Chaos ensued, just as Brawlin’ had promised.
By now, I took Brawlin’ to be of that species of men such as various officers I had had under my command from time to time, who revel in launching an attack for the confusion and terror that it may sow in the enemy, without thought to any greater aim. I confess, there are times when such a tactic is not only desirable, but necessary, but success cannot be long sustained unless the tactic serves a more considered strategy. Indeed, if it does not, if there is nothing in the officer’s intent but to sow confusion after confusion, it will soon be in the minds of his commander and brother officers, rather than the enemy, that the chief confusion reigns. As for Brawlin’, while I could see that he was adept at sowing terror, I could not yet tell if his horizon extended beyond the latest outrage.
There was uproar, declamation, and resistance from the ‘Snowflakes,’ as Brawlin’ called them. He roared with laughter at footage of the solemn condemnations and noisy demonstrations that peppered each of the news programs that Larry watched. And yet Toadyin’ had been right as well. Uncertainty reigned at the borders of the republic, where individuals of no ill intent were detained, released, detained again. Dissent reigned in the courts, which moved to strike down the orders.
Larry was incensed at the judicial intervention. One might have imagined that he thought that the Constitution of this republic licensed but one power, not three. But Brawlin’ only laughed harder. ‘Let ‘em strike the orders down!’ he yelled, almost crying in his hilarity. ‘Bring it on!’
‘Then how are we gonna make America safe?’ demanded Larry angrily.
Brawlin’ threw a glance at an aide who was with him in the room. ‘How, Millerman?’ he said.
The aide smiled knowingly. The Millerman, as he was known, was a thin, toothy ex-circus performer who had started out as a warm-up act for Larry’s campaign rallies during the election, entertaining the crowd with back-flips and pirhouettes and egg-and-spoon tricks. His willingness to front restive crowds for hours, and to persist for day after day despite being showered with insults and occasional vegetable missiles that stained his inexpensive suits, persuaded Larry of his loyalty, and since loyalty counted far more with Larry than competence, it wasn’t long until the Millerman was writing speeches and providing policy advice and performing various other services between his jaunts on stage.
‘Sir,’ said the Millerman, ‘as we all know, the facts show that not a single terrorist act has ever been committed by refugees that have passed our existing vetting process.’
‘Stonewallin’ Kellyanne said we had alternative facts,’ objected Larry.
‘She usually does,’ said Brawlin’. ‘Point is, Mr President, this order’s not going to keep out a single terrorist. We know it, the press knows it, the courts know it.’
‘I didn’t know it,’ murmured Larry reproachfully, picking up the model of the Larry Tower with an injured look.
‘The point of the orders, sir,’ said the Millerman, smiling his toothy smile, ‘is to get the snowflake liberals and the dishonest media and the so-called judges to oppose them. That way, the next time we get a terrorist outrage, we can blame them!’
‘Can’t come soon enough!’ said Brawlin’.
‘But if what you said is true, it’s not gonna come from one of these refugees, is it?’ said Larry.
‘Hell, no!’ said Brawlin’. ‘It’s gonna come from some home-grown Muslim or redneck Christian, like they all do. But who cares? We’ll still blame the snowflakes. And the people who matter, they’ll believe us!’
Larry nodded, stroking the Tower. ‘That’s smart.’
‘All that matters is the 1%.’
The president;’s face took on a pained expression. ‘I don’t know why you keep saying that.’
‘Because we can’t afford to forget it.’ Brawlin’ sighed. ‘Mr President, we need to constantly remember, it’s only 1% of the voting eligible adult population of this country that actually support your policies.’
‘That can’t be right. How’d I win the election?’
‘Because of me,’ said Brawlin’.
‘You voted sixty million times? I don’t think so!’
‘No, sir, what I mean is, it’s because of me that you kept talking to the 1% when everyone else was telling you to go broader. And because you kept talking to the 1%, that’s why you won.’
‘I wish you wouldn’t keep saying 1%, Brawlin’ Steve. I got more than 1%. Way more! Most votes ever.’
‘Okay.’ Brawlin sighed again, and his tone was one such as one might hear from a parent to a backward child, who must be told something not once, but over and over. ‘Let’s remember how this works. 1% of the voting-eligible population truly supports you and your policies. 2% are idiots who listen to that 1% – wives, elderly parents with dementia, feeble-minded friends – and do whatever the 1% does. That gives you 3%. That makes people take notice, including a whole bunch of airheads who just want to vote for someone ‘different’. Remember the orca in Free Willy? They would have voted for him if he was standing, but he wasn’t, so they voted for you. That gives you another 3%, so you’re now at 6%. 6% is a movement, so now you get a bunch of losers whose lives are so empty and meaningless they’re desperate for something to identify with. Anything. They’d vote for the JelloMan if they could be persuaded that Jello was a political cause. So that gives you another 4%. Now you’re at 10%. 10%, as we know, is enough to win the Republican primaries. Now you’re the Republican nominee, so you get automatically get another 15% who’ll vote republican even if the party’s led by Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer. That gives you 25%, and that,’ concluded Brawlin’ triumphantly, ‘gives you the election when your opponent is Crooked Hillary!’
‘So you’re saying I got elected because of a coalition of idiots, airheads and losers?’ mumbled Larry.
‘Yep!’ replied Brawlin’. ‘Like most presidents. Plus don’t forget the 1% of believers. Nothing would be possible without them. That 1% of bigoted, fearful, spiteful white folks. Backbone of our country! You gotta love ‘em.’
The Millerman grinned and nodded enthusiastically.
‘You’ve just gotta keep feeding ‘em,’ said Brawlin. ‘Don’t worry about the popularity polls, they don’t mean a thing. As long as you’re above 1%, you’re fine. Keep that 1%, and they’ll give you the 2%, the 2% give you the 3%, the 3% give the 4%, and bingo! That’s it! You’ve just gotta keep the 1% happy. Next time a bomb goes off at a marathon, you just say, I told you so, blame the courts, and they’ll probably go lynching a bunch of judges by sundown.’
Larry smiled wistfully, gazing out the window as he stroked the Tower, perhaps visualising strange judicial fruit hanging from the trees outside.
‘Sir, a very great man once said, the bigger the lie, the more people will believe it. I won’t tell you who that was because it’s probably better that you don’t know. He could have added, the more lies you tell, the more they’ll believe. Think of the press as a great keyboard, Mr President, which we can play.’
‘I’m not sure if Slippery Sean gets that,’ said Larry.
‘No, I’m not sure either. And I’m not sure if Reince does, if we’re being totally frank.’ Brawlin’ watched him for a moment, as if calculating whether to pursue the point further at that moment. He decided against it. ‘The thing is, Mr President, if we’re gonna be radical – which we both know we want to be – we’ve gotta be radical now. This sets the tone for the next four years. If we make the extreme into the new normal right now, at the start, then anything we do later that’s inside that envelope, it looks moderate. Something that people would think is extreme if we did it now, they’ll be relieved later if that’s as far as we go. But we’ve gotta push now. Hard as we can!
‘I think of it like doing a backward somersault with a double twist and pike,’ said the Millerman, who was given to analogies from his earlier life as an acrobatic entertainer.
‘And we have limited time,’ said Brawlin’. ‘The elites are like a terminator, you can smash ‘em up but they pull together again. Eventually they’ll reconstitute, like scum on a lake. We’ve gotta throw punch after punch while they’re stumbling. Keep them off balance for as long as we can while we set the new normal.’
‘Yeah,’ said Larry.
‘That’s how we won the election, right? Punch after punch.’
Larry pulled out his phone. His thumbs flew. ‘Dishonest media covering up SO much! Wish I could tell you but classified TOP SECRET. Very BAD!!!’
Brawlin’ laughed. ‘Great! The 1% love conspiracy theories.’
Larry’s thumbs kept going. ‘Anything bad they say against me is WRONG! Anything good should be even better! I will stop this. Very big investigation. Biggest ever. They have NOWHERE to hide!’
‘Not so great,’ said Brawlin’. ‘We don’t want more investigations. Accusations, sir, not investigations.’
‘Should I delete?’
‘It’s a little late. There’s about a million people who get an alert the second you tweet.’
Larry put down the phone. A frown came over his face. He picked up the Tower and stroked it disconsolately. ‘1%?’ he said. ‘Is that really the amount who believe what I’m saying?’
‘Truly believe,’ said Brawlin’. ‘I said truly believe. I think Barack, he probably had, half a percent who truly believed.’
‘You think so?’
‘So that makes me more legitimate than him, right?’
‘Way more legitimate. That’s why your inauguration crowd was bigger.’
‘It was so big!’ said Larry.
‘And 1%, Mr President, that’s 2 million people. 2 million people who truly believe your message.’
‘That’s a lot, right?’
‘Huge! That’s bigger than the entire population of Lichtenstein. I’m saying that’s over 100 hundred percent!’
‘That’s like a triple somersault with a twist and a half pike,’ said the Millerman.
‘Half pike?’ yelled Brawlin’. ‘Full pike, Millerman!’
‘Full pike!’ the Millerman hurriedly corrected himself. ‘Two pikes.’
‘Most fuckin’ pikes ever!’ yelled Brawlin’.
‘You know what?’ said Larry. ‘1% sounds a little small. I don’t like it. Let’s call it 70%.’
‘Whatever you want, sir,’ replied Brawlin’. ‘70% it is. Just as long as we keep feeding ‘em.’
Larry nodded. ‘You know, it feels amazing to be the most legitimate president ever. Truly amazing. I kind of feel sorry for all the other presidents.’
Larry’s eyes moved around the room, resting for a moment on the various presidential portraits on the wall, and stopping on me.
‘You think he’d approve?’ said Larry.
Approve, I thought? You dim-witted, ignorant, puffed-up mass of conceit! The conversation I had just heard was as close to treason as any that I had heard in this office – and I had heard the conversations of Tricky Dick, as he was known, including the parts that were later erased from the tape. But I had never heard anything such as this.
‘Who cares?’ replied Brawlin’. But immediately he could see by the shadow that passed across Larry’s face that he had misspoken. ‘The Father of the Republic?’ he added quickly. ‘How could he object to making America great again?’
The reassurance that Larry derived from the conversation with Brawlin’ and the Millerman didn’t last long – no longer than the next report of his dire approval figures. He was still above 1% – if only just – but he seemed to have forgotten Brawlin’s reassurance on that score. I was beginning to see that Larry was sensitive to every slight, whether intended or not, whether from friend or foe, whether real or imagined. And yet the strange thing was that he seemed to provoke these slights, almost as if he revelled in them. Offensive messages poured out of his phone. He would send a tweet gratuitously attacking some individual or institution, receive an exculpatory response, interpret that response as an assault, and send another message twice as offensive as the first. He seemed incapable of restraining himself. Coiffed with his carroty mummer’s wisps, he was like a giant walking balloon of self-regard which constantly regarded itself as being punctured, and constantly bound its wounds by the expedient of poking his seeming enemies in the eyes.
And his enemies were everywhere. Those of his party who should have been his natural friends, he alienated with his contempt. Those of the other party who might have been reconciled to him, he incensed with his barbs. Those of the press and the courts who should have been neutral, he provoked with his insults. And even amongst his aides he contrived to find betrayal.
‘We’re leaking like a sieve!’ he exclaimed to his wife, of whom I had seen little since the unfortunate incident on Inauguration Day when Larry’s ambition had proven the better of his capacity.
His wife looked at him uncomprehendingly. When alone with him, I noticed, she contrived to stay beyond arm’s length, and if possible, with a bulky item of furniture between them.
‘You mean there’s a problem with the plumbing?’ she said in her rasping Hessian accent.
‘Jesus Christ! Where’s Ivanka? At least I wouldn’t have to explain every damn word to her!’
‘You must be able to get good plumbers, Larry. You’re a builder.’
‘We’re leaking. Leaking! People are telling all kinds of stuff to the press.’
‘What kinds of stuff?’ said his wife, backing away behind a sofa as he came nearer.
‘Don’t you read anything? They’re saying there’s chaos here! How one bunch of my people are knifing the others in the back. How we don’t know what the hell we’re doing.’
‘But you do, right?’ said his wife, coming cautiously closer to pat him sympathetically on the hand, then jumping back as he took a step toward her.
‘Of course we do! We know everything. Most knowledge in any administration ever!’ He snorted. ‘Anyway, I don’t want to talk about that.’
Larry didn’t respond. He glanced at the desk.
His wife’s eyes narrowed.
He was silent for a moment longer – then he lunged. His hand was halfway up her skirt before she chopped down hard on his wrist.
‘Oww! Jesus Christ!’
‘No pussy-grabbing! No!’
‘Just one little pussy-grab!’
‘No! Sit down! Over there! Behind the desk.’
Hanging his head, Larry ambled over to the desk.
She sat on the sofa. ‘I’ll do it with you, but you have to take the pill first.’
‘And you’ll do it on the desk?’
She sighed. ‘If it’s so important to you. Yes, I’ll do it on the desk. But the pill, Larry. You’ve got to take it first.’
‘But I’ve gotta call the Mexican president in half an hour. Brawlin’ Steve and Toadyin’ Reince and a bunch of other guys are gonna be here. I can’t take it now. Takes two hours for everything to settle down.’
‘Then it’ll have to be another time. I’m not going take this dress off for another no-show. You know how long it takes to get it on?’
Larry looked at her glumly.
He shook his head. ‘I don’t know who’s doing these leaks. Toadyin’ Reince and Brawlin’ Steve are just as stumped as me. You know what the worst thing is about what’s being said? That I’m being treated like a child. That they have to tell me what I can do, what I can’t do. According to these leaks, I’m not even the one running this show.’
‘That’s terrible, Larry.’
‘That’s what they used to say when I did The Apprentice. But who was the ratings machine, huh? And look what’s happened now that Terminator guy is running it. It’s terminal.’
‘That’s pretty funny. See? Terminal?’
‘I know. I got it.’
Larry peered at her disbelievingly.
‘I got it!’
Larry drummed his fingers on the desk. Then he picked up his phone.
‘No one treats me like a child! DISHONEST MEDIA!!! Anyone who says that is a BIG FAT LIAR!’
‘Did you just send that?’ asked his wife.
‘The fat people aren’t going to be happy.’
‘Good! Unless they’re part of the 70%. Then it’s bad.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
Larry picked up the Tower. His gaze wandered back to his wife.
‘Larry … No pussy grabs!’
‘That’s disappointing, Mel. Very disappointing.’
‘Just stay behind the desk.’
A few minutes later, Toadyin’ and Slippery arrived. Brawlin’, Stonewallin’ and Jared weren’t far behind. Larry’s wife slipped away. Since Toadyin’ was no longer allowed to put papers in front of Larry, he had developed a ritual of standing in front of the desk and announcing matters for Larry’s attention like a medieval herald. I fancy Mad George himself would have been satisfied by the arrangement. Each time Toadyin’ finished a query on behalf of some cabinet secretary, Larry would nod knowingly and say he’d think about it, and yet Larry rarely, if ever, recalled Toadyin’ to say what conclusion he had reached and when Toadyin’ plucked up the courage to ask for a pronouncement on a particularly pressing matter – which was not often – like as not Larry would say that he was still deliberating, or ‘Give me a break!’, which I took to mean the same. I had not been keeping count, but there must have been fifty or more matters by now about which the presidential mind was tick-tocking, as he liked to describe it, with no sign of a conclusion. To judge by the look on Brawlin’s face each day as he sat watching Toadyin’ announce his queries , I wondered if he were not seizing the opportunity to whisper answers directly to the cabinet secretaries while Toadyin’ awaited the presidential responses.
By the time Toadyin’ was finished, another eight queries had been added to the mound of unanswered questions piled up in Larry’s head.
Larry glanced at his watch. ‘We got photographers?’ he said.
‘Certainly, Mr President,’ said Toadyin’, and he opened the drapes to reveal a posse of photographers outside the office. As he took his seat, the phone rang.
The president picked it up. Camera bulbs flashed outside the window. Larry adopted his simpering pout as they illuminated him, which, I had come to see, he considered to be his most statesmanlike expression.
The call with the Mexican president proceeded on the same lines as the others that I had heard Larry make to America’s allies. First Larry announced that he had won the greatest electoral victory in presidential history with the biggest crowd ever seen at an inauguration, then he said he was putting America first, then he picked on some trifling agreement that had been made with the other country by the previous administration and told his counterpart that it was the dumbest deal ever, then he said this was his worst call he had had to make. And then he allowed the other person to speak.
The only call that had differed had been a call to one Vladimir, when Larry said that his electoral victory didn’t compare to Vladimir’s, that he was putting relations with Vladimir first, that every deal with Vladimir was the greatest ever, and this was best call he had ever made. And then he asked if he could have certain photographs back.
Of course, with the Mexican president, there was also the matter of a certain wall to be discussed. Soon Larry was yelling. ‘You’re gonna pay!’
‘We’re not gonna pay!’ yelled back the Mexican president.
‘You’re gonna pay!
‘We’re not paying nothing. Zero. Nada. My people will slit my throat if I give you one peso.’
It occurred to me that for a man who prided himself on making deals, Larry had contrived to paint his counterpart into a corner from which he could not comply with Larry’s demands even if he wanted to.
‘You’re gonna pay, and not only that, you’re gonna pay a penalty if you pay late!’
‘I spit on your penalty!’
‘Yeah? You know what? I hate spitting. Rude. Very rude. Just for that, you’re gonna pay a penalty anyway!’
‘I spit on the spit on the penalty!’
‘Oh, yeah? Really? You know what? You’re gonna pay a penalty on the penalty!’
‘You wait till you see the penalty!’
‘There’ll be no penalty!’
‘Big penalty! Biggest ever.’
Larry’s aides watched as the discussion continued in this vein. Brawlin’ smiled calmly. Toadyin’ winced slightly at each exclamation.
But suddenly their eyes widened. Mine would have widened too, had not they been painted and fixed in varnish these two hundred years.
‘You’ve got some bad muchachos down there, hombre!’ Larry was saying. ‘If you can’t take care of them, I got a bunch of marines who’ll come down there and take care of ‘em for you.’
‘You don’t send any of your marines!’
‘I’m gonna send them! Just you watch!’
‘Lots of marines. Many, many marines! Just you wait, amigo!’ And Larry slammed down the phone.
Brawlin’ and Toadyin’ glanced at one another, united, for once, by amazement. Or was it fear?
Outside, the camera bulbs were flashing. Toadyin’ got up and hastily pulled the drapes closed.
‘I gotta go take a dump,’ said Larry, and he got up and walked out.
‘Excuse me …’ said Slippery Sean. ‘Did we just declare war on Mexico?’
‘No,’ said Brawlin’.
‘But I thought-‘
‘We offered to help them clear up their problems. If they invite us to send marines, obviously we’d oblige.’
Slippery frowned. ‘But he said: “I’m gonna send them.”’
‘No,’ said Brawlin’, ‘he said, “I’m gonna send them if that would be helpful.” You must have missed the last part.’
‘I heard it,’ said Stonewallin’ eagerly. ‘And it was a very friendly call. The president signed off by calling the Mexican president his amigo. It doesn’t get much friendlier than-‘
‘Jesus Christ, Steve!’ said Toadyin’. ‘What the fuck is going on? He’s out of control. He’s already pushing the Iranians and the Chinese with these damn tweets he keeps sending! Now he’s declared war on Mexico. Is there anyone we’re not gonna fight?’
‘He hasn’t declared war on-‘
‘Australia?’ yelled Toadyin’, a note of hysteria creeping into his voice. ‘Oh no, I forgot, after his call with their prime minister, we’re gonna fight them too!’
‘Calm down,’ yelled Brawlin’.
‘This is your fault, Steve!’
‘Calm the fuck down!’ Brawlin’ shoved him into a chair. ‘Hell, if you weren’t such a snowflake!’
‘Don’t you call me a snowflake!’ snapped Toadyin’, struggling to get up.
‘Then don’t melt as soon as the heat goes up a little!’ snapped Brawlin’, pushing him down again. ‘He’s a snowflake, right, Jared?’
‘Look, if the transcript of this call ever came out …’ Brawlin’ paused portentously, ‘if it ever came out, the 1% would love it.
‘The 1%,’ snorted Reince. ‘The 1%! I’m sick of hearing about the fucking 1%.’
‘Yeah, well if it wasn’t for the fucking 1%, you wouldn’t be sitting here today. That’s why they elected him, so he’d say shit like that. And by the way, we’re gonna call it the 70%. He likes the sound of that better.’
‘But it was only 1%,’ said Slippery. ‘I’ve heard you say it a thousand times.’
Stonewallin’ snorted. ‘You still don’t get it, do you?’
‘We should leak this transcript,’ said Brawlin’.
‘We are not leaking this transcript!’ retorted Toadyin’.
‘We should definitely leak it!’
‘We had an agreement,’ said Toadyin’. ‘What we leak, we leak together.’
Brawlin’ smirked. The smirk of a man who honors his agreements more in the breach than in the commission.
‘We are not leaking this transcript!’ yelled Toadyin’.
‘What transcript?’ inquired Larry, walking back into the room and sitting down heavily behind the desk. ‘Whooo! I needed that. I had about ten seconds to go. Very close. So, what transcript, Toadyin’ Reince? What are you talking about?’
‘Nothing, sir. I just … we just …’
‘That was a bold statement you made to the Mexican president, sir!’ said Brawlin’.
Larry grinned. ‘Yeah, it was, wasn’t it? Truth is, I was desperate to get to the can. Like I said, bustin’. Very, very bad. Only way I could think of to get off the phone was to say we’d come blow the shit out of Mexico.’
‘Well that’s …’ Toadyin’ shrugged. ‘That’s an explanation, I guess.’
‘But I was thinking when I was on the can just now, maybe it’s not such a bad idea.’ Larry’s eyes gleamed with cunning. ‘If we went in and took say, northern Mexico, where the bad muchachos are, would that include those Mexican resorts?’
‘Which Mexican resorts?’ ventured Toadyin’.
‘You know like Cabo … what’s it called?’
‘Cabo San Lucas?’ said Slippery.
‘That’s it. And Puerto …?’
‘That’s a little further south, sir.’
‘What about Cancun?’
‘That’s actually … quite a long way from the area we’re talking about,’ said Toadyin’.
‘Really? See, I’ve always thought we could do great with a Larry International Hotel and Resort in Cancun. And those other places too, but especially Cancun. I’ve always wanted to have one there. We’d do great, right, Jared?’
‘Sure we would. Great place for us.’
‘But one of the commitments you made while you’re president,’ said Toadyin’, ‘is that your – I mean, the company your boys are running – won’t do any new deals in foreign countries.’
‘Exactly,’ said Larry. ‘And I’m gonna stand by that commitment. A hundred percent. Great commitment.’ He picked up the Larry Tower and stroked it thoughtfully. ‘But what if we … let’s say … conquered Cancun. I’m just saying. That would be ours then, right, Toadyin’ Reince?’
Toadyin’ stared at him.
‘And if it was ours, it wouldn’t be a foreign country, so I could do a deal there.’
‘You mean the boys could do a deal,’ said Brawlin’.
‘Yeah, right. The boys could.’
Toadyin’ was still staring at him.
‘Toadyin’ Reince? You okay?’
‘I’m not sure …’ Toadyin’ coughed. ‘Technically, sir, I’m not sure that if you conquer a place it becomes part of your country. I’d have to check on the legal situation.’
‘I’m not saying we’re gonna stay there! Jesus, Toadyin’ Reince! Give me a break. All I’m saying is, maybe we just go in there and conquer it long enough to a deal.’ He winked. ‘I’ve been talking to someone. Very important man. Very nice. I had a call with him last night. One week, two weeks, max, to sort out a couple of issues, and we’d be ready to sign the papers.’
Toadyin’ threw a glance at Brawlin’, who stood smiling, not betraying any trace of what he was thinking.
‘I’ve gotta say,’ said Larry, ‘this feels like a great deal to me. I know a great deal when I see one. No one knows one better. This is a good one. We go in there and take out the bad muchachos. The American people love that, right? Makes us great again. In return, I get to do a deal in Cancun. Who’s gonna say no to that?’
‘The Mexicans?’ said Slippery.
‘Exactly, Slippery Sean! That’s the third upside. The more they hate it, the more everyone else’ll love it. Especially the 70%.’
‘That’s true,’ said Stonewallin’.
Toadyin’ glanced at Brawlin’ again, trying to discern, I fancy, if he had put this plan into Larry’s head.
‘There are some upsides, sir, as you say,’ said Brawlin’ thoughtfully.
Toadyin’ shook his head helplessly. ‘I need to get an opinion on the legal situation.’
‘Then go get it, Toadyin’ Reince! Just find the right lawyer. There never was an opinion yet I couldn’t get when I wanted it.’
Copyright © Michael Honig 2017