The Horror Writer


Review Reviews

Jerry Carroll has invigorated the dramatic cliches of the traditional horror story in his latest work without abandoning the wit and whimsy that illuminates the best selling author’s five previous novels. The tribute to the slash-and-gore genre is there in the lurid cover of “The Horror Writer” and the plot unfolds not unexpectedly on a remote tropical island. But the narrative is Mr. Carroll at his most intriguing.
The island draws some of the world’s rich and influential people to a conference on international understanding sponsored by a prestigious foundation. Thom Hearn, weary founder of a money-making gang of hack writers, learns his invitation was a mistake, a telling point as gruesome violence besets the idle pursuits and exquisite dining of the guests. The staff members of the foundation are apologetic but not helpful as characters from Hearn;s own hack fiction join the bloody carnival.Hearn’s travails are shared by the cool Wall Street professional Carrie Alexander, who flees with him into the jungle’s green hell to escape the worst monster of all, a lopsided, flesh-rending creature who may be drawn from Hearn;s own nightmarish boyhood. The romantic thread is a traditional element and warmly welcome in this new experience of the old scary story.


What might have been wasn’t

The primary tornadoes are over and now we go on to the November hurricane. The right has the man they wanted but the left didn’t quite make it. They are stuck with Hillary, the new wine in old bottles candidate dragged from what is the sweet spot in the middle her husband cultivated with such skill. Look for “pivot” to be used to the point of nausea by the commentariat as she repositions herself to best advantage. Her P.T. Barnum adversary won’t bother. He has his inimitable brand, which can be reduced to “It’s gonna be great again, believe me, and I’ll get back to you with the details.”

It’s not too soon to be wistful about the people we would rather be voting for in November. In my case, it would be the freshman senator from Nebraska Ben Sasse, a 44-year-old former college wrestler, policy adviser in the Bush administration, and university president. After his election two years ago, Sasse waited a year before making his maiden speech. He spent the time studying the failures of the Senate, interviewing other members of Congress, and following the debates with their sound bytes and straw man arguments. He told both parties “the people despise us all.”

Anybody doubt that?

That is why most Republican voters want the wrecking ball taken to the whole smug, isolated, self-enriching GOP party establishment. Whether Trump will comply with that hope is one of those details he’ll get back to us on later, but his vengeful nature is an encouraging sign. Democrats had a similar opportunity but fate delivered an elderly Jewish socialist with a Brooklyn accent to take on the smug, isolated, etc., party establishment personified by the all-powerful Clinton machine and blabbermouth Debby Wasserman Schultz, one of the most accomplished liars on the political stage today. She has advanced from minor evasions to who do you believe, me or your lying eyes? That takes a lot of self confidence, overweening you might say. The fix was in and Birney never had a chance. Elizabeth Warren might have been another story, but like Joe Biden she didn’t want to get chewed up by the machinery.

Mao had a solution when the establishment became ossified and corrupt in China. He sent young fanatics into the classrooms, businesses, cultural and bureaucratic institutions and had them cleaned out. Thousands were killed, imprisoned or sent to the countryside to work as peasants. In the end, that didn’t work either, human nature being what it is. After a few decades passed, the problems returned. The Chinese president Xi Jinping is trying to shape things up by returning to the Mao-style strongman model of governing. Like the Russians, the Chinese are used to authoritarianism. The Russians even welcome it.

The other candidate I would prefer is another from the university president ranks, retired Admiral William McRaven, the former commander of the SEALS who organized the raid that sent Osama bin Laden off to the arms of the 72 virgins. He literally wrote the book on special operations. Now at the University of Texas at Austin, McRaven gave what was regarded as the best commencement address of 2014. It consisted of ten tips for how to become successful, starting with making your bed perfectly every morning. “It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.” If you have a bad day, your bed is waiting and maybe tomorrow will be better. That is wisdom distilled. A six-year-old boy wrote him once to ask who was more silent, a SEAL or a Ninja. McRaven took time out of his busy day to write a personal letter. A ninja was probably quieter, he said, but a SEAL shoots better.

The D.C. establishment will tell you Trump doesn’t have a chance, but they assured us he would never win the nomination. The best description I’ve heard of Hillary’s campaign style is “medicinal,” although wooden comes close. My money is on the showman over the second banana.


Judy and I walk along a golf course mornings and we see people I nickname if they become familiar. There was Slow Walker for years, the Merry Couple, Nurse Black Car (it has a bumper strip that says I Stop for Turtles), Crooked Lady (she had a spine problem that bent her sideways and made every step look painful) and Jolly Man. He lost his wife in December and now is a tragic figure. He told my wife about her death and began weeping so she gave him a hug. He still walks, but for hours now and in a driven way so my new name for him is Hard Walker (it’s actually Bill, but I get stuck in my ways). He is haggard and emaciated from the endless miles and his clothes hang on him. He is a retired military officer like so many in our sleepy village. I think he walks to impose some kind of order on his life, blown to smithereens when his wife died.

The weekly newspaper, owned with scores of others by Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson—though I seriously doubt he has ever seen a copy or would want to—runs obituaries I mow take an uncommon interest in. You come across people who were married 60 and even 70 years before one of them passes away. The suffering of the survivors, almost always women, is unimaginable to me. Why go on?



The Fixer-Uppers

We’re having our deck rebuilt because the years have rotted it away. We solicited bids and decided on a contractor who looked like he understood Judy’s design thinking. The last time we engaged a contractor, he and his crew went to work on a roof line that would have obliterated the view of the mountain we moved there to see. He understood when this was pointed out and his crew went to work pulling out the nails they had just pounded in, getting with the new program without resentment. Driving nails and pulling them out the same day, no big deal; they got paid both ways and it was all good. This was in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana where everybody wakes up to beautiful views and goes to bed with them. It’s nothing special when you’re born and live all your life in such a place, so outsiders have to be careful if they remodel. Californians, generally disliked, average about two years in Montana. We held out for five before the long winters got to us. I used to walk the fence line in all weathers including blizzards with our Yellow Lab and Jack Russell  until Ollie the lab got too old. Then it was just me and Stella.

As with all contractors and guys in the trade that we have dealt with, a generous allowance must be made for eccentricity. One we hired in Northern California (the distinction is important to those who live in that state) put in beautiful redwood paneling in a room for us, arriving more or less promptly each morning. Martin took the Chronicle into the adjoining bathroom and took a leisurely dump on our time; we thought it strange at first but didn’t mind after a  while because he was doing fine work. He had majored in English at Berkeley and found his bliss in physical work. This was Marin and there was an infestation of mind-control cults at the time. That old counter-culture crowd is being squeezed out of the county now by the young and wealthy overflow from San Francisco into materialism. Needy and unsure of himself, according to Judy, who saw much more of him than I did, Martin signed up for a cult called the Everyman Theatre, later The Theatre of All Possibilities, led by Alex Horn and his wife Sharon Gans, who starred in the film version of “Slaughterhouse Five.” They ran a tight ship with beatings for “students” who didn’t sell their quota of tickets for the weird plays written by Horn himself. Or for “whimpering” or making noise backstage. A drama critic sent to review a production wrote that he staggered out at the three-hour mark unable to take any more; he said it was the most unpleasant experience of his professional life. Tickets to these grueling events were sold by wheedling or badgering strangers on the street.

Martin was assigned a woman to marry and he brought her over to meet us after the job was over. She seemed as nice as he was and sometimes I wonder how it turned out. Other couples in the cult were forced to divorce as part of the therapy, which had some connection to the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff, a Russian mystic who was a striking figure with a head as bald as a cue ball and an impressive handlebar moustache. Hypnotic eyes, of course; all cult leaders seem to have that feature. Dipping into Eastern thought, Gurdjieff maintained that most people live lives of “waking sleep,” but can kick it up to a higher state of consciousness and achieve “full human potential” if they put their minds to. Down the years from that came the human potential movement, a term you once couldn’t go a day without hearing in the Bay Area. The theatre cult broke up when Horn and his wife left hurriedly in the wake of the massacre at Jonestown, which gave cults generally a bad name. People’s Temple had sent down robust roots in San Francisco, even grafting itself onto the political culture, before Jim Jones in a spasm of paranoia ordered everyone to pack up and leave for British Guyana. The Chronicle wanted to send me with the party that was to be ambushed at the dirt airfield, but my good friend Keith Power, bless him, an assistant city editor, said the man’s celebrating his anniversary in Big Sur, let him be. So they dispatched a bright, ambitious young man who wore pinstripe suits to our ‘Thirties “Front Page”-style city room that was as noisy as a boiler room at deadline . It had wooden floors bearing the marks of a thousand cigarettes crushed underfoot.   He caught a slug in the buttocks as he took to his heels when the shooting began and spent the night chest-deep in swamp water, counting himself lucky he wasn’t slain with the rest of them; he went on to become editor of Town and Country magazine. Everyone at the Chronicle despised the New Yorker. “You’re the only one who talked to me,” he said to me.  The tradition at the newspaper still lingered that you didn’t talk to newcomers for six months, but perhaps he took it personal. And he was aggressively ambitious in an off-putting way. Maybe in a partial balancing of the scales, the famed Nepenthe restaurant where we were to have dinner celebrating ten years of marriage caught fire and burned down. I noticed the chimney over the open cooking area turning red and then a brighter red. I said to Judy, “Let’s go.” I think we were the first ones out, threading our way past the people with happy faces looking forward to a great time at a place where it was hard to get a reservation.

Before that happened, some Everyman Theatre members rented the house and its cottage next door and our five-year-old son struck up a friendship with a cheerful, wholesome woman (there must have been some good that came from belonging to the cult). She was run down by a car and killed not long after, leaving my wife to explain what death was to our boy. The accident was in front of a house where a girl lived that he came to like years later when they were in middle school. Her father, an assistant district attorney, was enraged by the homeless who wandered past and used his yard as a toilet. He rushed out one night and stabbed a man he caught in the act with a knife. It cost him his job and he was lucky he didn’t do prison time. When we last saw the girl, she was hard-faced and wearing a dog collar. Teenage rebellion. It was an eventful neighborhood now that I look back.

I used to walk home past the storefront of another cult, The Laughing Man Institute, never failing to admire the name. The place was always empty when I passed. nighttime being when things happened, I suppose. The group also had property in the country. Laughing Man was helmed by Bubba Free John, christened Franklin Jones in Queens, who adopted various names during his life, including Da Love-Ananda, Dau Loloma, Da Kalki, Hridaya-Samartha Sat-Guru Da, Santosha Da, Da Avadhoota, Da Avabhasa, and from 1994, Adi Da Love-Ananda Samraj, or Adi Da for short. He was a heavy user of LSD while studying for a master’s degree in English at Stanford; no doubt he was part of the Timothy Leary set. Adi Da himself had nine or more polygamous partners he called “wives”, including a Playboy centerfold model.

Bubba, as I still think of him, directed his followers in “sexual theater”, a form of therapy featuring public and group sex and pornographic movie-making. Drug and alcohol use were encouraged after an earlier ban was lifted on eating junk food in one of his theological U-turns. He thought he was God, by the way, like the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, who founded the global mind-control cult called the Unification Church. There were quite a few of his followers, called Moonies, who were busy in Marin as well. Bubba’s cult was seized by schism, as they all are sooner or later, and he moved with a bobtail remnant including the Playmate to a Fiji island once owned by Raymond Burr. There he died of a heart attack.

Another guy we hired for a job was equally as intelligent and likeable as Martin. He pushed his tools around the neighborhood in a wheelbarrow looking for work, having come down in life somewhat from teaching English at the nearby community college. I was careful not to inquire to closely into the details, it seeming too much like what I did for a living, but gave him space in our garage to store his tools and to use as a workplace. One day he showed up with a woman I thought was like a succubus who bled him of  what drive and ambition he had left. She lazily watched while he worked;  I suppose drugs were involved. I managed to persuade him to vacate the garage many months later. In our last chat he said a job making shelves for a Chinese businessman was going so slowly that he had been seized by the throat as a kind of termination notice. I understood the merchant’s impatience, but also the other side of the story.

What I started to write about was this deck guy said he has been working since December on a house in the middle of our sleepy village, which covers the same geographical area as San Francisco but has maybe 13,000 people in its wooded and rolling hills. “She turned on the water in the laundry room sink and went to Texas,” he explained in the understated way we admire in the South. The Texas border is maybe three hours away from us in Arkansas. If you are of a certain absent-minded age—mine—you can appreciate how this could happen. All too easily you can understand. The damage was $50,000. My wife and I have been speculating about when she remembered she left the water on. Maybe a neighbor saw water running down the hill.

This is proving to be an expensive year so far. We had to have all of our copper plumbing in the attic replaced after the pipes began having what plumbers call “pinhole leaks.” These are not normally detected until a part of your ceiling falls to the floor. Those are unhappy times, people. You have to locate the shutoff valve that leads from the street – do you know where yours is? –go out in the dead of night and turn a wheel sunk in a concrete hole and covered by an iron plate. I found a toad wintering on the wheel. Our new next- door neighbor tells me the new pipes are much more durable, good for up to a half a century. I’m glad we won’t be around to oversee that. You read about these Silicon Valley super-achievers who hope to transfer their minds to a cloud and thereby live forever. Does that appeal to you? If so, pass on by.

The French Are Sad

Are we becoming Frenchified? I don’t mean the thin-skinned souls on college campuses looking for things to offend and sadden them. (Cultural appropriation is the latest in case you’re following developments in the academy). Polls for years have shown the French are among the unhappiest people in the world, and the guerrilla warfare now being waged in their midst isn’t going to lift spirits.  The Germans, better at building war machines than whipping up dishes, walloped the French three wars in a row. Germans historically have been more comfortable in a helmet and the French in a toque. It must depend on what’s more important, a war or a great meal. We’re down in the dumps too, the polls show.

The excellence of French cuisine goes back to the 1870 war when Paris was besieged by who else? Food was so scarce Parisians had to catch and eat rats, a test that required sauces of a high order. The second one, World War I, left the French so depleted they were defeatist pushovers for the even bigger one that followed 20 years later. Napoleon, France’s last great warrior, created a centralized state where power flowed to Paris. A powerful bureaucracy directed by an elite became supreme, proving the superiority of their culture in the minds of the French. This logically led, as they like to say, to a more comprehensive bureaucracy operating under slightly different principles in Moscow. The French motto of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity gave way under Marx’s influence to another he borrowed from a Frenchman. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” The ant hill society in short.

Bureaucratic centralization took root in the United States during FDR’s years and has strengthened under every administration since, getting fuel injection under Obama. An elite schooled at Ivy League colleges runs our country like the French graduates from the grandes écoles do theirs. Wealth is being concentrated in keeping with the natural trends of an oligarchy. But we haven’t gone French all the way yet. Unlike Paris, Washington has rival power centers in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. However, the greatly expanded administrative state has spent Obama’s two terms writing rules and regulations that reduce the independence of regions, states, cities, towns, neighborhoods and countrysides. The runaway EPA wants to extend its control over ditches and ponds; puddles can’t be far behind. The devious IRA was caught trying to repress the conservative movement, and the left wing wants to criminalize dissent over the causes of climate change. The age of government surveillance by drone and NSA algorithms gives government (their workers earn 70% more than counterparts in private industry) powerful new tools to work its will. This might contribute to the glumness Americans feel, the sense that something is gone away that they always thought would be there. That and the new locker room coarseness Donald Trump has brought to the political culture. Something happened at some point in his transition from developer ranked no higher on the scale  to measure psychotics than any other CEO or arriviste at the top of the mountain. Normal people don’t make it up there, folks, you have to climb a mountain of bodies.

As he handed out money to politicians whose favor or protection he needed, a thought bubble must have formed over Trump’s head at some point: Why, I’m as smart as they are… no, I’m smarter! George Pataki, the long-time governor of New York, was the proof of the pudding and even closer to home Mayor Bill de Blasio was the whipped cream on top. His years in showbiz gave Trump a great insight into the American public. We like celebrities and we don’t know very much or even want to. Bingo! But like everyone surrounded by yes men and women, he didn’t know to quit when ahead and they were afraid to say. His initial vulgarity and bluster seeming like a fresh wind blowing away politically correct cobwebs won him a place at the table, but someone should have advised a tactical pull back  when he got deeper into the campaign. Stop being the clown with the red nose (orange hair in his case, strangely arranged) and take up the masterly air of the lion tamer using will power more than whip and chair to put the beasts through their paces. The performance has gone on too long and people have wised up to  catchphrases repeated ad nauseam. We’re gonna build a wall. America is gonna be great again. The contrapuntal flip side, America doesn’t win anymore. Our leaders are stupid. We’re being cheated. There is just enough truth in it to make people nod like the bald, open-mouthed people in the classic Apple ad.

But it appears from the polling – yes, they have been as reliable up to now as soothsaying – Wisconsin is about to slam on the brakes. Comfortable old bore John Kasich might even finish second behind Ted Cruz. Reading the portents of that outcome for the convention, Trump might wash his hands of the GOP and go the third party route. If the people who have felt the Bern do likewise, theoretically there could be four names on the November ballot, the officially sanctioned Republican, the officially sanctioned Democrat, Trump and Sanders. It would be so French. Or maybe Donald will throw in his cards when he thinks the game is up. The presidency looks like an even tougher job than ordinary with the shambles Obama is leaving behind, and Trump can return to his guiding star, enhancing the  value of his celebrity brand because it’s the greatest. Over at the Ace of Spades a cogent comment:

Even if Trump is beaten this election, that doesn’t mean these questions go away. Trump has now demonstrated for anyone willing to see that it’s very easy to win a Republican primary — you have to just not be as grotesque a specimen as Trump and be somewhat informed on the issues, but otherwise you can run pretty much on the same issue/ideology profile as Trump and laugh your way to an early knockout win in a primary and have the whole thing wrapped up by Super Tuesday. Trump may be beaten — and probably will be. But he’ll have been beaten for reasons having little to do with the issue profile he’s running on. He’ll have been beaten due to the mere circumstance of his utterly unsuitable character and unschooled mind. But the next person to run won’t be kind enough to cede these points to the Establishment.


Jim Harrison R.I.P.

Jim Harrison died the other day, a man I knew was something of a character but didn’t know how much. I have admired his poetry but not got around yet to his novels. There are exceptions, but as a general rule writers are dull dogs. I suppose it’s because they save what is most vivid and interesting about themselves for the page. Harrison, like Hemingway, was one of those larger-than-life characters with plenty to go around for both life and fiction. The NYT had a venerating obituary that included a dig at “the self-regarding literary soirees of New York, for which he had little but contempt.” It sounds like whoever wrote the obituary shares that sensible view. It is rare to find anyone with anything good to say about literary circles. Dorothy Parker appears at the end of her life to have despised the time she wasted at the Algonquin Round Table. Writers are a venomous lot, although again the rule is not inflexible. Joyce Carol Oates, the furious writing machine, is said to be nice, and Stephen King is famously generous in his praise for other authors. On the other hand, Paul Theroux is one of the nastiest people I’ve met. His feud with V.S. Naipaul, an even nastier piece of work if you believe what you read, was the stuff of legend.

Harrison summered in Montana and wintered in Arizona, blazing away at wildlife in both places. He kept a pack of mongrels, fished, ate and drank prodigiously, and appears to have always kept a cigarette burning. He once flew to France for a lunch that consisted of 37 courses and 19 wines and took 11 hours to eat. Another time, the Times tells us, he shared a lunch with  Orson Welles where the two put away a bottle of Stolichnaya, a salmon in sorrel sauce, sweetbreads en croûte, a leg of lamb with five wines, desserts, cheeses, ports and a chaser of cocaine. No one had a clock on that marathon but twilight must have been coming on. If Harrison had taken better care of himself, maybe he wouldn’t have been cut down at a mere 78. (Rimshot) To his dislike, he was continually compared to Hemingway, another famed outdoorsman and trencherman. But Ernest was almost epicene in comparison, particularly in later life when he was into cross-dressing. The Times ran a photo of Harrison with the obituary that told you as much as all the words. He had a lived-in face, as rugged as a butte with strong outcroppings of Rabelaisian voluptuary. I sent off for a copy of one of his novels. It cost a penny plus three bucks shipping. And you wonder why the book trade is in such shape and most writers are poor as church mice.

The Politico website has a story by its media sage Jack Shafer explaining why the Trump-Cruz cage match over infidelities will go into extra rounds. “Whether valid or not, an individual’s sex life has come to stand as a marker of trustworthiness. Once the subject is breached, it takes superhuman powers by the press to avoid talking about it.” Many things can be said about the media, but superhuman powers is not one of them. And why should the subject be sniffed at as the supercilious French did until only recently? The last two presidents, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, found themselves in the crosshairs for women trouble formerly was seen as no more than a minor peccadillo, certainly nothing that would cause a sophisticated adult to raise an eyebrow. François Mitterrand, the president who came before them, had two children from extra-marital affairs and the French media turned a blind eye. It was his private business.

That was the case in Washington, D.C., Shafer points out, until 1979 when an article that the New Republic deep-sixed appeared in the Washington Monthly about Teddy Kennedy’s rampant womanizing. It offered no details but blandly argued that his philandering should be seen as “as a legitimate issue in the campaign.” It was left to later times to disclose that Teddy, having a bit of afternoon delight in mind, trolled Washington streets in his chauffeured limousine offering rides to young female government workers. If he got turned down, he rolled the window back up and they drove on to the next one. It worked pretty well for him.

Hitler gained complete power over the German army in 1938 when it was learned the war minister in his government had married a woman thirty-five years younger who had posed for pornographic photos taken by a Czech Jew with whom she cohabited and who was on a Berlin police register as a prostitute. To rub salt in the wound, Hitler and Hermann Goring had stood up for the couple at their wedding ceremony. The war minister’s number two did not step into his shoes because he was being blackmailed by a rentboy. The charge was untrue but the damage was done and he resigned anyway.

So sex scandals continue to hold sway over the public mind, which is why Ted Cruz is sweating bullets over the National Enquirer story. There has always been an oozing Uriah Heep insincerity about him that is hard to take. His voice ranges from confident orator to treacly sympathy with no stop in between. Trump lies, he says, but everybody knows that so the charge comes in with a generous built-in discount. I expect pictures to appear in the tabloid’s issue that is timed for the maximum impact on a brokered convention. Jeb called himself “the joyous tortoise” at one point in his campaign, but maybe another deserves that laurel. President Kasich—does that work for you? The permanent GOP establishment is about to throw itself weeping on his lapels. He is the ultimate outsider’s insider.

Is it a Clinton-Trump conspiracy?

Yes, the political season is really, really nasty. The higher the stakes, it seems, the faster the elevator descends. We’re past the gutter now and heading for the sewage treatment plant. The political viciousness was bad enough before, but with the year still young we have a chance to top the worst. Just to pick one example from the past, “clean government” candidate Grover Cleveland came under heavy fire in 1884 for fathering a bastard, an accusation that under the modern dispensation seems so far beyond the pale as to be in another country. Even “illegitimate” is used but sparely, it being unfair to taint a child whose role in many cases was consequential but blameless. But bastardy was a grave charge in earlier times when moral codes were firmer. “Ma, Ma, where`s my Pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha,” they jeered at Cleveland. Like all successful chants, it was catchy. It was only when his accusers went on to denounce Democrats as the party of “rum, Romanism and rebellion” that they lost the key Irish vote, which might otherwise have gone to James G. Blaine despite his peculation at the public trough.  Apart from being president, Cleveland was noteworthy for being so fat – somewhere well north of 300 pounds – that when he got stuck in the White House bathtub he had to be levered out by  a mechanical apparatus.

I’m surprised no one has raised the possibility of a conspiracy regarding Donald Trump’s candidacy. With the exception of old-style political bore John Kasich, Trump has blown to smithereens the ranks of Republican hopefuls and badly damaged the other survivor, Ted Cruz. It seems Trump saved the toughest nut to crack for last. Cruz is a bona fide tea party conservative unlike late arrivals to the cause already receding to the dimming past like Jeb, anointed heir to the Bush claim on semi-permanent residency in the White House. But now Cruz has received his bucket of excrement in the face. Accusations (accusation of accusations, really) that Cruz is a serial fornicator and all-around philanderer have sprung from the pages of the National Enquirer, which has a distinguished record for revelations that end public lives. (See John Edwards). Before Edwards there was Gary Hart, forced out of the race in 1987 when reporters, having been tipped off by someone, tailed him to a tryst with Donna Rice. In dropping out, Hart paraphrased Thomas Jefferson. “I tremble for my country when I think we may, in fact, get the kind of leaders we deserve.” By that reckoning, the recent run of presidents shows us either undeserving to an extraordinary degree or under a curse.

Hart later said, “I watched journalists become animals, literally.” Surely, he meant figuratively, but hyena comes to mind when the Fourth Estate is in full cry after hapless quarry. The National Enquirer broke the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and it still makes regular appearances in its pages. It led the coverage of the O.J. story, revealed Jesse Jackson’s “secret family,” and got the goods on Tiger Woods. If it has been  wrong for the past year or so about Cher and Michael Douglas being on the edge of the grave, surely it will be proved right sooner or later. In 2009 it said Michael Jackson would die within six months and was right on the money. If the Enquirer is not always right, it’s not always wrong, particularly when it comes to politics. It greases palms for tips and lays out fortunes for juicy stories, which the so-called mainstream American press is too cheap or fuddy-duddy to do. Interestingly, the tabloid is owned by a company run by one of the Friends of Bill.

There was a little-noticed private meeting last year between Trump and Bill Clinton. That was all that was ever reported, that there had been a sit down. Up to that point Trump could be defined as a standard New York liberal who contributed large sums of money to Democratic candidates and smaller amounts to the occasional Republican. Then, a few months later, he emerges as a full-blown candidate for the GOP nomination and overturns every understanding of how the game is played. He has been like a bowling ball, knocking rivals over like tenpins. If Cruz is mortally wounded in the evangelical community by the Enquirer’s story and those in store for him, the field will be clear for Trump with the exception of Kasich, who makes no pulses beat stronger. But in demolishing his opposition, Trump’s sheer nastiness is also throwing into question his chances in November. For every scalp he has taken there is a constituency he has alienated, beginning with women and continuing through country-club RINOs and now Cruz’s conservative backers. He claims he will bring people to the polls who quit voting when Ronald Reagan left office. These will include blue-collar workers ignored by the Ivy League toffs of both parties. Will they be enough? Here’s a thought to ponder. Trump doesn’t really want to be president. It’s all been an act by a master showman. So now he is now embarked on the next stage of the deal he and Bill reached, making himself so obnoxiously toxic that Hillary sashays into office.

Oh, you may say, that’s just conspiracy talk. But there have been many successful conspiracies through history, most of which we don’t know anything about. But here are some we do. The Dreyfus Affair: In the late 1800s in France, Jewish artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully convicted of treason based on false government documents, and sentenced to life in prison. The French government attempted to cover this up, but Dreyfus was eventually pardoned after the affair was blasted open by Emile Zola. The Mafia was virtually unknown until the 1960s, when Joe Valachi first revealed the society’s secrets to law enforcement. The Manhattan Project, a good conspiracy and one of history’s greatest industrial projects, was built in total secrecy. The asbestos and tobacco interests covered up the lethality of their products for decades. Watergate brought down Richard Nixon. Obamacare was described by a Princeton professor who was a principal architect as drafted so that the American people would be too stupid to understand it; it was then passed in the middle of the night by a Congress that didn’t read its 2000 pages. There was a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, tragically  unsuccessful. The Warren Commission report said Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy and Jack Ruby killed Oswald. Oswald had CIA and FBI connections and Ruby had Mafia connections. A second Congressional investigation in 1979 that produced twelve volumes of appendices found that there was a “probable conspiracy.” More often, the very people–often in government or having some other official standing –with  something to hide routinely accuse others of being conspiracy nuts when they question the party line.

What would be the payoff for a Clinton-Trump conspiracy? Bill would become the power behind the throne he once occupied (he and Hillary are themselves a conspiracy) and Donald has already added billions of dollars to the value of his brand. The presidency used to be considered hard work until Obama showed you don’t even have to break a sweat to do the job. As the most famous billionaire in the world –Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have been left in the dust–Trump can go back to making deals and telling people he’s the greatest. It’s win-win.


Donald Trump

Is there a whiff of revolution in the air? That blockade of cars on a freeway in Arizona certainly had a to-the-barricades look, but hyperbole is easy in our hyper-inflated times. Still, something is touching the olfactory sense in a way not felt since 1968, which was a genuine annus horriblis. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated, race riots shook the country, campus buildings were occupied , and people marched against the war in Vietnam. It was even worse in France, where protests against capitalism nearly brought the system to a halt. More than 22 per cent of the population downed tools in wildcat strikes over a two-week period. Charles de Gaulle felt it prudent to leave the country for a period, retiring to a French base in Germany. Twenty years later came the fall of the Soviet Union and the Arab Spring that brought upheaval to a dozen country and regime change to four.
No one was more surprised than the leadership in those countries when governments toppled. The U.S. is the most stable democracy in the world but I think you have to go back to the Depression and the Civil War to find people as divided as they are today. FDR famously said that he saved capitalism for the capitalists, but Bernie Sanders doesn’t appear to care much for it and young people today don’t see anything wrong with socialism. This is because they don’t know very much history because it doesn’t appear to be taught anymore except in a manner at the grade school level that guarantees kids will be turned off on it for the rest of their lives. It is bled of all interest by the input of committees responsive to the sensitivities of anyone likely to take offense, which today is just about everyone. Late night comics who send roving reporters out on the streets to quiz people about history and even current events return with evidence of the hilarious public ignorance about anything but the activities of celebrities. Everyone seems to know about them in minute detail. Even I’m wondering why Madonna appears to be drunk and crazy whenever she appears in public. Is it only because her son doesn’t want to leave her dad and the British seem reluctant to agree to extradition?
His celebrity is reason for Donald Trump’s astounding success. That and using the vocabulary of a fourth grader so his message is spread even to the unlettered. “It’s gonna be great.” Who needs to know more than that? Where have all the decades of wonkery in Washington, D.C., and Wall Street predation got us? Manufacturing jobs have been outsourced to foreign countries, leaving blue collar workers holding the bag and turning to meth and oxycontin for the pain and boredom of empty lives cushioned somewhat by food stamps and hundreds of cable channels. The economy feels like it’s knee-deep in molasses with historic levels of unemployment (if you count the people who stopped looking), record levels of part-time workers, college graduates with crushing levels of debt looking for jobs that aren’t there. And even if they were, those who majored in queer or one of the other grievance studies didn’t learn the skills prized in the private sector, one of which is the ability not to be perpetually offended and in need of trigger warnings. When will fainting couches and smelling salts make their comeback in the Ivy League schools?
The WSJ had an interesting article the other day comparing Trump to the sort of authoritarian figure who has always flourished in the banana republics, the caudillo. Hugo Chavez and Juan Peron were mentioned. If young people today want an idea of where socialism leads, it is more likely Venezuela and Cuba than the Scandinavian countries Bernie Sanders keeps touting. Speaking of them, do you ever watch films made in those countries? Everyone looks depressed. The long sunless winters can’t be the only explanation. My guess is another reason is the nanny state that looks after citizens from cradle to grave, putting a floor under the lows and a ceiling on the highs. Lifelong ennui is the result. The immigration of Muslims and their customs should break the monotony, particularly for the women. Venezuela the other day said it was necessary to do without power for a week. Has that ever happened before? Chavez and his successor and the Castro brothers managed to squeeze the middle class out of existence, which is what has been happening in this country regardless of which party is in power. Venezuela is often without such basics as toilet paper, but at least everyone apart from the elites suffers equally, fulfilling the practice if not the promise of socialism. Cuba shows signs of an economic pulse only because the hated Yanquis are beginning to return with their dollars. Otherwise, it looks pretty much like it did in the ‘Fifties as if was frozen in time by some evil sorcerer.
The Latin American caudillo is one thing, but Trump is also being compared with Hitler, which Jews rightly regard as indecent. Who has he killed? But then nobody today learns history, which explains the cheap shot. If you want a historical example Mussolini is more your man. He began as a socialist and became an authoritarian. Trump began as a New York liberal and has become a populist without dropping anchor in one school of political thought or another. This is why he is equally hated by the elites and chattering classes of both parties. It is also why he is free to drift according to which way the winds are blowing. Ross Perot was the last loose cannon in American politics, but he was stiff and uncomfortable in the limelight. Trump can’t get enough of it. It will be an interesting summer and fall. These are the times the radical left lives for, they never feel so alive. That was them blocking the cars on the freeway.