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Trump too old to learn?


Over the weekend Chris “Bridgegate” Christie compared Trump to “a 72 year-old relative” who “become[s] more and more convinced of the fact that what they’re doing is the right thing, and it becomes harder to convince them otherwise.”

Christie was apparently trying to explain away Trump’s erratic behavior in a way that lets Trump off the hook by virtue of his age, but I’m here to tell you, that’s a lie.

I’m exactly the same age as Trump, born on the same day in the same year, in the same city. So I know a thing or two about, not just being 72, but also about Trump’s New York mindset. There is nothing about being 72 (or a New Yorker, for that matter) that shuts off the mind or disables one’s ability to learn. There’s nothing about being 72 that convinces us we’re always right, and there’s certainly nothing about being 72 that prohibits us from listening to others who might have something to teach us.

Most everybody agrees Trump is uneducable. He believes in nothing but himself (and that, a great deal), and he thinks that anyone who doesn’t agree with him is wrong. He is an egotist, a narcissist, possibly sociopathic, and a bloated fool. Those aren’t the inevitable symptoms or results of old age. Trump was like that when he was 22, and 32, and 42, and 52, and 62, and he’s like that now.

Every day of my life, I try to learn how to be a better person. Partly that’s how I am: self-improvement was a big thing for my generation. Partly it’s because of my hobby, improvisational comedy. As with all acting, being good at improv requires deep insight into the Self. You have to strip away defensiveness and give up the urge to control. You have to be vulnerable, which can mean being ripped to shreds by a director, in front of your fellow actors. You have to let it all hang out, because to the extent you hold onto sclerotic habits, it will interfere with your acting. This is why Stanislavski said, “Unless the theatre can ennoble you, make you a better person, you should flee from it.”

By making you “a better person,” Stanislavski means being kinder, being a better listener, getting attuned to the needs of others. Listening is the key to good improv: not to yourself, so much, as to your partner. As Chris Gethard, a well-known actor and improv artist, notes, “I think the key to improv is always listening. It’s positivity. It’s hearing things and not shutting them down.”

In actuality, listening means accepting the truth that whatever your partner says is real. Let’s say you come onstage determined to be a mad scientist transplanting a brain into a monster. But before you can begin, your partner says, “Mom, if you don’t let me go out with Paul to the prom, I’ll kill myself.” If you’re not listening and not respecting your fellow actor’s choices, you’ll remain a mad scientist, and the scene will crash and burn. If you want to do good improv, you have to instantly let go of your idea of being a mad scientist and instead become the mother of a teenaged girl who wants to go to the prom with a guy named Paul.

Donald Trump can’t or won’t listen. It’s his way or the highway; he’s not a good partner, not someone it’s fun to work or play with. He’s also not someone who can be corrected. In an improv class, if you’re the player who refuses to change from being a mad scientist to being a mom, you’ll be chewed out by your director, who will properly inform you that you’re violating a cardinal rule of improv.

But Trump has no one to correct him. He used to have “the grownups”: Tillerson, Gen. Kelly, Mattis. No more. There’s nobody to tell him he’s playing the game wrong and screwing everything up, nobody to make him realize he could easily be wrong. This is the danger: he’s a one-way train, and when the rails veer off into another direction, he continues on his one way. That’s why people say he needs “guardrails.” But the guardrails are gone.

So Chris Christie is profoundly wrong. It’s ageist for him to say what he said—an insult to all old people. Most old people I’ve known have aged with grace and dignity. They accept what they cannot change, but they also know they can always become more giving, more accepting of others, more compassionate and less hurtful. The late Irish novelist, Maeve Binchy, said, “The great thing about getting older is that you become more mellow…and much more tolerant. You can see the good in things much more easily rather than getting enraged as you used to do when you were young.”

That’s true of most old people, and it’s true of me, but it’s not true of Donald Trump. He still gets as enraged as he always has, possibly even more so, because being president fuels his megalomania. His rage makes him blind—morally and intellectually. His blindness makes him unreasonable, unpleasant, in short, a schmuck. Nobody would care if he was just Donald J. Drumpf, a retired haberdasher from Queens. He’d be the old weirdo in the neighborhood, the one the kids laugh at.

But he’s not Donald J. Drumpf, he’s Donald J. Trump, the President of the United States of America. He’s not too old to learn to be a better person. He’s just too blind and stubborn.

  1. From Fortune Magazine Online
    (December 7, 2018):

    “‘You Can’t Do That.’ Tillerson Says He Had to Stop Trump From Breaking the Law”


    By Natasha Bach
    Staff Reporter

    “It’s been nearly nine months since former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lost his job by tweet, and now he’s sharing some tidbits about his experience as the nation’s top diplomat.

    Speaking at a fundraiser in Houston on Thursday, Tillerson told CBS reporter Bob Schieffer that he had never met Trump until the day Trump asked him to be secretary of state, and noted that Trump acts on his instincts. In some respects, that looks like impulsiveness, but it’s not his intent to act on impulse. I think he really is trying to act on his instincts.’

    “Calling his style ‘starkly different’ from that of Trump, Tillerson also noted that the transition from the ‘disciplined, highly process-oriented Exxon Mobil’ to working for a man ‘who is pretty UNDISCIPLINED, DOESN’T LIKE TO READ, DOESN’T READ BRIEFING REPORTS, DOESN’T LIKE TO GET INTO THE DETAILS OF A LOT OF THINGS, but rather just kinda says, “this is what I believe”‘ was challenging.

    “But perhaps the biggest challenge for Tillerson, he says, was constantly being the person to tell Trump he couldn’t do something. He explained that Trump would say, ‘Here’s what I want to do and here’s how I want to do it,’ and Tillerson would be forced to explain to him, ‘I understand what you want to do but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law.’

    It’s this back-and-forth that Tillerson thinks cost him his job. ‘I think he grew tired of me being the guy every day that told him, “You can’t do that, and let’s talk about what we can do,”‘ Tillerson explained.”

  2. See a video clip of the Tillerson interview here:

    And Trump’s reply via Twitter to the CBS interview:

    “Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I am very proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn’t have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell. Now it is a whole new ballgame, great spirit at State!”

  3. Erratum

    Let me fix a transcription error of quotation marks within quotation marks.

    “Speaking at a fundraiser in Houston on Thursday, Tillerson told CBS reporter Bob Schieffer that he had never met Trump until the day Trump asked him to be secretary of state, and noted that Trump ‘acts on his instincts. In some respects, that looks like impulsiveness, but it’s not his intent to act on impulse. I think he really is trying to act on his instincts.’

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