Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"See Sean lie. Lie Sean, lie."

    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 1,0
00 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. 




  1. Crybaby press tears everyone to shit but the minute a public figure hits back and doesn't take your shit and kneel at your editorial board meetings the temper tantrums begin. I'm proud of Trump for one thing and one thing only, he has stuck his finger in your face and exposed your hypocrisy and won. He's a fighter. God Bless him and the USA!

    1. Trump and his press secretary spin demonstrative lies, the press report this, Trump throws a tantrum designed to undermine the public's faith in journalism, and you find this a good thing? Astonishing.

    2. Going on Facebook these days is like seeing a close relative captured by some fanatic and fantastical religious sect going round trying to convince us that we need to welcome the extraterrestrials who will be coming soon.

    3. You should read Making of Donald Trump by David Cay Johnston. Like most people liberal or conservative have no clue has to how repugnant he really is.

  2. I think it is important to remember the religious aspect of bearing false witness. Don't forget that lying is a sin and Donald Trump will end up in hell for all eternity. That's comforting, anyway.

    We hear so much uproar about perceived threats to the Second Amendment, but we hear nothing about Trump's attacks on the Ninth Commandment (some faiths and denominations count lying as the eighth.)

  3. ruthless, cunning, manipulative, power hungry , duplicitous , underhanded, conniving, vicious, calculating, insensitive, greedy, dangerous, devious. you can call our new president many things, stupid? well i guess thats possible. by some metric he might prove to not have the intellectual capacity of those beneath him, or even those who surround him. my experience tells me you don't amass this much wealth and power if you're stupid. you are angry we are angry. we have been duped and now we're concerned we're going to get fucked. how does name calling help? accurate descriptives is the theme of this post. try using them neil.

    1. Stupid? Did Neil use this word thoughtlessly? After all, could Donald Trump, an eminently successful person by any standard, be considered stupid? If I say that one of Mr. Trump’s goals in life is to be well regarded by those who know him, I’m not saying anything I probably couldn’t say of 99% of the world. This universal goal has been and is being put at risk by Donald Trump daily. Every time he opens his mouth he destroys another shred of his credibility. Yes, the stupid, the willfully beguiled, the innocent ignoramuses worship him. But for how long? Eventually they will all see their oxen gored as President Trump’s actions contradict every last statement he has made. President Park of Korea has an approval rating approaching zero due to taking advice from a longtime family friend. President Trump’s approval ratings are sure to sink as low due to his taking advice from no one but himself. Yes, Donald Trump is stupid, irrespective of his IQ, regardless of his wealth, despite his political success.


    2. I think undercutting our democratic institutions to shore up your own sagging ego is stupid. There's no anger here. Sorrow and fear, yes.

    3. In reply to john I believe a lot of smart people voted for Trump The problem is that so many people really didn't know just how terrible a person he really is.

    4. Really, Sanford? They completely missed all his inappropriate comments and actions even when it was on the news channels non stop?

  4. As a case in point: the Dallas hockey team's scoreboard joke inflating the attendance to 1.5 million was immediately interpreted as a jibe at Trump, whereas if he and his press secretary had kept their mouths shut, some people might have thought it directed at the figures promulgated for the attendance at the Women's Marches on Saturday.

  5. Hoping that his speeches and tweets will trip him up. They didn't before but now it is serious business.

    Mr. Franklin, sorry to see that you suffer from delusions.

  6. Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I have to believe that at some point, Trump's go-to move---excoriating the "lying media"---won't work any more, for a simple reason: It will become clear, even to his benighted base, what a liar he is. And once a politician gets exposed as a chronic liar, he's toast, as Joe McCarthy, LBJ, Nixon and many others can attest.

    Bitter Scribe

  7. I'd like to see a pic of Trump labeled "toast."

  8. Mr. O'Brien's "The Little Golden Book of Alternate Facts" illustration is priceless, and his web site a revelation. Thanks to Neil for sharing.


    P.S. I wish I'd saved my Golden Books.

  9. Just for curiosity's sake, what's the significance of the picture of the Tucker? Beautiful car...

    1. That's his new ride, to go with his Pulitzer and National Book awards.

    2. Well, I needed something, and I thought the Tucker was a beautiful and creative design, which echoed, lightly, the idea of the Golden Book design. A stretch, I know.


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