Because everything I read—even the back of my cereal box*—brings to mind Donald Trump, I could probably continue to draw parallels between the Mad Realtor and his fictional counterparts (Beckett’s Krapp, Kushner’s Roy Cohn) until the end of time (which might come sooner than we think). But what about taking on Trump directly, at the place where he’s most vulnerable? (And I don’t mean Trump Tower—even though, as I write this, I see that it was evacuated yesterday, over a backpack full of toys.) Trump’s weak point is his entire body—or rather, it’s the skin that spans that body: it’s thin. He feels every barb, and feels compelled to respond. Prick him, and does he not tweet?
Reading Mark Leibovich’s recent profile of Al Franken in The New York Times Magazine sent a few of my gears spinning. “Donald Trump never laughs,” Franken observes. Franken himself laughs a lot—and he’s well positioned (as Leibovich suggests) to aim some of that laughter at Trump. (This is a man whose books include Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.) But Franken seems reluctant to take on that role.
“We’ll see how he operates,” he said of Trump. “I don’t think anyone here has ever been a senator with this kind of person in the White House. This one is very different.” He coughed out a nervous laugh. “We’ll see how he evolves. And we’ll see how I evolve.”
No! Trump’s not going to evolve! This is a guy who once told a biographer, “When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I’m basically the same. The temperament is not that different.” And Franken has proven himself over the years to be remarkably adept at taking down humorless man-children. Remember the racquetball court, Al! Remember the racquetball court!
But now we have to back up. And now I have to confess to spending much of the afternoon trying to track down old Fresh Air transcripts. Here’s one you’ll want to read in full: Terry Gross’s 2002 interview with Gene Simmons. This is the interview where Simmons tells Gross that he expects her to welcome him with open arms and open legs. (“That’s a really obnoxious thing to say,” Gross replies.) Simmons brags about his alleged 4,600 sexual liaisons (“so far,” he adds); Gross asks if he has a sense of humor about his studded codpiece. (Simmons’s answer: “No, it holds in my manhood.”) At the end of the interview, Gross says, “I would like to think that the personality you’ve presented on our show today is a persona that you’ve affected as a member of KISS, something you do on stage, before the microphone, but that you’re not nearly as obnoxious in the privacy of your own home or when you’re having dinner with friends.” But that’s the same fantasy that Trump’s enablers constructed throughout his campaign! As Hillary Clinton said (quoting Maya Angelou): “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”
The Trump campaign apparently reached out to Simmons about performing at the inauguration; the guitarist “politely declined.” But it would’ve made sense: Trump and Simmons are a lot alike. They’ve both starred in reality TV shows (The Apprentice and Gene Simmons Family Jewels); they’re both proudly “politically incorrect.” (Translation: “really obnoxious.”) And compare allegations of sexual assault faced by Simmons to Trump’s “grab ’em by the pussy” boasts. The differences are in the details, not the category.
Back to Franken. A few months after Simmons’s Fresh Air interview, Franken appeared on Gross’s show. He told a story about waiting outside a racquetball court for a friend to join him. While he was waiting, a man he didn’t recognize challenged him to a match, adding, “I’ll kick your ass.” Franken played him, beating him easily. The man demanded a rematch—but, since Franken’s friend had arrived, Franken tried to excuse himself. The man started making loud chicken noises: “bawk, bawk, bawk!” Franken said OK, he would play the man again, for a $500 stake. The man predictably slunk away.
The punch line, of course, is that the outmatched opponent was Gene Simmons. (Franken’s friend recognized him.) Franken described Simmons as “the most awful person I’ve ever met.” The more I work on this post, the more I’m convinced that Donald Trump and Gene Simmons are basically the same person. We might as well have elected the “Demon” from KISS as our next president.
But Franken has shown how to deal with such men: challenge them, ridicule them. Dare them to put up their own money. Pick apart their tweets. (Party on, Donald.) A giant caveat: This might not work! We never worried that Obama would destroy the world over criticism of his large ears, but can we really say the same about Trump and his small hands? Anyway, as Nietzsche once wrote, “Even if nothing else today has any future, our laughter may yet have a future.” Happy New Year.