“A few figs from thistles…”
by Howard A. Tabor
Ghosts of Christmas Past #14
Garrison Keilor, America’s hometown satirist, has published a portrait of the current Republican presidential hopeful that may be the best profile yet written of Citizen Trump.
Seeking the man beneath the fake tan and tortured coif, behind the signature suits and monikered private jet, Keillor finds credible explanation — if not outright answers — for Trump’s behaviour during the twelve months he has actively pursued the nation’s highest elective office. Long before the purported wealth, or perhaps because of it; before the serial relationships (more corporate acquisition than marriage) a pattern of bravado and braggadocio has roots in his teenage years. Behavioural problems at an exclusive private school in Queens sent Donald to New York Military Academy, an upper class option unavailable to children of lesser means. Those lives would have been forever scarred by years in a reform school. Not so, Mr Trump.
Trump’s projects his demeanor long before he can berate a female reporter for her biology or mime the uncontrollable physical manifestation of someone’s inherited disease. It’s the hair: the Peck’s-Bad-Boy ducktail doo of James Dean and other tough guys of the 1950s. Keilor invokes Elvis Presley, Sid Vicious, and Johnny Rotten for those with shorter memories and brings Trump’s character closer to home as the grade-school bully we avoided at lunch and evaded as best we could during recess; “the C-minus guy who sat behind you in history and poked you with his pencil and smirked when you asked him to stop.” Keilor’s word picture reminded me of my own fifth-grade encounter with a Trump-in-training: Mike Corbett (whose name I’ve changed but whose story may be even sadder than The Donald’s).
Unlike our presidential hopeful — whose privileged birth actually nurtured his character flaws — Mike Corbett came from the other end of the socio-economic spectrum: a working-class Irish-American family whose poverty was humiliating when it couldn’t be hidden by the uniforms required in Catholic schools. I recall Mike in fifth and sixth grades, at about twelve or thirteen years of age; he was a year ahead of me in school and half a foot taller; thin but muscular, with dark eyes and black hair slicked back in a Trump-like doo. We weren’t in classes together, but how would I have known; as far as academics were concerned, he was invisible. It was only recess and lunch that crossed our paths. Then he would push, pummel, pound and berate me for ten minutes or so, as I honored my dad’s general advice to “roll with the punches.” I suspect now that dad had meant me to avoid the vagaries of life, to allow its vicissitudes to pass around and over me in a Zen-like way, though he was surely no Eastern mystic. In the case of Mike Corbett, I took it more literally and found after a few weeks the strategy worked quite well: I see now that resistance would have fed him; that without it he found other targets.
My “relationship” with Mike lasted no more than a month, I think; after that I lost track altogether — until a random encounter many years later brought it all back. One evening while spinning round the television dial (this was before cable) I caught a shard of conversation about “…Willow Springs, Illinois…,” a town where I had visited some cousins years before. It was an episode of “FBI Files” which presented crimes as badly-acted dramatizations. This case study of “Michael Corbett” cast him as a local police chief with Mafia ties, who had assisted the mayor dispatch a troublesome wife, a woman who had sought divorce and used the knowledge of her husband’s criminal activities as leverage. But rather than separation and comfortable alimony, she got several bullets and nine months in the trunk of a Cadillac submerged in a canal. He got twenty years in the state penitentiary; I’m not certain of the mayor’s sentence.
Until the last two or three minutes of the program I doubted that its subject had been, indeed, the guy who beat the crap out me in 1957 or 1958. Yet during the concluding narrative, there he was, in frontal and side-view mugshots, the grade school character I had briefly but intimately known. Since then, curiosity got the better of me and I learned why Mike had turned to the “life of crime” which makes movies — or in this case, TV documentaries. Perhaps the story wasn’t sufficiently nuanced for Hollywood and the likes of Sean Penn or Johnny Depp, bad boys whose on-screen demeanor might be mistaken for Citizen Trump’s.
Reflecting on the sad story of Mike Corbett — an accident of birth shaped his anti-social life and early death (he passed from natural causes in 2004) — I saw hints of Donald Trump who, were it not for the gold-plated spoon found in his mouth, might have come to a similar sticky end. All things considered, at the end of his life, Corbett turned out to be redeemable. Do you think the same will be said of Citizen Trump?