Volume 2, Issue 95: Shrug and Destroy

"When nothing is left, rejoice."

I have been in the same room as Donald Trump five times in my life. I know the dates for all five. Somehow, I think he’d like that. I can’t imagine much in this world that would make Donald Trump happier than a person knowing the precise date of every time he’d been in the same room as him. I assume this is the first thought every time he sees someone: I bet this person knows exactly how many times he’s been in the room with me. With enough will and brute force, you can create the reality you desire.

We were both a little different each time.

  1. February 14, 2012. Le Cirque restaurant, 731 Lexington Avenue, New York NY

Our first son was born on November 21, 2011, and, like many new parents with their first child, my wife and I barely left the house for about four months. I hardly remember anything from this time, other than Albert Pujols leaving the Cardinals, Yahoo ending Grierson’s and my old site and some vague recollections of waking up every three hours in the middle of the night to feed this crying infant and numbly gape at “SportsCenter.” But my mother and sister came to visit right before William turned three months old, and they made a big thing out of my wife and I going out for Valentine’s Day even though I don’t think either of us had eaten anything that wasn’t canned, microwaved or still-frozen since this new person started living in our home.

We were so deep in groggy mania of being new parents that we thought it would be hilarious to get fancy reservations at a fancy New York City restaurant at, like, 5:30 p.m. on Valentine’s Day. I don’t know why we thought that would be funny; I don’t know much of anything about that time. So we did: I got us Happy Hour reservations at famous (and now-shuttered) Midtown East restaurant Le Cirque. We showered, we put on clean clothes for the first time either of us could remember and we called a cab. Zombie yokel parents night out!

We realized, immediately, this was a dumb idea. My wife was still breast-feeding, so we couldn’t have any wine, and each of us kept nodding off while the waiter read us off the specials. (New parents are virtually indistinguishable from habitual heroin users.) It is very possible we left after ordering appetizers: Valentine’s Day, we agreed, would be much better spent sleeping. Hopefully somewhere far away from the baby.

As we were leaving, though … Donald Trump came in. He was with Melania. They both looked waxen. They were greeted with cheers by the staff, and they waved like the pseudo-celebrities they were, happy to be known, happy to be seen. I looked at my wife, and she looked back at me, and we both shrugged and giggled. Donald Trump! That old weirdo! This is what happens when you go out to old New York City staples at 5:30 on Valentine’s Day: You run into people like Donald Trump. It was like coming across the Naked Cowboy, or Rip Taylor, or Charo. We hailed a cab and headed back to Brooklyn, not entirely certain we hadn’t dreamed the whole thing. She fell asleep halfway across the bridge. We moved out of New York 16 months later.

  1. August 21, 2015. Land-Peebles Stadium, 1621 Virginia Street, Mobile AL.

Three years later, I’ve been living in Athens, Georgia for two years, there’s another new person living in my home, an actual house this time, not an apartment, and Donald Trump is running for President. My editor at Bloomberg Politics, John Homans, called me the day before Trump had a rally in Mobile, Alabama, wondering if I’d be interested in covering this bizarre event, a germaphobic Manhattanite flying his private plane into freaking Alabama and expecting to be treated as a king.

I explained to New Yorker John that just because I lived in Georgia didn’t mean everything south of Philadelphia was just around the corner—Mobile is a six-and-a-half-hour drive from Athens—but I of course giddily accepted the assignment. I was pretty curious to see what happened when Trump showed up in Alabama myself.

Turns out: He was treated like a king. You can read the full piece I wrote about the rally right here, but it is worth remembering that most of the people involved with this at the time, people in the crowd, reporters, even Trump himself, seemed to still be treating this whole thing as a gag. It was all in fun! Look at this crazy guy: Why is he rambling on about Rosie O’Donnell? What a goof! We were warned. We were warned by the people who most affected by Trump’s boorishness, those who had been paying closer attention over the previous two years than we had, those who didn’t find any of this funny at all. But there weren’t many people listening. The piece I wrote holds up. But I probably should have been a lot more dire about what might be coming.

  1. January 31, 2016. Orpheum Theater, 528 Pierce Street, Sioux City IA.

I spent two weeks in Iowa for Bloomberg Politics four years ago, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t one of my more purely pleasant reporting experiences. The Iowa caucuses are a blast; I’m envious of al the reporters who are there. You just drive all around the state, talking to normal Iowans, eating at Pizza Ranches, and getting an absolutely unprecedented about of personal time with Presidential candidates. (And occasionally The Bachelor shows up.)

I got to watch Rick Santorum interrupt people’s lunch, to watch Jeb Bush have a debate with a guy and his goat and, the night before the caucuses, to watch Donald Trump speak to a crowd full of supporters in Sioux City, Iowa. Unlike all the other candidates, from both parties, Trump didn’t press the flesh with voters or take questions from people in the crowd. He spoke on stage, introduced by Jerry Falwell, Jr., something I found absolutely staggering at the time, but he didn’t get particularly fired up, not nearly as much as he did back in Mobile. On the whole, he mostly looked tired.

The crowd, however, was much different than it was back in Alabama. There was nothing cheerful or silly about this crowd. By now, it was clear Trump’s campaign had caught on, and people didn’t show up to goof around: They showed up to scream and rage and be furious. It was all a bit much, even for Trump; he spoke about 20 minutes shorter than anyone had been expecting him to. My Bloomberg Politics colleague John Heilemann told me, “he said he was ready for this to be over.” John would know. He and his then-partner Mark Halperin, along with their wives, had met with Trump backstage before the show for a segment they were filming for their show The Circus. During his speech, Trump called both John and Mark out, pointing up to where we were sitting and saying, “There’s John and Mark, good reporters, they get me, they actually get Trump.” I tried to hide under my seat, though I wasn’t entirely sure why.

Trump lost the Iowa caucuses, barely, to Ted Cruz, and his remarks were surprisingly conciliatory, almost gracious, even warm. I wonder sometimes if he really did think it was over then, and felt relief at the prospect. I know I did.

  1. January 8, 2018. Mercedes-Benz Stadium, 1 AMB Drive NW, Atlanta, GA.

This was the College Football Playoff National Championship Game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and our Georgia Bulldogs. Trump announced just a couple of days before the game that he would be attending, throwing the entire organization and its security apparatus into chaos. (A friend who works for ESPN told me that “every single person here wants to quit, right now.”) There was much discussion about the fact that Trump would be in the building at the same time as Kendrick Lamar, who was performing the halftime show; it turned out that Trump left before halftime and Lamar performed down the street, outside the building, anyway. The pain turned out to be much more for the fans who spent hours in the freezing rain waiting to get in the stadium because of Trump’s security detail.

At the time, much of the coverage of Trump’s appearance focused on his seeming inability to sing the words to the “Star-Spangled Banner.” There was no discussion of whether he would be booed or whether he would be cheered. He acted mostly like any other President would have. He walked on the field, he waved to the crowd, he walked off the field, he went home. It seems almost quaint now.

Also, the game was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. I left at 6 a.m. the next morning to tape the first-ever episode of “The Will Leitch Show,” with figure skater Tara Lipinski. I slept about 45 minutes over a three-day period. I still wasn’t as tired as I was on Valentine’s Day 2012.

  1. January 13, 2020. Mercedes-Benz Superdome, 1500 Sugar Bowl Drive, New Orleans, LA.

The difference between Trump at this game and at the Alabama-Georgia game two years earlier could not be more stark. It’s amazing the difference an Election Year makes. As I wrote in my New York piece about the event:

Monday night, by contrast, was specifically engineered to put the spotlight entirely on Trump. He came out with Melania, who skipped the game two years ago, and walked slowly, methodically to midfield, making sure to soak up every ounce of the ovation. Then, just to squeeze every last drop out, the soldiers accompanying him stopped and let Trump and Melania walk out ahead of them in an absurdly drawn-out fashion, as Crowd chanted, “USA! USA! USA!” This abnormal spectacle, so different from Trump’s appearance in 2018, felt totally normal in the moment, just the way things work now. We are all the boiling frogs, barely noticing how regular things are slowly changing.

The crowd noise for Trump was overwhelming, and I’d say roughly 95 percent in favor. But it wasn’t the support that I found surprising. It was the avidness—the fervid, almost righteous anger that came with the cheers. I have seen Trump mocked, feted, laughed at, laughed with, cheered, booed, revered, tolerated, ignored. But what I saw in New Orleans wasn’t about politics, or geography, or sports. It was just pure defiance. Trump was treated like a hero, but more, he was treated as a hero unjustly pilloried by the arrows and slingshots of His lessers. It wasn’t support of a Presidential candidate, or even a beloved public figure. It was Dear Leader, pure and simple. I still have not quite shaken it.

We, Donald Trump, you, me, all of us, we have come a long way in the eight years since he sat in a mostly empty expensive restaurant waving and smiling at anyone he could get to notice him. It has been a long journey. I has not been a forward march. And it is a journey that is far from over. I wonder if we shall meet again. All told, I’m OK if this is the end of it.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. Everyone’s Right in the Nolan Arenado Fight, and That’s The Problem, MLB.com. I’m glad they’re not fighting anymore, because it really never made sense for them to.

  2. The Chances of Each Last Place Team to Get Out of Last Place in 2020, MLB.com. Sorry, Orioles! (Again.)

  3. The Five Best Star Trek Movies, SYFY Wire. The best of the Chris Pine Star Trek movies is the last one.

  4. The Thirty: The Best New Jersey To Own For Every Team, MLB.com. Definitely want a “KK” Cardinals Players Weekend Jersey.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, two shows this week. First, we discussed Bad Boys For Life, Dolittle and In the Bedroom. Then Grierson previewed the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, which begins this week.

Seeing Red, no show this week, taping on Monday.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, we discussed all the drama (or lack thereof) going on with the offense right now.

MAILBAG

We take one question a week around these parts: Send yours to williamfleitch@yahoo.com. This is a simple one, from Matt in St. Paul:

Roma, or Children of Men?

Probably should be a little more love given to Gravity, Azkaban and especially Y Tu Mama Tambien here, but yeah: These are the two truly great Alfonso Cuaron movies. I am actually writing this paragraph from the Roma area of Mexico City, so there’s a homefield advantage there, but even if I were typing from a dystopian future in which all women have gone barren and all dissent must be silenced, Roma would still be the pick. There’s something about the way he makes a small, deeply personal story feel epic, almost grand: This is the first time I’ve ever been to Mexico City, but Roma is one of those super-specific stories that nevertheless feel universal: It feels like I’ve lived it, even when I obviously haven’t. (The Tree of Life, Moonlight and Boyhood are other great movies like that.) As much as I love Stoned Michael Caine, Roma’s the pick.

GET THIS LUNATIC OUT OF HERE 2020 POWER RANKINGS

I like Hillary Clinton. I voted for Hillary Clinton. Four times! (Twice for Senate in New York, once in the 2016 Democratic Primary and once in the 2016 general election.) But Hillary, gotta say: It might be time to sit a few plays out. We’re barely hanging on as is.

Also, next week’s newsletter is my official endorsement newsletter, in you want to go ahead and just note to skip that one right now.

1. Elizabeth Warren
2. Joe Biden
3. Bernie Sanders
4. Amy Klobuchar
5. Michael Bloomberg
6. Deval Patrick
7. Pete Buttigieg
8. Andrew Yang
9. Michael Bennet
10. Tom Steyer
11. William Weld
12. John Delaney
13. Tulsi Gabbard
14. Joe Walsh

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

I’m in the midst of two straight weeks of travel, so these will have to wait until I get back. But please send them so I have some waiting for me when I finally return.

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“Shouldn’t Be Ashamed,” Wilco. As mentioned, I’m in Mexico City this weekend, for lots of reasons, but mostly to see Wilco play at the Teatro Metropólitan (the theater for Roma, actually) later on tonight. Anytime I need any sort of refresher, I like to start from the beginning. This might be my favorite song off “A.M.,” all told.

To make sure the children didn’t get in any trouble while I’m gone, I just hooked them up to a laughing gas machine until we get back.

I think he’s going to enjoy himself.

Have a great weekend, all.

Best,
Will