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Thomas Adcock: Split Screen

Split Screen

‘Fat Don’ Trumped on TV

by Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2022 – Thomas Adcock

 NEW YORK CITY, near America

During the week before Christmas 2022, American television viewers witnessed capital-I irony in the appearance of two vastly different men. Both were television entertainers not long ago; each was elected the improbable president of his respective country. One man’s post-TV performance in Washington bombed, the other triumphed in his new rôle in Kyiv.

Today, they are central characters in a true-life global drama posing the existential question: Can democracy survive the fascism and terrorism of our time?

Despite a common background as popular TV personalities, they are in all other ways polar opposites:

Volodymyr O. Zelenskyy, age 44, starred in the comedy series “Servant of the People,” a smash hit on Ukrainian television from 2015-19 and now streaming worldwide on the Netflix platform. The series concept—a public school teacher in Kyiv who rants about government corruption is catapulted into political leadership—is the world’s leading example of life imitating art.

Born to a provincial Jewish family, Mr. Zelenskyy earned a law degree from Kyiv National Economic University before turning to theatre and politics. His nickname is “Bonevtik.” (In Ukrainian, “Because he didn’t run away,” reflecting Mr. Zelenskyy’s patriotism and heroism in rejecting entreaties to flee into foreign exile when Russia launched its terrorist invasion in February 2022.)

Donald J. Trump, age 76, was typecast as a crudely bombastic corporate autocrat in “The Apprentice,” a so-called reality-TV series that ran from 2004 until 2017 when he was inaugurated as president of the United States—a weird eclipse of life and art.

Son of the famously racist New York real estate developer Fred Trump and grandson of the German-born whoremaster Friedrich Drumpf, the corpulent and slyly anti-Semitic Donald Trump expanded his father’s empire with the help of reputed mafiosi infecting the famously corrupt New York construction industry, while engaging in multiple side hustles involving gambling casinos, schlock merchandise, and fraudulent enterprise.

The nickname “Fat Don” reflects both the ex-president’s girth and his rank in the organized crime operation said to be his White House.

On Monday, December 19, the bipartisan select committee of Congress investigating Mr. Trump’s final act in office—inspiring his private army of fascist thugs to bring about a coup d’état on January 6, 2021—delivered its near thousand-page report to the U.S. Department of Justice, accompanied by its unanimous recommendation that the nation’s forty-fifth president be prosecuted for behind-the-scenes leadership of a violent insurrection meant to keep him in power despite losing the election of 2020 to President Joe Biden.

The Trump insurrection was only the second in American history, the first being Britain’s attempt to regain its former colony by despatching soldiers to burn down the Capitol building in Washington in 1814. That the former president refused to call off his Sturmtruppen of 2021 in timely fashion was especially irksome to the committee’s co-chair, Congresswoman Liz Cheney, a prominent member of Mr. Trump’s very own Republican Party.

“[It] was an utter moral failure and a clear dereliction of duty,” Ms. Cheney said—on television. Further of Mr. Trump, she said, “He is unfit for any office.”

—Flip the calendar one page forward:

On Tuesday, December 20, a likewise powerful committee of Congress voted to release to the public six years of Mr. Trump’s income tax returns, documents he long refused to produce in accordance with decades of election precedence. (As I write, copies of the returns are expected to be released to the press and television networks in a matter of days.) Among other revelations, we anticipate affirmation of what we have long suspected: Mr. Trump, a self-identified multi-billionaire cheapskate, paid anywhere from zero to $700 in taxes over the six-year period cited.   

—Flip another page, and enter Volodymyr Zelenskyy:

On Wednesday, December 21, the president of Ukraine arrived in Washington after a top-secret departure from his war-torn nation by way of U.S. military jet transport from Poland. It was his first trip abroad since conscripted Russian soldiers and allied Moscow mercenaries commenced brutal war crimes against civilians.

Bonevtik, hero of the people, was on a mission.

Though not fully fluent in English, President Zelenskyy was determined to speak America’s dominant language during an afternoon White House meeting with President Biden, then later for his evening speech to Congress, broadcast live on radio and television. After securing from Mr. Biden additional commitments of weaponry and money for his country’s defense against Russian terrorism, Mr. Zelenskyy drew loud and sustained applause from lawmakers with his emotional address:

“Against all odds and doom-and-gloom scenarios, Ukraine…is alive and kicking. Thank you. [I have] good reason to share with you our first, joint victory: We defeated Russia in the battle for minds of the world. We have no fear, nor should anyone in the world have it. Ukrainians gained this victory, and it gives us courage which inspires the entire world.

“The battle is not only for life, freedom and security of Ukrainians…This struggle will define in what world our children and grandchildren will live, and then their children and grandchildren.

“It will define whether it will be democracy for Ukrainians and for Americans—for all. This battle cannot be…ignored, hoping that the ocean or something else will provide a protection. From the United States to China, from Europe to Latin America, and from Africa to Australia, the world is too interconnected and interdependent to allow someone to stay inside and at the same time to feel safe when such a battle continues.

“Your money is not charity. It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”

Throughout President Zelenskyy address, two members of Congress sat on their hands, declining to join hundreds of their colleagues from both the Democratic and Republican parties, colleagues who rose several times in sustained applause.

Declining any sign of respect for Mr. Zelenskyy were the Trump-aligned Republicans Lauren Boebert of Colorado, a gun fanatic whose Christmas cards feature a photograph of her grinning family fondling AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifles, and Matt Gaetz of Florida, who was unsuccessful in gaining the ex-president’s official pardon in connection with a probable federal indictment for his alleged part in the sex trafficking of a minor girl. A third Trumper and ultra-rightwing Qanon true-believer, Marjorie Taylor-Greene of Georgia, refused altogether to show up.

As for Donald Trump: He hit the links that afternoon at his Mar-a-Lago golf resort and führerbunker; that evening, rather than watch Mr. Zelenskyy on television he drafted a psychotic social media post laden with his characteristic adolescent jeering, misspelled words, disinformation, odd capitalizations, and bizarre syntax:

“They say that the Unselect Committee of Democrats, Misfits, and Thugs, without any representation from Republicans in good standing [will] recommend Criminal Charges to the highly partisan, political, and Corrupt ‘Justice’ Department for the ‘PEACEFULLY & PATRIOTICLY’ speech I made on January 6th. This speech and my actions were mild & loving, especially when compared to Democrats wild spewing of HATE…SCAM!”  

Back on November 15, Donald Trump ended the excited speculation he touted by announcing the launch of his candidacy in the presidential election nearly two years hence. He invited television camera crews, some of which dutifully recorded the event—held in a Mar-a-Lago banquet room with his wife and favorite adult child, Ivanka, nowhere to be seen.

Non-family attendees were not informed as to the political purpose at hand, and were barred from leaving the room until the great man had exhausted them with an hour-plus recitation of surprisingly softened grievance.

No newspaper published the text of what Mr. Trump had to say. No TV network, including the Trump-adoring Fox News, carried his speech live—in stark contrast to coverage of Mr. Zelenskyy’s address.

After all, what may be had from media Mr. Trump so often labeled “fake news” and “enemies of the people”?    

Even so, Mr. Trump surely expected more than to be ignored.

But as the British journalist David Smith explained in The Guardian, “So it was that Trump’s Mar-a-Lago speech was widely derided as a damp squib, lacking his usual bombast and brio…[E]ven his daughter, Ivanka, has decided to sit this one out…and little has been seen of the former president hunkered down in Florida, venturing out only to play golf.”

For Donald Trump, the world beyond Mar-a-Lago offers only the discomfort of dread. Grand juries in New York and Georgia are investigating his alleged criminal conduct. Thousands of vendors have lawsuits pending for nonpayment. The National Archives is screaming for the return of top-secret government papers he filched from the White House, for purposes unknown but presumed dark. He is about to hear from a Justice Department that constitutional lawyers throughout the country say cannot not issue criminal indictments that could guarantee his eventual imprisonment.

…And, oh yes, the New York writer E. Jean Carroll availed herself of a state law that allows victims of sexual assault to sue for attacks that took place decades ago. Minutes after the law took effect, in the same month as the Mar-a-Lago campaign launch, she filed criminal complaint against Mr. Trump for allegedly raping her in 1995.   

Better that Mr. Trump should remain in the tacky splendor of his Mar-a-Lago estate. Better he should spend his time smacking little dimpled balls with skinny clubs, hoping to sink them in distant holes amidst circles of close-cropped grass bordered with carefully raked banks of sand.

Professor Alan Lichtman of Washington-based American University wrote of Mr. Trump’s nascent presidential campaign, “It couldn’t be going any worse. And it’s not because Donald Trump is making mistakes. It’s because Donald Trump is being Donald Trump.”

Besides golf and social media screeds and flim-flamming his sucker list, the ex-president’s other longtime passions have been hamburgers and television. He still has hamburgers, screeds, flim-flammery, and the delight of smacking around little dimpled balls.

But now comes Volodymyr Zelenskyy on a split screen, as it were.

Bonevtik trumped Fat Don on TV.

Surely Fat Don is enraged by this. Surely the pressure of resentment builds, even down there in the Florida führerbunker. But what if the journalist Smith is wrong in concluding that Donald Trump is reduced to a mere “damp squib” of former self?

As he did in early January of two years ago, what if Mr. Trump once again blows a bugle call heard by his Sturmtruppen? What if he urges them anew to appear at some appointed time and place to shake their ignorant thunder. What if he promises the eager fascists the same as he did two years ago, that violent politics redux “will be wild”?

Stay tuned.    

Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag. His essays here.

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