In a very entertaining review of what appears to be a very entertaining book, Craig Brown’s “99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret,” Parul Sehgal writes that “History isn’t written by the winners…It’s written by the writers.”
As a longtime writer, I would say, “Well, yes, of course.” Everyone has a story, as Shakespeare said. But not everyone can tell it. Not everyone is Shakespeare. Or even James Patterson.
In the digital age, that doesn’t seem to matter. Witness Twit in chief President Donald J. Trump. At a Fourth of July barbecue, I got into an intense discussion with a Trump supporter. About the only thing we could agree on was that Trump has co-opted the country’s narrative. And the person who controls the narrative, controls public opinion. That person has the power.
It is among the cruelest of ironies that someone who cannot put two intelligent sentences together should have bested journalists at their own game. Let’s leave off the masochistic contemplation of that, shall we, and turn our attention to the most salient question: How are we going to wrest narrative control from him?
Framing it in tennis terms, it’s as if Trump were Pete Sampras – widely considered to have had the best serve in history – and we’re his archrival, Andre Agassi, who had a tremendous return, probably the best, along with Novak Djokovic, this side of Ken Rosewall. So we’re the counterpuncher. It’s not that the counterpuncher can’t win. But the server controls the ball. We need to serve.
But how? Here it’s instructive to consider some recent examples. Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’ attorney, seems to have gotten under Donnie Two Scoops’ skin. Now he’s saying that three more women were paid hush money by Trump. Avenatti is not afraid to take it to the mat, going after Trumpet apologist – and forlorn Martha’s Vineyard guest – Alan Dershowitz in an Anderson Cooper interview. Avenatti offers one approach: Come up with an alternative narrative and keep hammering it home.
But what narrative will the Democrats follow – the more progressive one of New York Democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who’s looking to become the youngest member of Congress? Or the more centrist one of Kennedyesque Congressman Conor Lamb, who has a double-digit lead over Rep. Keith Rothfus in Pennsylvania’s 17th district? This is a tricky moment for the Dems, who are no longer in disarray. They are essentially serving for the match that is this year’s mid-term elections. But they could still double fault on match point if they can’t decide what their narrative is.
Even if the Dems take the House and make gains in the Senate in the fall, it’s not going to be enough to unseat Trump. I’m afraid there is only one thing that will do that: He’s going to have to do something that will betray his base and make them feel foolish for ever trusting him. In the Rudyard Kipling novella, “The Man Who Would Be King” – made into a successful 1975 film – two rogue ex-soldiers meet a gruesome fate in a remote outpost that was once part of the empire of Alexander the Great not only because they pretend to be more than they are, godlike descendants of Alexander, but because the people feel betrayed by their demagoguery.
Given Trump’s demagoguery, it’s only a matter of time before his base has second thoughts. Already the farmers are worried about tariffs. So, we don’t have to wish any harm on us and the country, like Bill Maher, who’s hoping for a career-ending recession for Trump. There’s no point in cutting off your nose to spite your face.
“Stop predicting imminent disaster,” Bret Stephens writes in his rules for beating Trump. “The story of the Trump presidency so far isn’t catastrophe. It’s corrosion — of our political institutions, civic morals, global relationships and democratic values.
“Democrats can make a successful run against the corrosion, just as George W. Bush did in a prosperous age with his promise to restore “honor and dignity” to the White House after the scandals of the Clinton years. But they’re not going to do it by repeatedly forecasting a stock market meltdown, worldwide depression or global thermonuclear war — and then wondering why they aren’t believed.”