The first person to feel the point of Larry’s lust for revenge was Brawlin’. One morning, unexpectedly, Larry wouldn’t let him into the room. Brawlin’ ran outside and stood pressed up against the glass door to the Rose Garden, like some kind of gigantic spider, banging on the woodwork and threatening to personally throw Larry over his knees and deliver him a good thrashing. When Larry heard that, his eyes twinkled, but still he didn’t let Brawlin’ in. Instead, Jared sat with him, strengthening the president’s resolve, although barely saying a word, and when he tried to speak, being cut off by Larry when he was barely two words into whatever sentence he was concocting.
‘Jared!’ yelled Brawlin’, thumping on the door. ‘I’m gonna tear your damn Jew body limb from limb.’
‘He’s not in here!’ Larry shouted back.
‘He is too! I can see him? You’re lying to me, Larry. I’m gonna get out my old navy SEAL bag of tricks and work you over good.’
‘Perhaps we should let him in,’ whispered Larry, a trifle breathlessly. ‘I mean, I don’t want to, but maybe should.’
Jared shook his head.
‘Please?’ begged Larry.
‘Actually, if you do-‘
‘I know, I know. I’ll regret it. I have to stand up to him. I’ve started. If I back down now, it’ll be worse than before. You’re a great advisor, Jared – and I know, because I’m one of the greatest people at choosing advisors, possibly the greatest, a great, great chooser of advisors – because you always say exactly what I’m thinking. It’s like there’s another voice saying what I’m about to say.’
‘Actually, sir, it is your voice, because I never get to-‘
‘Exactly! That’s exactly it! A great, great advisor.’
‘Let me in!’ yelled Brawlin’. ‘Let me the fuck in or I’ll-‘
The other door opened. Toadyin’ stepped in and gave a smug smile to Brawlin’, who stood outside, frantic-eyed, dishevelled, unshaven, hair wild, apoplectic with rage.
‘What is it?’ yelled Larry.
‘The Syrians,’ said Toadyin’.
‘The Syrians!’ said Larry. ‘What do they want? We should have taken their oil when we had the chance. I said that many time. Many, many times.’
‘That was the Iraqis, sir.’
Larry looked at Toadyin’ suspiciously, then glanced at Jared, who nodded.
‘The Syrians are the ones who are having a civil war,’ said Toadyin’. ‘Sending all those refugees to Europe.’
‘Where Merkel keeps taking ‘em in,’ said Larry quickly, like a child eager to show that he knows what the grown-ups are talking about. ‘What kind of a deal is that? Dumb. Totally dumb. Worst deal in history.’
‘Something quite bad has happened in Syria,’ said Toadyin’.
‘Let me in!’ yelled Brawlin’. ‘I know what’s happened! I can tell you!’
‘I don’t care what’s happened!’ yelled back Larry through the closed door. ‘I’m not doing anything in Syria,’ he said, turning to Toadyin’. ‘They can kill themselves until they’re red in the face. What difference does that make to the United States? I said when Barack was president. Dumb thing to do. Dumb, dumb, dumb. I’d never intervene there. And think about it. Why should I? Totally against my interests. If we let them destroy the place, what are they gonna need?’
‘A fuckful of cruise missiles to makes sure the place stays destroyed!’ yelled Brawlin’.
‘Emergency aid?’ said Toadyin’.
‘Reconstruction?’ said Jared.
‘Exactly! See, Jared knows!’
‘I hate Jared!’ yelled Brawlin’.
‘Reconstruction,’ said Larry. ‘Larry towers. Larry convention centres. Larry casinos. And Larry golf courses. Many, many golf courses. I bet they don’t have a single golf course left.’
‘I’m not sure if golf courses are what they’ll need …’ ventured Toadyin’.
Larry stared at Toadyin’, not in anger, it seemed to me, but in utter incomprehension.
‘Sorry,’ muttered Toadyin’. ‘Of course they will.’
‘I don’t care what the Syrians have done,’ said Larry. ‘I will never, never, never intervene.’ And he looked away from Toadyin’ and turned on the television, to signify that the matter was over.
‘A chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government today left at least one hundred and twenty people dead,’ the announcer was saying, ‘including at least thirty children.’
On the screen an image showed what appeared to a child of six or seven, untouched, unmutilated, but apparently dead.
Larry stared. ‘He looks just like my grandson … Innocent baby. Little angel. Little sweetie.’
‘Sir,’ murmured Toadyin’, ‘it’s estimated that over a hundred thousand children have died in Syria so far during the civil war. They were all innocent little sweeties. When a bomb landed on a school during the campaign last year and killed two hundred of them in Mosul, you tweeted, if I’m not mistaken: ‘Let me know when a bomb lands in Minneapolis and I’ll start taking notice.’
‘But look at this one …’ Larry wiped away a tear. ‘He looks just like Larry Junior Junior.’
He switched the television off.
‘What’s going on?’ yelled Brawlin’ from outside the door. ‘Someone tell me! Reince! Jared, you kike cocksucker! What’s happening?’
‘I’ve decided,’ said Larry.
‘What,’ inquired Toadyin’ hesitantly, ‘have you decided?’
‘We’ve gotta do something.’
‘Sir, your position was very clear. We’re not getting involved in Syria. We’ve had no less than 5 position papers outlining our policy. I summarised them for you.’
‘How many sentences?’ demanded Larry.
‘Well, I couldn’t get any of them down to less than about ten-‘
‘You expect me to read ten sentences?’ yelled Larry in disgust. ‘Ten sentences? I’ve told you, I don’t read more than six sentences at a time! Even that makes my head ache. Big ache. Very big.’
‘And no more than seventeen words!’ yelled Brawlin’. ‘None of that long-sentences Snowflakey stuff you use to trick people.’
Toadyin’ took a deep breath. ‘Mr President. This administration has a policy. We can’t let one picture of a dead child change all that.’
‘But he looks just like my grandson.’
‘Even if he looks like your grandson. When it comes to Syria, we’re not going to-‘
‘Intervene,’ said Larry.
‘I’ve decided. I want to intervene.’
Later that day, the Secretary of Defense arrived with a contingent of a half dozen generals.
‘Mr President,’ said the defense secretary, ‘You’ve decided that you want to retaliate you want to retaliate for the Syrian use of chemical weapons, is that correct?’
‘That’s right, Mad Bull,’ said Larry.
‘Sir, you can call me Mr Secretary. Or you can call me James, or Jim, if you want. But Mad Bull, Mr President, like I’ve said to you before, that’s kind of locker room talk. I never really encouraged it among my men.’
Larry grinned. ‘That’s why I love you, Mad Bull.’
Mad Bull sighed. ‘Okay, so, with Syria, are we sure the government side was responsible?’
‘That’s still being-‘ began Toadyin’.
‘Who the hell else would do it?’ demanded Brawlin’, who had slipped back into the room behind the generals.
‘It’s still being verified,’ said Toadyin’.
‘Actually-’ said Jared.
‘They did it, okay?’ said Larry. ‘I saw it on TV.’
‘ad Bull glanced questioningly at Toadyin’.
‘We’ll get it verified,’ mouthed Toadyin silently.
‘And in terms of the strategy after we do take action?’ asked the defense secretary.
There was silence.
‘Hit ‘em again if we have to!’ yelled Brawlin’ from behind the generals.
‘deally, we’d like something a little more-‘
‘I don’t do strategy, Mad Bull,’ said Larry. ‘I do deals. Big deals. Beautiful deals. Deals you only dream about. So what have you got for me?’
‘I wouldn’t call it a deal.’
‘What is it?’ demanded Larry eagerly. ‘Bombs? Marines? Helicopters? No Black Hawk Down scenario, okay. That would be bad, very bad.’
‘We have three plans,’ said Mad Bull. ‘A, B and C.’
‘When can we execture them?’ said Larry.
‘Well, that depends a little-‘
‘How about this Saturday night?’
Mad Bull stared at him. ‘Is that important?’
‘Absolutely. See, you’re a soldier, Mad Bull, which is great. That’s why I put you over there in the Pentagon. Smart move, right? The thing is, what you’ve got to understand, whether you’re a soldier or a politician or businessman – and I’m a great businessman, one of the greatest, and also a politician, and I was almost drafted, and I would have been if I didn’t have a spur on my foot – bad spur, very bad, one of the worst – so that kind of makes me a soldier – so what you’ve got to understand is that whatever you do it’s how you present it that matters. Did you know that I was one of the greatest reality television stars ever? Probably the greatest. People love reality TV. They love me. What can I say? They just do. Incidentally, they’re killing my show. Just killing it. I built if from nothing and they’re taking what I left and throwing it away. Sad. Very sad.’
‘Intervening in Syria isn’t reality TV, Mr President,’ said Mad Bull.
‘Exactly! So we need to make it like it is. You do this thing on Saturday night. I’m gonna be down at the Mar and I’ve got President Xi there. You know, President Xi of China?’
‘I know, sir,’ said Mad Bull.
‘So I’ve got this vision – and let me tell you, reality TV is all about vision, it’s about how you see the way things are gonna unfold, how you craft it. Because it’s a craft. An art. A real art. Possibly one of the most difficult arts. And I know a lot of people in the arts. Nice people. Very nice. Apart from the ones who take a tin of paint and throw it over a canvas and want to charge you a million bucks for it. I had a friend – very nice man, very substantial, very big business – and he invited me to his apartment one time – very nice apartment, very classy, total class – and he shows me this thing he’s bought and he says it cost him a million bucks, and I say to him, you know, it looks like someone just took a can of paint and threw it over that canvas. And you know what he says to me …?’ Larry waited to see if there were any takers. ‘He says: It’s the way he throws it.’
Larry grinned. Toadyin’ tittered loyally. Mad Bull and his generals stared stonily.
‘Snowflake,’ muttered Brawlin’ in disgust.
‘So I’ve got this vision. There’s me and President Xi, and we’re eating chocolate cake – let me tell you, the pastry chef down there, he makes the most beautiful chocolate cake – so we’re eating this beautiful chocolate cake, and I lean over to President Xi – and everyone’s watching – and I say, just loud enough so people can hear – President Xi, right now, a bunch of US army force are doing … whatever you’ll be doing. Can you imagine it? Can you imagine that moment? Go ahead. Try. I’ll wait.’
Mad Bull and the generals stared, doing, I fancy, precisely what Larry had instructed them to do. One after the other, their faces puckered, as if he had told them to suck on a lemon.
‘I know. Amazing. Listen, normally it’s a thousand a head for the President’s Dinner at the Mar. The highest before this was two thousand, when the Saudi king and his prostitutes came. But to be there when I’m with Xi, I’m charging three thousand. And already it’s fully booked! That’s an additional million dollars on the night, right there.’
‘That’s about the cost of one Cruise missile,’ said Mad Bull evenly. ‘We might end up having to use fifty or sixty of them.’
‘Great!’ said Larry. ‘Can you do it on Saturday night? You’ve gotta treat people right. People paying three thousand dollars, you’ve gotta give ‘em something special.’
‘We could potentially do it on Saturday night,’ replied Mad Bull carefully.
‘About 9.15? We’ll be in Florida, so I’m talking Eastern Daylight Time.’
Mad Bull gazed at him.
‘Great!’ said Larry. ‘Go ahead.’
‘Let me go through the plans we’ve drawn up so we can choose-’
‘No, I think we’re done.’
‘Don’t you want to hear the plans?’
‘Nah, you choose. Just do it at 9.15 on Saturday night. I’ll get the cake to come out at 9.10. A couple of minutes to talk about it, say how beautiful it is, then dig in. Xi’ll be having his second bite when I tell him. I can manage the timing. I’m very good at timing. One of my strengths. I’ll tell him just as he puts it in his mouth. With a bit of luck, I’ll get him to choke a little. Can you imagine it? He chokes a little on the cake, his guys come running from everywhere. That’s so real. It’s raw. You’d pay three thousand to see that, right?’
There was silence.
‘There is one other thing, sir,’ ventured one of the generals. ‘We were planning an attack on some fighters in Afghanistan, and there’s this bomb we’d like to use.’
The general smiled. ‘No, sir. Not nuclear.’
‘Oh, I thought maybe some little nuclear device. If you could do that the following Saturday night, not when Xi’s there, but the week after, I mean a week from Saturday… ’
‘Actually, Mr President, we were thinking of using quite a big bomb.’
Larry’s eyes lit up with a kind of greedy blaze. ‘How big?’
‘Well, technically, this bomb is called the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, or MOAB. It’s the biggest non-nuclear bomb ever made.’
‘That MOAB,’ added another general, ‘we say it stands for Mother Of All Bombs’.
Larry couldn’t conceal his excitement.
‘So do we have your go-ahead?’ said the general.
Larry grinned. ‘Can you do it a week from Saturday?’
The attacks on Syria and Afghanistan earned Larry considerable approval, and not only by the high paying guests who saw President Xi choke briefly on his chocolate cake. The strike on Syria, consisting of 59 cruise missiles aimed at airfields and associated installations, and avoiding loss of life, was widely regarded as restrained, intelligent and proportionate. Larry thought it was as well when he found out what the military had done. And the attack on Afghanistan garnered widespread coverage for the sheer size of the weapon, which had never been used outside testing before, although most of what was blown up appeared to be arid desert devoid of human habitation.
For a few days, Larry walked tall, wearing the mantle of commander in chief. When all is going well, this is the easiest mantle to wear. When badly, it is the worst. Since the standard price for the President’s Dinners at the Mar had now been raised to fifteen hundred a head, and since they were booked solid for the next three months, Larry wore it with satisfaction, and spent many hours late into the night fantasising about the attack that he still hoped to launch on Cancun. He also decided to chance his luck and talk tough with the North Korean leader, who responded by testing a missile which exploded on the launchpad, thus succeeding in the unlikely feat of simultaneously splattering egg over both his face and Larry’s.
But the halo effect soon wore off, as it always seemed to do with Larry. Living, it seemed to me, only for bursts of approving publicity, and caring little, if anything, for what might connect them, there was never enough satisfaction for Larry from one achievement – if making the president of China choke in front of five hundred fee-paying guests can be called an achievement – to last until the next. And the need for additional achievements was more pressing than usual. The one hundred day mark of Larry’s administration was approaching, and all but the most diehard supporters of Larry in the media were withering in their assessment of what he had achieved.
‘The dishonest media doesn’t count,’ said Brawlin’, who had been let back into the room, but whom Larry was still treating with circumspection, blaming him for the abject failure of his gambit over the aborted health care bill. ‘We’ve achieved more than any other administration ever, period.’
‘Is that true?’ asked Larry.
‘It is if we say so!’ said Stonewallin’ brightly.
‘What the hell’s wrong with you, Sean?’ demanded Stonewallin’.
‘It’s not true. Okay? It’s not. And it doesn’t become true if we say it. That’s what two-year-olds believe.’
‘Well, I wouldn’t know, because I can’t remember what I believed when I was a two-year-old. Are you telling me you can, Sean? Can you remember what you believed about Santa? Can you remember what you believed about the tooth fairy?’
‘What’s that got to do with it?’
‘Ha!’ yelled Stonewallin’. ‘Exactly! What does it have to do with it? You’re the one who started talking about what two-year-olds believe. And since none of us know, since none of us can remember, it just proves you don’t know what you’re talking about.’
Slippery’s mouth opened, hung for a moment, then closed, like a fish gulping water.
‘KellyAnne’s right,’ said Brawlin’, ‘we just have to say we’ve achieved the most ever. Period. Understand, Sean? You say it just like that: The most ever. Period.’
Larry’s eyes narrowed. He didn’t know if he should believe Brawlin’, but he wanted to. He wanted to so much that it almost ached. He reached for the Larry Tower and gripped it tight.
‘Well, let’s just look at what the achievements are,’ said Toadyin’. ‘Within these four walls, let’s be open. One, the appointment of a Supreme Court justice – not bad, except it came at the expense of the demise of the Senate filibuster, one of the most important informal constitutional safeguards that we had-‘
‘Constitutional safeguards!’ snorted Brawlin’.
‘Which is gonna come back and hurt us one day,’ continued Toadyin’, ‘if we ever lose control of the Senate, it’s gonna come back and bite us in the ass. So, one, the appointment of one Supreme Court justice at the cost of untold harm in the future. Two, the issuing of a bunch of executive orders that have been blocked by the courts …’
‘Damn snowflake courts!’
‘Three, the failure of a health care bill that was a signature promise,’ continued Toadyin’, ‘and four, insulting the majority of our allies that we’ve spoken to or met. I hate to be honest, Mr President, but that does not add up to the most achievements ever, period or no period.’
‘Don’t forget the five million dollars I’ve already earned from the President’s Dinners at the Mar,’ said Larry.
Toadyin’ sighed. ‘I wish I could, sir.’
‘And there’s the fact that I employ both my daughter and son-in-law as advisor. That’s gotta be some kind of record. No other president has managed to do that in their whole time, let alone the first hundred days.’
‘Way to go, Mr President!’ yelled Stonewallin’.
‘Thank you, KellyAnne.’
‘I think,’ said Toadyin’, ‘how can I put this … I think we need something more.’
‘The one percent don’t need anything more!’ yelled Brawlin’.
‘70%, Brawlin’ Steve,’ said Larry.
‘Yes, sir!’ barked Brawlin’. Larry’s reminder that the 1% who truly supported him were to be called the 70% seemed to Brawlin’ a sign of his rehabilitation, since the sharing of an untruth, Brawlin’ knew, forges the closest bond two men can have short of performing acts prohibited in Leviticus. ‘The 70% don’t need anything. The 70% still believe.’
‘Right now,’ said Toadyin’, ‘I think we need to think about the other 30%. After all, there are 99 times as many of them as the 70%.’
‘Doesn’t matter what they think,’ snapped Brawlin’.
‘Well, actually-‘ said Jared, and then he stopped, mouth open, unsure what to say next, since no one had interrupted him.
Larry frowned, stroking the Larry Tower unhappily.
‘What about the Wall?’ asked Toadyin’. ‘Can we do something on that?’
‘I want to!’ said Larry. ‘I want the Wall. I keep saying it. But what do they do? They say I can’t have it!’
‘You’re the president, sir!’ said Stonewallin’.
‘Someone should tell them,’ said Larry. ‘Seriously, someone should.’
‘I will, sir!’
‘I think they already know,’ said Slippery.
‘Are you sure?’ said Larry.
‘I’m pretty sure.’
There was silence.
‘I’ve got an idea!’ said Larry. ‘What if I go down to Texas and we do a photo op of me laying a brick. Right there, on the ground. Laying the foundation. A beautiful foundation. We can say, the president’s started to build the wall, just like he said.’
‘I love it!’ cried Stonewallin’. ‘I love it so much I could lick it.’
‘Don’t get me wrong, sir,’ said Toadyin’. ‘I can really see it. I really can. Only I can also see a bunch of photographers taking pictures of photographers taking pictures of you laying a brick in the middle of nowhere and it might seem … I don’t know … a bit contrived?’
‘Are you saying that’s good?’
‘But I said we were gonna build the wall brick by brick. I said exactly that. I remember. In Baltimore or Houston or Philadelphia. I can’t remember where the hell it was, but I said it somewhere.’
‘Yes,’ said Toadyin’, ‘but no one thought you meant we might have to wait two years between the first brick and the second one.’
‘So what do you suggest?’
‘We double down!’ said Brawlin’.
‘Oh, no,’ moaned Slippery.
‘We tell the damn Congress that this spending bill they’re working on now, the short term one they’re trying to put in place to keep the government open for the next month, you don’t sign it unless it includes money to start the Wall.’
‘So we threaten to shut down the government?’ said Toadyin’.
‘Steve, historically, do you know who gets the blame when the government shuts down?’ said Toadyin’. ‘Do you know who’s gonna-‘
‘I like it,’ said Larry.
‘I knew you would, sir,’ said Brawlin’, throwing a glance at Toadyin’ and smirking.
‘What if they don’t agree?’ demanded Toadyin’. ‘Are we really gonna let the government shut down?’
‘What if they don’t?’
‘You’re starting to talk like a loser again, Reince.’
‘I am not a loser! I’m …’ Toadyin’ took a deep breath in frustration, then turned to Larry. ‘Mr President, does this remind you of something else Steve suggested?’
‘Loser,’ whispered Brawlin’.
‘Something about telling the Republicans in Congress that we were gonna have a vote on the health care bill.’
‘Because otherwise we’d move on and they’d miss their chance and that would make them look-.’
‘Melting snowflake loser.’
‘I am not a melting snowflake loser!’ yelled Reince, giving a little skip of exasperation. ‘I am not! Okay! So … be quiet!’
‘Mr President,’ said Brawlin’, ‘we do what you’ve always done when you do a deal. You go in hard, you hit ‘em in the solar plexus with demands that are way more than anything they expected, you get what you want or you walk away. Done! You can do it, sir. Only you can.’
‘That’s what we tried last time,’ said Toadyin’, but in his plaintive tone, his beseeching look, his clasped hands, one could see that he knew already that he had lost, that Brawlin’ had seduced Larry once again with his vision of a hard-driving deal that only Larry could bring off. ‘It’s Congress, for God’s sake,’ he whimpered. ‘Congress!’
‘Who cares?’ retorted Brawlin’. ‘Win or lose, the 70% will love it.’
So the next day, Slippery read out a statement that Brawlin’ had had the Millerman draft, stating that the president would veto any spending deal that did not include an immediate allocation of $3 billion to start building the wall with Mexico.
‘Realistically, there’s going to be no money for a wall in this bill,’ responded a leading Democratic congressman.
‘Double down!’ said Brawlin.’
‘We’ve already doubled down!’ objected Toadyin’.
‘That’s right. We’re quadrupling down! Can’t back down now, Reince. We’re in too far.’
It is two hundred years and more that I have hung here, yet the look that Toadyin’ shot at Brawlin’ at that moment was as full of pure hatred as any look I have seen.
Larry nodded. He pulled out his phone and his thumbs began to fly. ‘Need the money for this VERY IMPORTANT wall!!! Government WILL shut if we don’t get it. It will be very BAD Democrats fault.’
Once again, congressmen said there would be no money for the wall, and this time they were Republicans.
Two days before the hundredth day, Congress sent its spending bill to Larry. There was no money for the Wall.
‘We’re gonna shut this government down!’ said Brawlin’.
‘Are we?’ said Toadyin’. He looked at Larry, who stared back at him with a face as white as a sheet.
Larry signed the bill. Unusually, there were no cameras in the room as he did it.
Once again Brawlin’ was locked outside, banging on the Rose Garden door and demanding to be let back in.
‘I should have listened to you, Jared,’ said Larry, as Brawlin’ banged and shouted. ‘I know what you would have said: Don’t do it.’
‘But the thing is, when you’re a deal maker like me – and I do great deals, truly, truly great deals – you have an instinct. It’s a beautiful thing, an instinct. You should try to get one.’
I wondered how much more I, and the American people, and the world, were going to see of Larry’s instinct, and how much we were going to learn to fear it.
Later that day, Larry did an interview that would be published to mark his hundredth day. I watched as the interviewer came in, as the two men exchanged off-the-record pleasantries, as the first question was asked.
‘How do you find the presidency in comparison with how you imagined it to be?’
Larry thought for a moment – or he gave the impression of thinking, because the words that then came out of his mouth gave no hint that any thought had gone into them. ‘It’s a lot harder. I have to work a lot more. I had a great life before, lots of things, lots of stuff. Great. I thought this would be easier. But it’s okay now. I’m fine with it.’
For a moment the interviewer stared. As did I. And to the extent that I have ever been sure – certain without doubt or qualification – that I shared a thought with another human being, I am certain that I shared it with him. Larry thought being president would be easier than being a real estate developer?
There, if it were needed, out of his own mouth, came the unequivocal demonstration of Larry’ unfitness for the post which he now occupied. Not only that he knew so little about it that he thought governing the most powerful nation on earth would be easier that managing a family business, but he understood so little about how such imbecility would be seen that he happily admitted it.
As if to prove the point further, on the hundredth day itself, when the dreary landmark was reached with so little to show for it, he fled Washington to lead a rally of the 1% in Philadelphia, where he could rouse a crowd with promises of things he had already failed to do, and revel in a reality presidency that was so much more meaningful to him than anything that he was actually capable of achieving.
But inevitably, once he was back in the White House, the thrill of that moment of adulation proved all too transitory, and soon Larry seethed with frustration again. On the hundredth-and-first day he sat late into the night with the seating plan for the next President’s Dinner at the Mar on the desk in front of him, irritably moving the place names here and there, muttering to himself. I fancy, once or twice, I heard him say: ‘That damn FBI director. I’m gonna get rid of him!’
Copyright © Michael Honig 2017