Will The Real Mr. Magoo Please Stand Up?

Mr. Magoo, the animation world’s tribute to blind capitalism

The president’s spinners are (metaphorically) exercising their diaphragms. As a counterpoint, let’s take a mystery tour through film, TV and literature, sampling everything from Rocky and Bullwinkle to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

According to Washington scuttlebutt, Donald Trump has a pet name for Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Mr. Magoo. But implicit in Rudy Giuliani’s recent statements to the press is the claim that Trump paid attorney Michael D. Cohen approximately $460,000 blindly, without knowing the reason. This rather absurd claim is being made by Trump loyalists in an effort to thread the needle. Trump supposedly knew enough about the things Cohen was “fixing” to pay him $460,000, yet had no specific knowledge of the Stormy Daniels payment.

If Sarah Sanders has lost all credibility as press secretary, perhaps she could be retrained to function as a seeing eye dog — that is, if Trump is really blind and not just faking. No slush fund would be needed to meet with her expenses. An occasional crumb of truth should square things with The Sarah, if not too much of a shock to her system.

On the other hand, when it comes to spinning tales about Trump’s dalliances, Kellyanne Conway may deserve the nod as top service dog. Capping a week of not-to-be-believed moments, Conway appeared on State of the Union last Sunday, claiming that when Trump stated point blank aboard Air Force One on April 5 that he had no knowledge of the payment to Stormy Daniels, he was referring to his knowledge back in 2016, not his present day knowledge. Jake Tapper soldiered on with grim determination:

Conway’s phrase “democratization of information” (referring specifically to the president’s tweets) is a novel way of saying “oppression of the masses through short, targeted nuggets of propaganda aimed at a fifth grade reading level.”

Her implication that the end justifies the means, and that a 3.9% unemployment rate excuses Trump for being a walking embarrassment in most respects, is infuriating to people who know that the present downward trend in unemployment began during the Obama era, and that in addition to (ideally) forming sound policies, a president must also be truthful and well-spoken.

It pains me to think that if you manage to (temporarily) stuff an extra $10 a week in the pocket of the average worker, he or she might not care about the stench of corruption wafting from this White House. Is that what America has come to? Maybe it’s time sell off the Statue of Liberty, or turn it into a Trump-style combination casino and knocking shop.

At one point in the interview, Conway mistakenly cites T. S. Eliot, giving me an excuse to chime in:

As we measure out our lives with coffee spoons,
Do we dare to say impeach?

She also references “the sheer volume and velocity” of what Trump puts out in “just one breakneck week.” I shudder to think, volume and velocity of what? I’ll wager he ensures full employment for that little mustachioed man who cleans up after the parade:

Yes friends, a parade of corruption the volume and velocity of Trump’s will require a huge (or bigly) cleanup effort — and not everything left sitting in piles on the street will be rose petals.

I’ve remarked in the past that this administration has bad energy and attracts sharklike folk who lie shamefacedly. What more can one say? I’m reminded of an offhand comment by Chris Matthews that Nixon had a sense of shame which Trump lacks. While Nixon agreed to resign in the end, Trump may have to be dragged kicking and screaming from the White House, surrounded by flunkies claiming that he hasn’t really been indicted or impeached. It’s all Fake News. “Ride a painted pony, let the spinning wheel spin!”

Our march of memes to describe a clumsily corrupt administration rolls on. We know things will end badly, but how many light bulbs will get broken at the end of the day? In this regard, it’s well to remember that in the annals of the unsighted, before Mr. Magoo there was Mr. Muckle:

And lesser-known than either is the “help me” guy from Rocket Attack U.S.A.:

Now if that isn’t an apt meme for the Trump administration, I don’t know what is! Except possibly “Hodge Podge Lodge,” a locale found in the original Mr. Magoo cartoon from 1949:

One imagines the main dish served at Hodge Podge Lodge is word salad — a concoction Trump’s PR flacks routinely fling chimplike at reporters, as does Trump himself. In “100 Days of Gibberish,” Guardian contributor Lindy West quotes this passage from an April 2017 AP interview with The Donald:

Well he said, you’ll be the greatest president in the history of, but you know what, I’ll take that also, but that you could be. But he said, will be the greatest president but I would also accept the other. In other words, if you do your job, but I accept that. Then I watched him interviewed and it was like he never even was here. It’s incredible. I watched him interviewed a week later and it’s like he was never in my office. And you can even say that.

— Donald Trump (full transcript here)

West describes Trump’s rhetorical style as “untethered from both meaning and reality.” Imagine trying to translate him into French or Japanese! Quoted in the Japan Times, Chikako Tsuruta says: “He is so overconfident and yet so logically unconvincing that my interpreter friends and I often joke that if we translated his words as they are, we would end up making ourselves sound stupid.”

The Japanese prefer polite speech, so translating Trump’s off-color remarks laced with epithets attacking his enemies points to “a long-standing dilemma dogging the profession — whether to sanitize the words of a controversial speaker.” Still, if you eliminated everything that’s crude, illogical, or untethered from reality, you’d be left performing John Cage’s famous 4’33” of silence:

Between Trump and the chattering class responding to him, silence is needed now more than ever — that and peaceful morning meditation music.

Other than flinging word salad, distracting attention is another technique favoured by Trump flacks: Don’t look at Russian collusion, look over here at this banjo-playing bear!

Getting the public gradually accustomed to shocking news also seems to be a thing. It’s no secret that the endless scandals plaguing this administration can lead to outrage fatigue. Some suggest that this is being cynically milked. Take Rudy Giuliani’s series of inane TV appearances, such as his recent interview with George Stephanopoulos:

Like Conway, little by little Giuliani is trying to normalize the phenomenon of Trump having a slush fund to pay off porn stars. Of course that’s what all celebrities and “people of worth” do. And taking the Fifth? Well natch the president wouldn’t want to answer questions from a special counsel engaged in a WITCH HUNT!!! Trump taking the Fifth is as American as motherhood and apple pie.

Watching the interview and harkening back to the Japanese issue of genteel speech, I wonder: At what point does “the president’s top attorney” become “a slippery bastard who can’t be nailed down on even the simplest of facts”? (Gomenasai.)

As Stephen Colbert points out, a recent Trump tweet included the phrase “There is no O…”

For those familiar with James Thurber’s brilliant book The Wonderful O, this sounds an ominous gong of totalitarianism. For as Thurber noted, if the letter “O” were outlawed, we should have to throw out everything from cellos and mandolins to calico and clocks — even the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act so prized by pork-lovers in Congress — which itself would have to be outlawed, except that we should need a different word, since even the word “outlawed” would be outlawed, along with Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump.

Come to think of it, I could probably give up calico and clocks in exchange for losing Stormy and Donald. But playing the mandolin… Ah, now that would be a true sacrifice.

The Sleeping Gypsy, by Henri Rousseau (1897)

Sidebar: Break it to me gently

The 90s TV show Northern Exposure was a treasure trove of practical philosophical wisdom, including tips on breaking bad news gently. It was set in the mythical town of Cicely, Alaska, where events took on an air of magical realism, such as a man fusing with a satellite which re-enters earth’s atmosphere piping hot.

The unfortunate victim is Rick (Maggie O’Connell’s boyfiend), and it falls to Dr. Joel Fleischman to break the news. Feeling awkward and tongue-tied, he resorts to telling a joke:

Joel (uncomfortable): Hi Maggie, how are things?

Maggie: Rick didn’t come home last night, okay? If he wants to behave like a child, then let him! I mean, if I have to be the bad guy, okay! But I am not going to have another death on my hands! I mean, alright, I admit it, I do — I’m sensitive. I’ve lost four boyfriends. Four! Do you know how that feels? And of course I ask myself, is that me? Is it something I do? What is it, Fleischman? You want to tell me something, I can tell by your face.

Joel (uneasy): Yes. Yes… I do. I want to tell you something. A joke!

Maggie: A joke?

Joel: Yeah! You see, this guy goes on a trip and he leaves his cat with his friend. Well, he calls his friend and asks how the cat is. His friend says, “The cat is dead.” The guy says, “Geez! God! Couldn’t you break the news to me a little more gently? You know, lead into it: Your cat crawled up on the roof, there was a loose tile and it took a little fall… like that?” Next month, the guy goes on another trip, calls his friend, and asks how his mom is. The guy says, “Well, she crawled up on the roof and there was a loose tile…”

Maggie (laughs): Not bad!

Joel (leans forward earnestly): Rick crawled up on the roof…

Taking their cue from this vignette, spinners for the president shouldn’t immediately let fly the news that Trump and Cohen conspired to establish a secret slush fund for paying off porn stars. Let them begin with a more genteel admission. Not “The cat crawled up on the roof,” but rather “Stormy Daniels went down on…” Oh, never mind!

(You see, you made it to the end, and there really was a Stormy Daniels joke.)

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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One comment on “Will The Real Mr. Magoo Please Stand Up?

  1. Pingback: Vote For Number 6 | Ethics and Spirituality

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