A little something for your trouble

What's it gonna take to make this go away?

White House photo.

PENSACOLA, Fla. — As federal authorities worked on Saturday to piece together clues to last week’s attack at a Florida military training base, new details emerged about the gunman, a Saudi trainee who had apparently shown videos of mass shootings at a dinner party the night before…

President Trump said before flying to South Florida on Saturday evening that the government would immediately look into “the whole procedure” of accepting foreign military trainees. King Salman of Saudi Arabia, he added, “will be involved in taking care of families and loved ones” of those killed and injured in the attack.

“I think they’re going to help out the families very greatly,” Mr. Trump said. — New York Times

[The Oval Office. TRUMP sits at the Resolute Desk. Senior advisor for policy STEPHEN MILLER stands with his arms folded. A young SHEIK dressed in Saudi thobes sits near TRUMP in a comfortable chair that is not usually in the Oval. He is serene. White House Chief of Staff MICK MULVANEY enters.]

MULVANEY: Okay, here he is.

[MULVANEY sits on a sofa. SAMEH HAITHAM, a slightly built man of Middle Eastern extraction, about 45, wearing a light-colored suit, comes in. TRUMP does not get up.]

TRUMP: Mr. Haitham, come on in. Take a seat. 

[HAITHAM does so, in a straight-back chair near TRUMP, silently turning his attention between TRUMP and the SHEIK. MILLER stares at him.]

Listen, terrible tragedy, just terrible what happens and we’re all sorry for your loss. I know we can’t replace your son, but we have an emissary here from the King of Saudi Arabia [Points to SHEIK]. This man is also very sorry for your loss, isn’t that right, your — what do we call you, excellency? I forget.

SHEIK: Muhammad Ibn Abdullah ibn Abdullah Al-Saud.

TRUMP: OK, that’s kinda tricky. Can you just call you — Sir, I guess, or —

SHEIK: Muhammed is fine.

TRUMP: [To HAITHAM] Oh, Muhammed, like your son. Isn’t that a coincidence. Anyway, Muhammed feels especially bad, and so does the King, because this, this person who did this thing was unfortunately from his country and he wants to give you something as a token to show how bad he feels, isn’t that right?

SHEIK: My people are willing to give you one million dollars U.S.

TRUMP: That’s tax free, by the way. See, we’re not going through the bureaucrats. They probably wouldn’t even allow us to do this.

HAITHAM: Please. One million dollars for what?

[Pause.]

TRUMP: [Shrugs] Pain and suffering, I guess. Restitution. I don’t know the legal term, I have lawyers for that kind of thing, Jews, you know.

HAITHAM: And what do you want me to do for this money?

TRUMP: See, that’s the beauty part: You don’t have to do anything. Normally you’d have to go to court, get lawyers involved, go on the witness stand, it can go on for years, it’s a pain in the ass, believe me, I know. But this way you get the money without any of that hassle. The guy just hands it to you. You fill out some papers, of course. NDA, receipt, the usual. It’s over like a shot.

HAITHAM: And this is justice? You think this is justice? 

[Pause.]

TRUMP: You want more? We can go to two million. [To SHEIK] Isn’t that right?

[HAITHAM gets up.]

HAITHAM: I thought you would talk to me as a man who has sons of his own. Not to offer money like… 

[HAITHAM shakes his head and heads for the door. MILLER runs to get in his face.]

MILLER: Are you threatening the President? Hmm? Are you making threats? What country are you from? What country? We’re going to send you back, what country —

[HAITHAM punches MILLER in the mouth. MILLER falls to the floor and curls up into a ball. HAITHAM slowly walks out. Pause. MULVANEY starts laughing. So does the SHEIK. Even TRUMP takes on that grimace that serves him for a smile. MILLER looks around, gets up.]

TRUMP: Guess he showed you!

MULVANEY: Why didn’t you hit him back, Mr. Master Race.

[MILLER looks like he wants to say something to MULVANEY, but as the laughter redoubles he starts laughing too, exposing blood-stained teeth.]

MILLER: Ha ha, notice I’m laughing!

TRUMP: Well, it’s no joke if he talks to the press. 

[EVERYONE quiets down.]

Like that two we tried to pay off last summer. Remember that? 

MULVANEY: Harry Dunn’s parents? 

TRUMP: English kid, got run over. 

MULVANEY: We didn’t offer them money, sir, just… tried to get them to hug his killer.

TRUMP: Yeah, that was a bust.

MULVANEY: Well, don’t worry, sir. Haitham doesn’t look like the type. 

TRUMP: You can never tell with these Arabs. They could come back and cut your throat. [To the SHEIK] No offense, your excellency! I say that about everybody, the Puerto Ricans, the dagos. Well, it’s true. 

[The SHEIK gets up.]

SHEIK: So that’s it, then.

MULVANEY: The other families didn’t even take our calls so, yeah.

[TRUMP gets to his feet, runs to the SHEIK, grabs his hand.]

TRUMP: You did me a big favor here, your highness. I won’t forget it. 

[TRUMP kisses his ring. The SHEIK heads for the door. TRUMP calls after him:]

Give my best to our friend. I’ll send Jared to take care of business.

[The SHEIK wordlessly leaves.]

Was I supposed to kiss his ring?

MULVANEY: [Slowly] No, Mr. President.

TRUMP: I can never keep it straight. [Checks his watch] OK, well, what is it, one oh five, good, still time for my prostitute. You guys take it easy. 

[TRUMP leaves. MILLER picks up some folders from a coffee table. MULVANEY passes behind him; suddenly MILLER falls onto the coffee table. He stands up quickly, stares at MULVANEY, who has crossed to the Resolute Desk and is taking up papers from it.]

MULVANEY: [Quietly] Oops. Sorry. 

[MULVANEY turns, leans his butt on the Resolute Desk, and thumbs through TRUMP’s papers. MILLER takes a step toward him; MULVANEY looks up; MILLER freezes. MULVANEY reaches into his pocket and throws MILLER a handkerchief.]

Better wipe that blood off, Steve. Makes you look weak.

[MILLER puts the handkerchief to his mouth and leaves. MULVANEY goes back to TRUMP’s papers. CURTAIN.] 

No apologies

Dork horse

Father and son

A touching encounter

Public domain.

[The Oval Office. TRUMP is, for once, standing in front of his desk. He has what looks like powdered sugar on his nose, cheeks, and chin. White House Chief of Staff MICK MULVANEY stands a little off to one side, with this look on his face.]

TRUMP: I bet you think this is a bad idea.

MULVANEY: [After a beat, blandly] What? Oh, no, sir, it’s a brilliant idea. I really can’t wait to see it in action.

[MELANIA TRUMP comes into the room. She does not smile and stops several feet from TRUMP.]

MELANIA: Knuck knuck.

TRUMP: [Holds his hands out in a “what’s this?” gesture] Where is he?

MELANIA: The cook iss giving him a swit.

TRUMP: A swit? You mean like Loretta Swit?

MULVANEY: Sweet.

MELANIA: She dutts on him.

TRUMP: What the hell?

MULVANEY: Dotes.

TRUMP: [To MULVANEY] You shut up. [To MELANIA] I don’t have time for this shit. Get the kid in here.

MELANIA: Budt Dunnald —

TRUMP: NOW!

[MELANIA flees. Pause.]

MULVANEY: Wipe your nose, sir.

TRUMP: [Surly] What for?

MULVANEY: [Faintly] No reason.

[BARRON TRUMP enters, dressed like a prep school kid — polo shirt, very nice dark suit jacket, boat pants, moccasins. He looks like he couldn’t give a shit. Like his mother, he stops well short of TRUMP.]

TRUMP: There he is. Hey kid, how you doin’?

BARRON: [Mumbles.]

TRUMP: Oh yeah? [Quietly, to MULVANEY] What’d he say?

[MULVANEY shrugs.]

[To BARRON, gesturing] Come over here, gotta ask you for something.

[BARRON comes a little closer.]

What are you, scared of me? C’mere.

[BARRON walks up to TRUMP, looks him in the face.]

How old are you now?

BARRON: Thirteen.

TRUMP: Yeah? How you doing in school?

BARRON: [A light laugh] School?

TRUMP: OK, let’s cut to the chase. You know that bitch in Congress, she said some things about you today, right?

BARRON: Yeah.

TRUMP: Aren’t you mad about it?

BARRON: Why should I be?

TRUMP: Why? Didn’t you hear what she said?

[MELANIA has crept in at the door, near which she hangs.]

BARRON: Yeah.

TRUMP: What’s the matter with you? She disrespected you! You can’t let anyone get away with that! Especially a woman!

BARRON: [Shrugs]

TRUMP: Listen. We’re gonna put you on TV. And you’re gonna say how bad this lady hurt you, and how much she hurt your mother and father and how you’ll never get over it. Don’t worry, I got Miller working on a script, he’s good at this stuff. And, I would consider it a personal favor to me if you’d cry. Not bawling, just a few tears. They got tricks you can do, like you yawn and think about sad shit.

[TRUMP dips his hand in his jacket pocket.]

And if that doesn’t work you do this — look at me —

[TRUMP turns away, puts his hands to his face, turns around — some kind of liquid trickles from his eye down through the white powder on his cheek.]

See? Instant tears.

BARRON: [Disgusted] What’s on your face?

TRUMP: It’s a tear! Well, it’s Murine, but it looks like a tear.

BARRON: No, the white stuff.

[TRUMP rubs his face, looks at his fingers, sniffs them, then snorts them, then wipes and snorts some more, then sticks his hand in his mouth and sucks, then runs his tongue along his upper gums, then seems to notice BARRON.]

TRUMP: It’s moisturizer. Okay, you’re staying here tonight, we’re gonna work —

BARRON: No I’m not.

TRUMP: What’d you say?

BARRON: I said no.

TRUMP: Tough shit, you’re staying.

BARRON: No.

TRUMP: Hey, you talking back to me?

BARRON: Yeah, what are you gonna do about it?

[TRUMP freezes, wide-eyed.]

What are you gonna do? Cut my allowance? Take me out of your will? Hit me? Go ahead. I’ll go on CNN the next day and tell everybody. I’ll even add some details. And when I do? I’ll remember that crying trick you taught me.

TRUMP: Why you little —

[TRUMP lays hands on BARRON, but MELANIA almost literally flies across the room and tears TRUMP off him. For a few seconds her hands are a blur, as is TRUMP's head. Suddenly she grabs BARRON and flees again. TRUMP topples across the desk. A few SECRET SERVICE AGENTS run in.]

MULVANEY: It’s okay, fellas, we were just having a little fun.

[The AGENTS leave. TRUMP straightens up. He looks like Beetle Bailey after Sarge beats him up. MULVANEY reaches into his jacket pocket, takes out a handkerchief, and hands it to TRUMP, who starts wiping his face.]

MULVANEY: Maybe we can try it with Tiffany dressed up like a boy.

[CURTAIN.]

Kick Their Ass and Take Their Gas

Let's see if it works again

The President’s most recent dribblings about how We’re Only In It For The Petrol confirm what I adjudged when he made similar ravings during his al-Baghdadi speech back in October (“We’re out. But we are leaving soldiers to secure the oil. And we may have to fight for the oil. It’s okay. Maybe somebody else wants the oil, in which case they have a hell of a fight...”):

We’re used to dismissing Trump’s mouthfarts, but since he is President just as James Monroe once was (I know, depressing thought, right), we may take this seriously as his official Doctrine: That everything the most radical anti-imperialist protestors claimed about America’s involvement in the Middle East was right — our adventures there are a trade of blood for oil.

This has been denied for years by conservatives... But the current leader of their movement has restated the case with the crude directness of a 40s movie gangster. If for nothing else we should be grateful for his clarity.

But that was not new. It was rather a revival. Trump talked enthusiastically about stealing oil from Middle Eastern countries during his presidential campaign (“You know, it used to be to the victor belong the spoils”). Till the al-Baghdadi hit he hadn’t talked much about it — despite obtaining the power to actually do it — but recent events put the region back into public consciousness and the talking point back into his speeches.

The reason (to the extent that reason still holds sway in his distracted globe) is not geopolitical, but just plain political.

It goes back to the humiliation many Americans (including the Boomers who currently support Trump) felt during the late 1970s with the Iran hostage crisis and OPEC’s high gas pump prices. Before then Americans thought of the Arabian peninsula as the source of cheap oil, populated by the equivalent of service station attendants — why, they dressed all in white, too! — who made sure we got it. Suddenly these guys were not only tightening the tap, they were taking our embassy.

The coming of Big Daddy Reagan restored somewhat the general sense of giant-foam-finger-#1-ness, but it sort of sat ill that we never got to bomb the Ayatollah Assaholla. Some of that backed-up resentment came out during Operation Desert Storm, a Middle Eastern invasion ostensibly undertaken to support plucky little Kuwait, an oil-rich ally few citizens really cared about; they waved their flags and cheered the victories, as post-Reagan peer pressure demanded, but they knew this was no rendezvous with destiny. In the absence of a popular casus belli, many fantasized instead about getting some of their own back from the “oil sheiks,” and slapped “Kick Their Ass and Take Their Gas” stickers on the bumpers of their cars — which were smaller than they used to be, in the interests of fuel efficiency.

For decades now America has been playing in the Arabian sandbox and the folks back home have precious little to show for it — not only has there been no conclusive victory in any of our efforts, we haven’t even gotten reliably cheap gas prices out of it. In our paranoid times, Trumpkins believe in a lot of crazy plots and conspiracies to which no liberal would give credence, but if you told them over a beer that the big gas companies have it all rigged and supply and demand has nothing to do with it, they’d probably agree with you.

Still the disappointment and bitterness persists, so when Trump comes along saying he’s going to Kick Their Ass and Take Their Gas, maybe at least some of them feel a little of the old tingle.

I’m pretty sure Trump is currently mentally impaired, which is why so much that comes out of him sounds like senile ramblings — but I think he can recall talking points enough to salt them in there, and I’m sure Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller have drilled him: Whenever you’re talking about the Middle East, it’s like all our other foreign dealings — you’re there to get things for your people. Not to rescue some desert duchy, much less to promote “democracy” — no, to get real-sounding things they know they can use, like oil. (The implied violence against non-white people is the icing on the cake.)

So Trump gets it in there, then goes back to insulting Adam Schiff. Back in their panic rooms and bunkers his handlers wonder: Does it still work? After years of this, do enough of them feel the charge when he lays on the brutality? Or have they finally tumbled to the fact that this fat-faced TV clown not only has nothing to do with the ups and downs of their gas prices but, if he should invade one of those formerly subservient, now desolate, Middle Eastern nations, it won’t be to Kick Their Ass and Take Their Gas, but to Make Things Easy for Exxon and BP?

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