Chronicle of Our Republic’s Death Foretold
When Spy magazine first published its fateful description of Donald Trump as a “short-fingered vulgarian” thirty years ago — thirty years ago! — Trump reacted in the most Trumpian way possible: He said he knew people who knew things, and Spy would fold within a year.
Leading Spy to respond in the most Spy way possible: A monthly sidebar quoting Trump’s prediction and counting down the days, headlined “Chronicle of Our Death Foretold”.
The year ran out, nothing happened, and Spy ran a final sidebar predicting Trump’s death. And that was that.
Only it wasn’t.
Ever since, including just last year, Spy cofounder and phrasemaker Graydon Carter would receive special deliveries from Trump: Magazine photos of The Donald. “On all of them,” Carter writes, “he has circled his hand in gold Sharpie in a valiant effort to highlight the length of his fingers.”
His fingers. No complaints about “vulgarian”, which shouldn’t surprise you, coming from a guy who uses gold Sharpies.
It’s easy, in seeing Trump as the Raging Id of White Resentment, to forget how fragile his ego is, how thin the skin that wraps those stubby appendages. And the trick to getting under that skin is ridiculously simple.
Spy was, at heart and on the cover, “The New York Monthly”, a clever magazine for clever Manhattanites. If the Village Voice had used the phrase, Trump may well have ignored it, but people he knew read Spy (and were also skewered by it), so there was no avoiding the insult, and the implied humiliation — a subtext made text only months ago by Marco Rubio. The insult snuck through Trump’s defenses, and landed. Hard.
Much like the insults delivered to Trump’s face five years ago by The Preznident of These United States. Trump sat in the audience for the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner, known in retrospect as The One Where We Got Bin Laden, but it also capped a week where Obama’s long-form birth certificate was released. (Trump knew people in Hawaii who knew different, but we never heard from them.) The evening remains one of Obama’s better Nerd Prom outings, notable for Trump being humiliated by constant comparisons to how firing Gary Busey on TV is much harder than the decisions a President has to make.
Really. Watch it again. It’s even more entertaining this time around.
Especially after watching Hillary’s Trump-bashing speech, which we’ve been insistently told is the best of her campaign. And which, we’re sorry to say, may be the case. Hillary speeches set a low bar for other Hillary speeches.
The speech comes off, at best, like a Strongly Worded Editorial: Things that need to be said, but not said very well. We could only get through it by imagining Bubba delivering it instead, with a bit more humor, a few winks, an underlying insinuation that you’ve got to be kidding me.
You know. Humiliating the guy.
Hillary has been living in national public life for twenty-five years. If she hasn’t learned how to deliver a speech by now, she never will.
Which, for present purposes, may not matter. Because we’re also being told — also insistently — that this one got to Trump, that he was off his game Thursday night, that he hasn’t punched back like he usually does.
You’ll forgive our suspicion of Creeping Wish Fulfillment in such analyses, just as everyone used to be sure that every Outrageous Trump Statement was the one that would bring him down, all the way up to him winning the nomination. We all want Trump to fail so hard, it’s blurring our vision, of him and his supporters.
But still: We know it’s possible to get under Trump’s skin, and really mess with his head. And if Hillary’s speech achieves that result — even if it’s otherwise forgettable — more power to her.
But we remain five months from the general election, and it’s way too soon to declare that Hillary has discovered how to slay the dragon. Leave the Fan Fiction to Bill Kristol.