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The Case for Trump

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If there is a case to be made for Donald Trump among reasonable Republicans it goes something like this: Yes, of course he is a creep, but as president, he might not be so bad. He will surround himself with smart people and defer to them on major issues. As an outsider, he will break through partisan gridlock and force Congressional Democrats and Republicans to work together. He will be a dealmaker. And most of all, he would be better than that corrupt liar, Hillary Clinton. 

Many Republicans will admit that this rationale relies heavily on speculation and some degree of wishful thinking. But the truth is, Trump has already given us clues as to his actual governing style just from the way he has run his campaign. Speculation isn’t all that difficult when one looks at the evidence already available.

Let’s start with the first assumption: Trump will surround himself with smart people and defer to them on major issues. In a word: wrong. Trump’s campaign management and advisors are, with few exceptions, recruited from the B and C teams of the GOP roster. There are two reasons for this. First, most top Republicans simply don’t want to work with Trump. Personally, they find him repellent, and professionally, they are reluctant to hitch their wagon to his. But part of this is by Trump’s own design. He is not a man who seeks out dissent. He wants advisors who will be “yes” men. His choice of Corey Lewandowski and then Steve Bannon show that he is happy to recruit those who echo his own style–even if that means sometimes recruiting from the paranoid fringes of the party.

But even when Trump manages to hire more competent advisors, like Kellyanne Conway, he frequently ignores their advice. It has become a joke of this campaign that the worst job to have is that of a Trump advisor–because the Donald operates completely on his own impulses, good advice be damned.

The three presidential debates provide a clear window into how Trump might operate in the Oval Office. These were high stakes events for which Trump refused to adequately prepare and seemed incapable of listening to his handlers’ advice or staying on message. He seemed to think he could wing it, and he failed spectacularly. It is not difficult to imagine how this same approach could prove disastrous on the international stage. Just imagine Trump meeting Vladimir Putin for an intense one-on-one negotiation. Would he try to wing it, as he did with Clinton? Just think about how Hillary Clinton was able to exploit Trump’s obvious psychological weaknesses in the debates–his vanity, his thin skin, his short attention span–and use them to her advantage. Surely, Putin would do the same–as would any serious foreign leader. By contrast, when it comes to high pressure diplomatic meetings, can you imagine any U.S. president who would walk into the room better prepared than Hillary Clinton?

But let’s get back to Trump. Read More »

A Blog Post About Authors, by Kevin Henkes

In the last couple of months, I started telling my two-year-old son the names of the authors and illustrators behind the books we read. I want him to understand the notion of authorship, that stories don’t just appear out of thin air. Well…

One of Noah’s favorite books this summer has been Kitten’s First Full Moon, by Kevin Henkes, and, as we’ve read it many times, Noah seems to have come to the conclusion that Kevin Henkes is the author responsible for all stories in existence.

NOAH: “Dr. Seuss book, by Kevin Henkes!”

ME: “No, Noah. Dr. Seuss writes Dr. Seuss’s books. Kevin Henkes writes Kevin Henkes’s books.”

NOAH: (more enthusiastically) “Dr. Seuss book by Kevin Henkes!”

Now the problem is that Noah realizes how funny we think he is when he ascribes universal authorship to Kevin Henkes, and he knows how to play to his audience. Recently, at the end of an impromptu rendition of “London Bridge Is Falling Down,” Noah closed as follows:

NOAH: “London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady… by Kevin Henkes.”

I’d like to think that our repeated corrections are starting to have their impact, and Noah is starting to figure out that there are other writers beyond Mr. Henkes. Just yesterday, I was reading him the story Knufflebunny, by Mo Willems, an author whose various books we have enjoyed numerous times.

ME: “Knufflebunny, by Mo Willems.”

NOAH: “Mo…Willems.”

ME: (excitedly) “That’s right, honey, Mo Willems. We read a lot of books by Mo Willems. We like him a lot.”

NOAH: “Mo Willems… by Kevin Henkes!”

The latest…

It has been a period of transition for me. I’ve been laid up for much of this summer, recovering from foot surgery, and I decided to use this time to take a break from my screenwriting and pursue some smaller projects. This was something I think I needed to do for my mental health, but it has proven to be quite creatively stimulating as well. I’m working on a couple children’s books now, and I’ve also been writing some songs, something I had never done before (at least not in a non-collaborative way).

These two mediums actually seem to me like two sides of the same coin: both are rhythmic, highly structured, minimalist forms of storytelling–and I’ve been having fun playing in this world. I know the songwriting will not advance beyond the status of “hobby” for me, but I must say that I am finding the children’s book writing to be a natural fit. And while I certainly intend to return to a larger story in the not too distant future (novel or screenplay), I definitely want to continue pursuing these kid’s books. At least as long as the new ideas keep popping up.

But then, I’m getting ahead of myself. I shouldn’t write too much at this stage of the game. More of my story to come as it is written…

Lance, Oscar, Tigers, and Character

Before our wedding, my wife and I took a class through the American Jewish University called “Making Marriage Work.”  While I can’t say this course provided us with any shocking revelations or insights into our relationship, it did provide a nice context to discuss the big picture stuff of married life before we tied the knot (usually in the car driving to and from the class).  Invariably, each class would simply confirm for us that we were indeed on the same page about most issues.  Good news.

If there was one thing that stuck with me from those sessions, it was something the instructor said on the first day: “The things you love most about your spouse are the very things that will drive you crazy.”  Good one, huh?  Ain’t it the truth?  In my case, I love that my wife is a smart, tenacious, Type-A, go getter.  But these same qualities also drive me crazy because they means she is sometimes stubborn and relentless at times when I wish she wouldn’t be.  Now think about the people closest to you.  Do the things you love about them also drive you crazy?  I’ll bet they do.

I’ve been thinking about this idea today and how it relates to our notion of character.  What set me off on this line of thinking was reading the news about Olympic star Oscar Pistorius who is currently being charged with murdering his girlfriend.  Now, I don’t know too much about this guy beyond the NBC mini-documentaries of the Olympics, but if I had to speculate, I’d guess that the fire inside him that drove him to athletic success is not completely unrelated to the hot headedness that drove him to murder his girlfriend.  It was all in the same soup.

A far clearer example (and in the same vein) is Lance Armstrong.  What did we love about him?  His amazing competitive drive.  This drive is what empowered him to win seven consecutive Tour De France titles.  It was his spirit, his grit, his unrelenting determination.  But these are the same exact qualities that led to his downfall.  That same competitive drive we once applauded was what drove him to cheat and lie.  Two sides of the same coin.

My wife’s family has a saying that reflects this phenomenon: “When you have a tiger, you have tiger problems.”  You can restate this adage with any noun as the object.  When you have  huge breasts, you have huge breast problems.  When you have a beautiful white rug, you have beautiful white rug problems.  In my wife’s case, when you are married to a writer, you have writer problems.

Well this writer thinks this notion of duality is a real useful way to think about writing good characters.  Think about how many superb characters of stage and screen  have a driving force that is both a strength and a weakness.  In Tootsie, Michael Dorsey’s weakness is that he is a stubborn perfectionist who doesn’t suffer fools–even when his career depends on it.  It is this same quality, however, that makes him brilliant as Dorothy Michaels.  Now think about the mind of Hamlet.  Think about the thoughtfulness and empathy that empowers him to be a phenomenal tactician; they also cripple him with indecision.

Our strengths can be our weaknesses…and our weaknesses, our strengths.

Scriptnotes Raiders Podcast

For 77 episodes now I’ve been a big fan of John August and Craig Mazin’s Scriptnotes podcast.  While the intended audience is screenwriters, I think creative writers in any medium (and anyone in the film industry) can benefit from being regular listeners.  I’m posting a link here to a show they did a few weeks ago where they deconstruct Raiders Of the Lost Ark.  Their analysis (which Lawrence Kasdan, writer of said film, claimed was “the best analysis I’ve ever seen by a power of ten”) will change the way you think about the movie.  Worth a listen (click here).