My wife made a lovely egg, mozzarella and veggie frittata Sunday morning, with fresh blueberries on the side. And as much as I wanted to dig in, I just had to read the opening sentence on the front page of the New York Times.
"President Trump used his first full day in office on Saturday to unleash a remarkably bitter attack on the news media," I read, "falsely accusing journalists of both inventing a rift between him and intelligence agencies and deliberating understating the size of his inaugural crowd..."
"Day One," I smiled. It really is incredible. As the principal at Greenbriar Elementary used to say, "Is this really the hill to die on?" It almost made me happy -- could somebody that ham-handed destroy our freedoms?
I wonder how long "FALSEHOODS" will be the word of choice for the Gray Lady, particularly in those narrow single column headlines? When "LIES" takes up so much less real estate.
Didn't have to wait long—by Sunday night the Times posted this headline:
Patience. Sunday joy returned, after taking a 48 hour vacation after Trump's angry, tone-deaf inaugural address, one that George Will, no liberal firebrand, called the worst ever.
The jokes almost write themselves. "It's not the size of the crowd, Donald, but what you do with it," I thought to myself. And this was before Trump press secretary Sean Spicer held Fibstock in the White House briefing room, testily insisting on the trivial-and-demonstrably-false, chiding the media for whatever stray inaccurate tweets he could find. Surely true evil would be better at it than this.
I didn't watch that. Nor Kellyanne Conway's now legendary appearance on Sunday morning's "Meet the Press." Though of course I saw "alternative facts" echo and reverberate across social media. It was so jarringly awful it almost demanded instant mockery. Wisenheimers grabbed their wit like so many Minutemen lunging for the flintlock above the mantle. I flopped my fingers on the keyboard and tapped out the first Tweet I could think of: "As winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, I see nothing wrong with Trump making up his own set of facts."
Satisfied I had flown the flag, I browsed around Twitter, and the puniness of my effort (see Donald, there is strength in recognizing your own weakness) became manifest. A burp, compared to the genius that Brooklyn illustrator Tim O'Brien crafted at the same time:
|By Tim O'Brien -- posted with permission|
Children's books don't to lie to you—oh, they can conjure magic and monsters. But they don't call a hawk a handsaw, or try to puff a void into a record-breaking crowd, the way the presidential press spokesman did Saturday, blowing smoke until he was red in the face and the howls grew.
We all remember Golden Books. I still have mine. An innocence, a joy. O'Brien's repurposing has a gorgeous, cheery wrongness that indicts the Trumpian delusion better than a dozen pious editorials. Calling a chair a "Table," an egg "Soup" and, the masterstroke in the center, the little boy and girl "Pancakes." I'm not sure why that's the masterstroke -- pancakes are so friendly, I suppose. Who doesn't love pancakes?
I immediately did my journalist thing, contacted O'Brien, established that it is his work, and prodded him for information.
"I am an illustrator and this piece was the kind of post I do when procrastinating," he replied. "Often something occurs to me after hearing a contradiction, a lie or some other glaring thing done by politicians and their spokespeople. We all have common understandings about things and good ideas come from tweaking those common understandings. What is generally the most basic idea of what things are or reality is? A kids book about things and what they are. Change a few words and it’s hilarious."
Indeed it is. I posted the graphic on Facebook and 1700 people shared it. A picture is worth 1,000 words, and were I Donald Trump I would fume and glare and insist that, being a writer, no, a word must be worth 1,000 pictures. No need for that.
"The Trump Administration is going to provide a ton of material for the next 1-4 years," O'Brien wrote. The '1" in "next 1-4 years" might be overly optimistic. I'm still at the "4 or 8 years, or longer, if our democracy is overturned" phase. But seeing O'Brien's book cover replaced the sour pessimism in my heart with determination and joy. One stupid man leading the country doesn't make us all stupid. Not yet anyway.
I agreed with O'Brien that much humor will come from this, and humor is an important survival mechanism. I couldn't help adding that we shouldn't laugh too much without recognizing the cloud -- many, many people will be hurt by the time Donald Trump and his brothers-in-delusion and their hired goons are done dragging our country through the basement hall-of-mirrors of his brutal, brittle psyche. A great country humiliated and harmed. The joke is funny until it's not.
"You're right, Neil," O'Brien replied. "I'd rather be painting earnest portraits of inspirational people leading our country rather than our current predicament."
Wouldn't we all? Jeb Bush might have been a dullard, but I'd rather spend four years watching him scratch his head, trying to figure out what the heck he should do next, than see Trump foam and flail and fib.
Tim O'Brien does gorgeous work, by the way, beyond this bit of brilliance, spot-on illustrations of political and historic figures that have graced the covers of Time, Harper's and other publications. You can find his web site here.