they don’t do what you want, some of that is on you for not pushing hard enough. Also, I think she’s had enough ring time with the political right that she can handle them, frustrate them, and expose their foolishness, which will be valuable because, if she becomes President, she’ll be dealing with a hostile U.S. House (and possibly in 2019, a hostile U.S. Senate as well) for much of her first term at least. During that time, I think she’ll put some pretty good Supreme Court justices on the bench, keep up the Iran agreement, preserve the Affordable Care Act, and keep the Ryan budget a mere theory. Beyond that, I like Hillary. I like that she’s weathered all she’s had to, survived, and kept trying, when my attitude would have been “Fine. Fuck you all! Suck my dick, you fucking ingrates!” That attitude is why I can never be a politician. Hillary can. And in this race, though it was a hard decision for me, she has my support.

But if Bernie does pull the upset, he has it too.

Bug me about it in comments or on social media and, like O’Ren Ishii, I collect your fucking head.


Rutanya Alda tries to defend the Oscars on diversity, blows whatever credibility she had.

I thought the thing I’d be maddest at Rutanya Alda for doing was appearing in Amityville 2, one of the most stomach churningly miserable flicks I’ve ever seen. But her column in The Hollywood Reporter made me like her less. It starts with her claim that actors are the least racist people she knows. Right off she fails to recognize that what’s at issue here is the systematic exclusion of people of color from opportunities in Hollywood, not the racial animus, or lack thereof, coming from actors  Rutanya Alda happens to know. From there, her argument deteriorates, as she accuses actors of color of just not working as hard for their success as white actors while demanding unearned benefits. (Gee, who else do we hear this from?)

A few years ago, I had a situation arise which completely exemplifies our recent troubles. An Asian actress friend of mine wished to join the Academy. She had theater and TV credits, but little in the way of film credits. I cautioned her that she may not be accepted because of this, but her response was only that she was a minority and therefore would get in. Needless to say, she did not because she lacked the essential credentials. This friend of mine then turned around and blamed the Academy for not accepting her because of her race, the very thing she was convinced would get her in in the first place. Now with your new policies and the climate they create, my friend will apply again and this time most likely she will be accepted. Her eligibility has not changed — she did not have the film credentials then, nor does she now. But now, perhaps, that may just be enough.

Among the lessons to take away from this column, don’t have Rutanya Alda as your friend. She’ll turn you into a shrill two-dimensional stereotype in service of proving she and her other friends aren’t bigots. It never occurred to her that the reason her Asian actress friend had a hard time accumulating film credits is that booking a job as an Asian actress in films is a bitch wrapped in a nightmare inside of an nigh impossibility in an industry where the default female role is white (and under 30). Maybe her friend hoped the academy would recognize this reality and seek to broaden its membership in spite of it. Well, not if Rutanya Alda can help it.

Frankly, I preferred Alda playing a supporting role in Dino De Laurentiis’s Spooky House of Poop and Incest.

30 Years Ago This Week, Challenger Exploded

It still gets me down. I was in my Algebra II class, when Eric P., our class’s dullest student, bounded in and announced, almost happily it seemed, that the space shuttle Challenger had blown up. Nobody believed him, but a short time later the morning announcement from the principal confirmed it. The rest of the day was kind of a daze, at least until I got home and saw the footage, including that flash just after “Challenger go for throttle-up” that blew open the external fuel tank and…well…you know.

And 83 Years Ago This Week, Adolf Hitler Became Chancellor of Germany

Do I need to remind you that this sucked? Well, 24% of you in Iowa voted for fucking Trump, so I guess I do.

Until next week, that was “The Week in Weak”.