It all came back to me – my telephone interview with the popinjay proprietor of a doomed gambling den.
Watching the Jan. 6 hearings on Monday, I heard former toadies Bill Barr and Bill Stepien talk about the emptiness of Donald J. Trump, who lost the 2020 election and then went blank when aides tried to tell him it was over.
Could not take in information or considered opinion, even when it was meant to help him in his chosen field, that is to say, the presidency.
Then I remembered -- the good old days of 1999, when Trump was not trying to wreck the United States of America but instead was merely bringing down the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.
In addition to siphoning money from people with a gambling jones, the Taj also ran boxing cards, for people who like to see others bleed.
Always hustling his faux-golden appearance, Trump was up front when a boxer named Stephan Johnson was beaten unconscious and lugged off to the hospital where he died within hours.
As an abolitionist toward boxing (tempered by liking so many boxers I met), I wondered if the death of Stephan Johnson might touch some primitive form of Trumpian conscience.
So I made a call to Trump's gatekeeper, asking for an interview. They knew me. I had grown up not far from the Trump Tara, knew his older brother Fred (a nice guy), and had also met Ivana Trump through a New York Czech connection.
Plus, I had seen Ivana – twice as smart as her husband – try to coach the man through press sessions regarding the New York Generals football team he owned. I could see he did not have a grip on details. Now I was wondering how he could explain his part in boxing, in the death of Stephan Johnson.
Over the phone, he was dim-wittedly vague, coming up with cliché after cliché about boxing:
''I love boxing, but it's a dangerous sport.”
''I hate what happened. 'It's something you have to get through. I think boxing is an alternative.' In some cases, the boxing ring is better than anything else.''
''You have to understand that we do not sanction the fights,'' Trump said. ''That is done by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Commission. All we are is the venue -- and fighting is popular. Every fight sells out. We have other things like gymnastics; they don't sell out. All I know is, boxing sells out.''
I’ve talked to other boxing people who made more complex arguments for boxing. But Trump was inarticulate. Flat. Empty. Didn’t know. Didn’t care.
The world has since seen what is really inside -- the raging egocentric sending the deluded and the deranged out to do battle at the Capitol, telling them he would be along shortly.
Now we are getting sworn testimony from people who served him, like Barr, who back-stabbed his old law and church pal Robert Mueller. Even Bill Barr had enough of Trump.
Solid Republican campaigners and lawyers and advisors describe him as not able to follow their advice that it was over.
Sounds like the guy on my phone in 1999 -- the good old days, when he merely wrecked his businesses, and his family.
How far would Trump go? His inability to know truth has even scared off Ivanka Trump, the oldest child, the one he sent off to mingle with European leaders, much to their disdain. This committee showed taped testimony from Ivanka, whose furtive eyes darted from side to side, looking for the nearest escape hole.
In this spectacle of a nation in trouble, I found two positive scenes:
--The former head of the Fox election evaluation grew, Chris Stirewald, was asked how his group on election night, 2020, had analyzed the incoming returns in the pivotal state of Arizona. With visible pride, Stirewald told about the experts from both parties, who reached the judgment that absentee ballots, counted later, would swing the state to Joe Biden. Fox beat the opposition – that is a big thing in journalism -- and they were correct. As a journalist, I felt great pride in what this guy and his staff had done. For his proven expertise, the network of Tucker Carlson fired him.
--One of the panel members, Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, noted that Bill Stepien had been scheduled to give live testimony Monday, but had rushed home when his wife went into labor. (With little notice, the committee staff pulled out vital segments of his previously taped testimony.)
I was touched when Rep. Lofgren noted that Stepien had every right to go home to be with his wife. Let me just add that if the other party were running a hearing, and that happened, I would not expect such a note of grace
(My interview with the inarticulate Donald Trump, when he was merely a New York joke, in 1999.)
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.