By David Weiss | January 7, 2021 | From Deadline Detroit
The writer, a Los Angeles freelancer, grew up in Oak Park. He has written for Newsweek, the LA Herald Examiner and Men's Journal and co-founded the band Was (Not Was).
Perhaps the most corrosive effect of the Trump era is not the wholesale degradation of our cherished institutions and ideas, it’s that it all began with the election of a man better qualified to sell rotgut, self-branded vodka and inedible steaks than by one deeply motivated by patriotism or a sense of service. It’s government by infomercial host, not by a statesman.
Anybody passingly familiar with modern literature will at least remember the title of Samuel Beckett’s bleak one-act play, “Krapp’s Last Tape,” wherein the excrementally-named 69-year-old hero plays recorded audio snippets of himself while sitting alone in his den. Like most of Beckett’s work, it is alternately harrowing and hilarious. And sad -- very, very sad.
When it became clear in the last year that our addled and beleaguered chief executive might be headed to a similarly dark and solitary place, I started to imagine writing an “answer play” to Beckett’s entitled “Trump’s Last Tweet.” Picture Dick Nixon downing shots of booze and talking to the White House paintings while “Victory at Sea” blared from the hi-fi. Oh yes, Nixon apparently played tapes of himself as well, the very recordings that helped end his felonious reign. Life imitating art, one of my favorite earthly phenomena.'
Now, instead of Krapp or Nixon, picture our putative hero, Donald J. Trump, barricaded in the White House behind that Pee-wee Herman “tiny desk,” pecking away at his phone as the final hours of his term expire. One can only imagine the last snippets of bitterness and bile left in his tawdry soul, but I’m almost sure he’d be filing through his own personal enemies list and getting in his last licks before Joe and Jill show up to paint over his gilded house of horrors. Again, as craven and selfish as Trump has proven to be, this too is a very sad – if not outright depressing -- tableau. Curtain.
Back to reality for a moment: I have been contending for a while now that the rise and fall of Donald Trump is a tragedy without a proper hero, at least in the Greek or Shakespearean mold. Many have invoked the memory of King Lear’s descent into madness to find a parallel to Trump’s last days, but I disagree. Lear was a once-great man whose tragic flaws finally did him in, leaving him alone in a raging storm with his faithful Fool ever by his side (one of the great love stories in all of literature for my money).
Smoke, mirrors and illusion
Contrarily, Donald Trump was never great or powerful, but more resembled the infamous Wizard of Oz, operating behind a curtain of lies, fraud and bankruptcies, with smoke and mirrors and the illusion of television stardom to burnish his image as a brilliant, self-made mogul. Blame Roy Cohn and Mark Burnett for turning a run-of-the-mill real estate grifter into the most powerful con man in the world (after his mentor Vladimir Putin, of course).
But again, warts-and-all real life is so much superior to mere works of the imagination, both in its comic and tragic aspects. And Donald Trump – master showman that he is – penned an ignominious last act to his absurdist drama, by having a last go at ginning up the MAGA diehards before going noisily into the dark night of his post-presidency. “Big protest in DC on January 6th,” he tweeted on December 20th. “Be there, will be wild!”
Of course, what ensued two weeks later was an abomination to those with even an atom of respect for what was left of American democracy, as locked-and-loaded louts and loudmouths stormed the Thunderdome of the U.S. Capitol and rousted the assembled lawmakers (good and bad people on both sides of the aisle, of course) before they could bring the paper guillotine down on King Donald’s head.
And where was the great and mighty royal while his muttering minions did his nefarious bidding? After using the plural pronoun (as in: “Let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue”), Bunker Boy retreated to the safety of the White House, turned on his seventeen TVs and sat down with a six-pack of Diet Coke and a crate of Pringles to watch what fine chaos he’d whipped up. The rest, as we are fond of saying, is history.
Of course, Krapp – that is, Trump – also fired up his tiny keyboard and tweeted a few last cowardly salvos before being suspended from the platform. “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Remember this day forever.”
Caligula in a golf shirt
In the manner of Jerry Springer (one of Donald’s reality TV role models, no doubt), here’s an unasked for final thought: While Donald Trump has lived a life of utter selfishness, greed and avarice, his final act as president (notwithstanding what surprises the wizard has up his sleeve in the next two weeks), might just have been his most charitable! How so?
Count Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham among the primary beneficiaries of Donald’s coded call for anarchy and violence. What better way to detach themselves from Death Star Trump than to be shocked and awed by his vindictive and dangerous behavior? They held their noses and golfed alongside the polo-shirted Caligula for four long years, while counting up the federal judges and Supreme Court justices they’d notched. And now they could wax morally indignant at his seditious behavior and finally agree to call poor Joe Biden president.
While the credits roll, I have to give a thoroughly ambiguous shout-out to the vicious enemy that Donald calls the China Virus. Without the arrival of Covid -- and his administration’s gross mismanagement of same -- chances are good that we would be staring down four more years of Trump and Barr and Kushner and DeVos and Mnuchin and the rest of the dramatis personae of the most nightmarish drama our frail democracy has ever endured. Heaven forfend, as Shakespeare wrote.
And as Trump kept uttering at those ghastly daily press conferences, one death is too many, but maybe the great dramatist in the sky had to summon what they used to call a “deus ex machina” to right what was wrong with our world, at whatever mortal cost to humanity. Measuring but 70 nanometers across, the lowly coronavirus felled the Man Who Would Forever Be King and banished him to twitter-limbo forevermore. Small favors, indeed.