(In Donald Trump's study at the Bedminster Trump National Golf Club, he confers with his press secretary Liz Harrington.)
TRUMP: How many new books about me? Put my name on the cover--instant bestseller! Number one. Number two. Number three. Number four.
HARRINGTON: By the way, just to let you know, the press release I issued to contradict General Milley, who claimed you preach "the gospel of the Fuhrer," was picked up everywhere.
TRUMP: I reinstated the firing squad at the end. Too late.
HARRINGTON: And General Kelly? He's quoted that you said, "Hitler did a lot of good things." Should I put out a press release?
TRUMP: (Pauses) Hmm, hold off on that one. Next?
HARRINGTON: (She hands him a file.) Mr. President, the academics contributing to a book of essays about your presidency are ready for you to answer their questions on the Zoom call that we scheduled. We think they'll be better than the journalists.
TRUMP: Those phonies had me number four to the last in their ranking of presidents. Jefferson Davis almost beat Lincoln. What number is Jefferson Davis? Not there! And you think that ranking is legit? You think FDR would have had four terms if I'd run against him? Nobody had more votes than me. Who certified him? Mike Pence?
HARRINGTON: If you open the file, you'll find the quotations that Steve Bannon assembled to show them you know their stuff better than they do.
TRUMP: I'll own the faculty lounge. Beautiful. Talk about revisionism. Better than hydroxychloroquine.
HARRINGTON: Ready, Mr. President? (She clicks on Zoom. A gallery of a dozen expectant faces appears.)
PROFESSOR 1: Thank you, Mr. President, for graciously agreeing to be interviewed. On this call are some of the most distinguished presidential scholars, political scientists, and historians in the country. Journalism is spoken of as the first rough draft of history. These scholars will be writing the second and third drafts. Here's the first question.
PROFESSOR 2: Mr. President, what would you say was the secret of your leadership?
TRUMP: (Opens file and reads.) Elias Canetti writes in Crowds and Power, "Direction is essential for the continuing existence of the crowd. Its constant fear of disintegration means that it will accept any goal. A crowd exists so long as it has an unattained goal."
PROFESSOR 2: Just to follow up, Mr. President, how does Canetti's theory of crowds apply to the events of January 6th?
TRUMP: Canetti writes, "Conflagrations of all kinds have a magical effect on men." Better than critical race theory, wouldn't you agree?
PROFESSOR 3: Mr. President, but what about the violence on January 6th?
TRUMP: We must cite on this question Hannah Arendt, who writes in The Origins of Totalitarianism, "The masses have to be won by propaganda. Under conditions of constitutional government and freedom of opinion, totalitarian movements struggling for power can use terror to a limited extent only and share with other parties the necessity of winning adherents and of appearing plausible to a public which is not yet rigorously isolated from all other sources of information."
PROFESSOR 4: Mr. President, what would you say was the importance of Fox News to your presidency?
TRUMP: Arendt writes, "Totalitarian propaganda can outrageously insult common sense only where common sense has lost its validity."
PROFESSOR 5: Mr. President, it seems that nothing can separate your base from you? What accounts for that attachment?
TRUMP: Once again, we must turn to Arendt, who wrote, "The fanaticism of members of totalitarian movements, so clearly different in quality from the greatest loyalty of members of ordinary parties, is produced by the lack of self-interest of masses who are quite prepared to sacrifice themselves."
PROFESSOR 6: Mr. President, how can the "self-interest of the masses" be overcome so that they are willing to "sacrifice themselves?"
TRUMP: Now we must refer to Theodore Adorno and The Authoritarian Personality. You may recall that he wrote, "Rational arguments cannot be expected to have deep or lasting effects upon a phenomenon that is irrational in its essential nature; appeals to sympathy may do as much harm as good when directed to people one of whose deepest fears is that they might be identified with weakness or suffering."
PROFESSOR 6: Mr. President, are you saying that reason itself is counter-productive?
TRUMP: I can only cite Adorno, who writes about the psychology of the follower that "although appeals to his reason or to his sympathy are likely to be lost on him, appeals to his conventionality or to his submissiveness toward authority might be effective. But it should be clearly understood that such activity would in no way reduce his conventionality or authoritarianism or his fascist potential."
PROFESSOR 6: Mr. President, is that why you have used the "Big Lie" that the election of 2020 was a fraud?
TRUMP: Here we must rely on the expertise of Adorno. He writes, "Lies have long legs: they are ahead of their time. The conversion of all questions of truth into questions of power, a process that truth itself cannot escape if it is not to be annihilated by power, not only suppresses truth as in earlier despotic orders, but has attacked the very heart of the distinction between true and false, which the hirelings of logic were in any case diligently working to abolish. So Hitler, of whom no one can say whether he died or escaped, survives."
HARRINGTON: Thank you, Mr. President.
PROFESSOR 1: On behalf of my colleagues, I wish to thank you for your participation.
(The Zoom screen is ended.)
TRUMP: Now we won't have to issue any statement about Hitler. They can quote that Theodore Adorno, whoever he is. Can you get me this Hannah Arendt on the phone?
Sidney Blumenthal, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, has published three books of a projected five-volume political life of Abraham Lincoln: A Self-Made Man, Wrestling With His Angel and All the Powers of Earth. His play This Town, about a scandalous White House dog, was produced in 1995 by LA TheatreWorks. This is the ninth in his "Trump Cycle" series of one-act plays published in The National Memo, including The Pardon, Epstein's Ghost, Ivanka's Choice, Sunset Boulevard, The Exclusive, The Role Model, A Modest Proposal and The Exit Interview.
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