Down on the corner of Sunset and Vine there’s a modern bank where NBC built a second Radio City in 1938 to match the one next to Rockefeller Center in the middle of Manhattan. But this one wasn’t a “Music Hall” with leggy Rockettes and all that. This was a production studio. This is where Jack Benny and Rochester sparred and Amos and Andy were Americas’ happy darkies and endless radio murder mysteries played out in serial form, ending each week with cliffhanger and opening the next week with a recap – in case listeners forgot what was what and who was who. This was America’s in-home entertainment before television. And this is all gone now – torn down after twelve years. Television did that. And one day television will be gone too. But for a time, the nation sat at their radios and followed recurring characters, old friends after a time, and long narrative threads where one cliffhanger led to the next series of surprising but inevitable events, followed by another cliffhanger, on and on, in a timeless world where anything could happen. Who knows? The Shadow knows.
That’s gone. No one has patience for serial mysteries anymore anyway. This is the Age of Twitter. Things are said and quickly forgotten because the next startling thing has just been said. People don’t lose the thread. There is no narrative thread. There’s the now. That’s it – but life isn’t like that. There’s always an ongoing story, and Donald Trump has been telling quite a story since he floated down the gold escalator in his golden building on Fifth Avenue, with his stunning silent third wife by his side, the Slovenian Sphinx, and announced he would be our next president. Mexicans would be gone. We’d build a great wall. Mexico would pay for it – and no Muslim would ever enter the country again, until we found out what the hell was going on – but Muslims hate us anyway. And whatever Obama had done he would undo, and make America great again. It would be 1953 in Peoria again – and by the way, Vladimir Putin was a fine man and our friend, and all our allies has been ripping us off and we’d humiliate them all now.
Donald Trump understands the power of narrative. That was quite a story, and it’s still playing out. But it should be a radio drama with an announcer with a Gary Owns voice saying, as each week begins, “As you recall, in our last episode…”
A dispassionate narrator needs to recap what was what and who was who from the last week, the last episode, or at least recap what happened on Friday. The Washington Posts’ Michael Scherer gives it a go with a compete timeline of Friday events, which include these:
7:21 a.m. It’s Day 4 of the impeachment effort, and President Trump wants everyone to know he has done nothing wrong. His early tweets contain some typos, including a double preposition. “I had a simple and very nice call with with the new President of Ukraine, it could not have been better or more honorable, and the Fake News Media and Democrats, working as a team, have fraudulently made it look bad,” he writes. A White House spokesman, Hogan Gidley, goes on “Fox & Friends” to deny reporting from multiple news outlets that White House staff was alarmed by the call. “No one I’ve talked to is concerned at all about this,” Gidley says.
7:31 a.m. Trump’s chief adversary, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), makes her first public appearance of the day, arriving at an MSNBC set on a rooftop across from the U.S. Capitol. On “Morning Joe,” Day 4 is a special event. Rising sun. Brisk fall breeze. Pelosi has come with a glittery American flag brooch and talking points to hammer like a nail gun: “This is about national security.” “This is a sad time for our country.” “We have to be prayerful.” “He gave us no choice.” Attorney General William P. Barr has “gone rogue.” The bottom line: “The president of the United States used taxpayer dollars to shake down the leader of another country for his own political gain. The rest of it is ancillary.”
That’s high drama, the main face-off, and the cliffhanger. Who will win the day? In our last episode, this is what happened:
8:29 a.m. Trump calls on Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) to resign and “be investigated” for reading a fake transcript of the president’s call with Ukraine at a hearing yesterday. In Trump’s telling, Schiff was “supposedly reading the exact transcribed version” and “GOT CAUGHT.”
9:04 a.m. The White House releases a memo headlined, “The swamp is beyond parody, but the American people aren’t laughing.” The argument is that Democrats are spending their time on a “political circus” instead of “real, pressing concerns” such as strong border security, real gun safety, affordable prescription drug prices and a new North American trade deal. “You can’t make this stuff up,” the memo reads.
10:20 a.m. Not much happening at the moment, a good time to catch up on the stories you might have missed last night. A Washington Post deep dive into former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s efforts to cultivate “a bevy” of current and former prosecutors in Ukraine. A Washington Post visual guide to everyone mentioned in the whistleblower report. The Atlantic’s captivating interview with Giuliani, which Elaina Plott conducted from the back of an Uber. “It is impossible that the whistleblower is a hero and I’m not,” Giuliani told Plott. “And I will be the hero! These morons! When this is over, I will be the hero.”
10:50 a.m. CNN reports the White House had offered a statement confirming a central allegation of the whistleblower complaint: Records of Trump’s call with Ukraine were moved to a separate server inside the White House. National Security Council lawyers “directed that the classified document be handled appropriately,” the White House statement reads.
Okay, someone is hiding something, and that leads to this:
2:17 p.m. The House Appropriations and Budget committees announce sending a letter to the White House demanding documents and answers by next week regarding the Trump administration’s “involvement in the withholding of foreign aid, including nearly $400 million in crucial security assistance funding for Ukraine.”
3:41 p.m. Trump previews how he hopes the impeachment fight will play out in the 2020 election if Biden becomes the Democratic nominee. He posts a 30-second campaign ad. “Biden promised Ukraine a billion dollars if they fired the prosecutor investigating his son’s company,” the narrator says, over ominous music. “But when President Trump asks Ukraine to investigate corruption, the Democrats want to impeach him.” Much of this is misleading. Biden threatened to withhold aid that had been promised to Ukraine if it did not fire the prosecutor; he did not promise to give $1 billion for doing so. The Ukrainian prosecutor in question did not have an active investigation of the company where Biden’s son worked at the time. Biden’s son was never a subject of the investigation. The Democrat’s current impeachment investigation focuses on Trump’s specific request to the current Ukrainian president for aid in an investigation of Biden, his political rival.
4:03 p.m. The House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees announce a new subpoena of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for documents related to the Ukraine investigation that were requested earlier this month and never delivered. The letter concludes by alleging that Pompeo’s continued refusal to provide the documents “impairs Congress’ ability to fulfill its Constitutional responsibilities to protect our national security and the integrity of our democracy.”
And someone is hiding something else:
4:58 p.m. The Washington Post reports that Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who has been helping lead Ukraine outreach, is scheduled to make a paid appearance at a Kremlin-backed conference in Armenia. Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to attend. Giuliani declined to say how much he will make. “I will try to not knowingly talk to a Russian until this is all over,” he says.
6:09 p.m. Giuliani tells reporters he will no longer attend the conference. “Just found out Putin was going and I don’t need to give the Swamp press more distractions,” he tells the Washington Post in a text message.
Perhaps someone in the White House got to Giuliani: Rudy, not yet, not everyone in America is convinced that Putin is wonderful and Russia on our side in everything, not yet, not yet.
8:26 p.m. More comes out. The Washington Post reports that Trump told two Russian officials in a 2017 Oval Office meeting that he was unconcerned about Russian interference in the 2016 election. This assertion prompted alarm in the White House, leading officials to limit access to the remarks to an unusually small number of people. The source of this information is three former officials with knowledge of the matter.
That was followed by reports that Team Trump had put records of all his conversations with Putin and the new Saudi crown prince on that same server. No one would ever see any of that.
That’s how the week ended. Is the president a Russian agent? Stay tuned!
Margaret Hartmann offers more detail:
After formally announcing the opening of an impeachment inquiry into President Trump on Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Democrats intend to keep the investigation narrowly focused on Trump’s request that the Ukrainian president do him a “favor” by investigating his political rivals. But a Friday night report may force Democrats to rethink that plan: according to the Washington Post, during a 2017 meeting in the Oval Office with two top Russian officials, Trump said he was “unconcerned about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election because the United States did the same in other countries.”
That would change their focus:
Trump reportedly said this to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the already infamous May 10, 2017 meeting where he remarked that he’d relieved “great pressure” by firing his “nut job” FBI director James Comey a day earlier, and shared highly classified information that exposed an Israeli counterterrorist operation.(Earlier this month, CNN reported that this prompted U.S. intelligence to extract a high-level intelligence asset from Russia over concerns that Trump’s mishandling of intelligence would expose the spy.)
Hartmann notes that this is a bigger issue than Joe Biden:
Pretty much everything Trump has done and said regarding Russian election meddling – from constantly tweeting that the investigation into the matter was nothing but a “Witch Hunt!” to suggesting in Helsinki that he trusted Vladimir Putin’s denials over the conclusions of his own intelligence officials – has left the impression that the U.S. president truly does not care about Russian attempts to aid him in 2016. But Trump telling the Russians directly, in the Oval Office, that he’s unconcerned about protecting the integrity of U.S. elections – and maybe implying that he wouldn’t mind if they did the same in 2020 – elevates the matter to a new level.
The Post puts that this way:
White House officials were particularly distressed by Trump’s election remarks because it appeared the president was forgiving Russia for an attack that had been designed to help elect him, the three former officials said. Trump also seemed to invite Russia to interfere in other countries’ elections, they said.
So, who does Trump work for these days? Hartmann then adds this:
In addition to contributing to the cascade of bombshell revelations fueling the impeachment push, this report raises several questions. First, why are we only learning about this element of Trump’s Russia meeting now, months after the unspectacular end of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation? Second, what other appalling, potentially impeachable things did Trump say to other foreign leaders, and what did the White House do to conceal them?
That’s the cliffhanger. What did Trump hide from Mueller and from everyone else? Who knows? The Shadow knows.
But maybe Donald Trump is The Shadow:
Originally a mysterious radio show narrator, The Shadow was developed into a distinctive literary character in 1931, later to become a pop culture icon, by writer Walter B. Gibson. The character has been cited as a major influence on the subsequent evolution of comic book superheroes, particularly Batman…
The Shadow debuted on July 31, 1930, as the mysterious narrator of the radio program Detective Story Hour, which was developed to boost sales of Street & Smith’s monthly pulp Detective Story Magazine… On September 26, 1937, The Shadow radio drama, a new radio series based on the character as created by Gibson for the pulp magazine, premiered with the story “The Death House Rescue,” in which The Shadow was characterized as having “the power to cloud men’s minds so they cannot see him.”
The introduction from The Shadow radio program “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” spoken by actor Frank Readick, has earned a place in the American idiom.
So, that’s it. Donald Trump sees himself as The Shadow. He has the power to cloud men’s minds, and he’s proud of that. No one can see what he’s really doing, and he does know what evil lurks in the heart of men, like Joe Biden, and like Hillary Clinton. No one thinks about her anymore, but he does, and now, suddenly, he’s going to get her:
The Trump administration is investigating the email records of dozens of current and former senior State Department officials who sent messages to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email, reviving a politically toxic matter that overshadowed the 2016 election, current and former officials said.
As many as 130 officials have been contacted in recent weeks by State Department investigators – a list that includes senior officials who reported directly to Clinton as well as others in lower-level jobs whose emails were at some point relayed to her inbox, said current and former State Department officials. Those targeted were notified that emails they sent years ago have been retroactively classified and now constitute potential security violations, according to letters reviewed by The Washington Post.
In virtually all of the cases, potentially sensitive information, now re-categorized as “classified,” was sent to Clinton’s unsecure inbox.
Trump got her! Now, finally, she can be impeached and removed from office! No, wait. She can go to jail, or worse, for treason! She DID have classified secret emails on her private email server after all!
That seems like a cheap trick, but it’s a damned good story, one that broke less than twenty-four hours after everyone found out what he had actually said to the Russians on May 10, 2017, in the Oval Office! But her emails! She really is evil and perhaps he really can cloud men’s minds, or not:
To many of those under scrutiny, including some of the Democratic Party’s top foreign policy experts, the recent flurry of activity surrounding the Clinton email case represents a new front on which the Trump administration could be accused of employing the powers of the executive branch against perceived political adversaries…
The existence of the probe follows revelations that the president used multiple levers of his office to pressure the leader of Ukraine to pursue investigations that Trump hoped would produce damaging information about Democrats, including potential presidential rival Joe Biden…
State Department officials vigorously denied there was any political motivation behind their actions…
But then again, who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows and so does Donald Trump. That’s the tale he’s telling. That’s the narrative here, but Philip Rucker, the White House Bureau Chief for the Washington Post, adds more depth to that:
In the five days since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) opened an impeachment inquiry following revelations about President Trump’s conduct with his Ukrainian counterpart, Trump has been determined to cast himself as a singular victim in a warped reality – a portrayal that seems part political survival strategy, part virtual therapy session.
As Trump tells it, he is a hard-working and honorable president whose conduct has been “perfect” but who is being harassed and tormented by “Do Nothing Democrat Savages” and a corrupt intelligence community resolved to perpetuate a hoax, defraud the public and, ultimately, undo the 2016 election.
“There has been no President in the history of our Country who has been treated so badly as I have,” Trump tweeted Wednesday, some 13 hours after Pelosi’s announcement.
There is evil out there, and it’s awful, and it’s all directed at him, which has made him wildly popular with angry whiners:
Victimization always has been core to Trump’s identity, both as a politician and as a real estate promoter and reality-television star. It is the emotional glue that yokes Trump to the grievance politics of the right. Many of Trump’s grass-roots followers have said they feel protective of the president in part because they also feel oppressed and ostracized by elites.
In fact, the whole world is against them, so they do understand this:
As Congress considers impeaching him over his request that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky investigate 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his family, as well as an unsubstantiated theory that Ukrainians worked with Democrats to interfere in the 2016 election, Trump is claiming a broad conspiracy to erase history. He has sought to stitch together his existing narrative about the Russia investigation with the emerging probe of his Ukraine episode into a seamless “deep state” story line, in part by trying to discredit an urgent complaint about his conduct with Zelensky from an intelligence-community whistleblower.
“He’s been forecasting that the ‘deep state’ is out to get him, and there’s a way in which the narrative of the whistleblower can come to confirm all of that for his followers,” said historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an expert on authoritarianism at New York University.
She was right:
White House senior adviser Stephen Miller said Sunday that President Trump is the true whistleblower, days after the release of a seven-page complaint in which a government whistleblower alleged that Trump had misused his office for personal gain, endangered national security and tried to keep it a secret.
Miller made the claim during an at-times heated interview on Fox News Sunday.
“The president of the United States is the whistleblower, and this individual is a saboteur trying to undermine a democratically elected government,” Miller said…
Miller disputed the use of the word “whistleblower” to describe the person who raised the alarm about Trump’s actions. He argued that “this is a deep-state operative, pure and simple” – even though Trump’s acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, said in congressional testimony last week that he believes the whistleblower “is operating in good faith and has followed the law.”
This didn’t go well:
Miller dodged several questions from host Chris Wallace about allegations surrounding the president’s actions, such as Trump’s decision to use not the federal government but rather his personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to obtain information on the activities of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter in Ukraine. Miller also declined to answer when asked by Wallace to outline how, in his view, the Bidens broke any laws.
He just said the magic words, Deep State, to cloud men’s minds, but Rucker has more:
This shared sense of persecution is one reason so many Republican officeholders and conservative media personalities are defending the president – at least for now – against allegations that he abused the power of his office for personal political gain.
“At a Trump rally, central to the show is the idea of shared victimization,” said Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, a Trump critic. “Donald Trump revels in it, has consistently portrayed himself as a victim of the media and of his political opponents, and this will all be framed as an unfair effort to overturn a legitimate election. That argument will have enormous currency across right-wing media. It will be believed.”
And that unfair effort to overturn a legitimate election is the central issue here:
At the heart of Trump’s case is his obsession with the 2016 election, the results of which he boasts about in historic terms despite the asterisk over Russia’s interference campaign to boost his candidacy, as well as the fact that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.
In the nearly three years since, Trump has tried to re-litigate his election by discounting – and, in some instances, rejecting outright – the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered, and by proving that he defeated Clinton soundly in the electoral college entirely on his own superior abilities as a candidate.
There’s another way to put that:
Rick Wilson, another GOP strategist and Trump critic, likened the president to “the guy circling the high school parking lot in his Camaro five years after he graduated. He always wants to go back to 2016 and his victory. That’s the triumphal arc of his history. And he’s always trying to go back to having a fight about Hillary Clinton and her emails and the servers, straight from the greatest hits album.”
For instance, when Trump met with Zelensky last Wednesday, he called Clinton’s deletion of emails “one of the great crimes committed” and speculated without evidence that they “could very well” reside on a server in Ukraine.
It’s her emails. It will always be her emails. And he does know the evil that lurks in the hearts of men, and this one woman, or at least he knows that talking about that all the time will keep him in power, as a few other leaders know too:
Ben-Ghiat drew parallels between Trump’s strategy and the tactics of leaders with authoritarian tendencies past and present around the world. She said Trump’s branding of investigations against him as “witch hunts” mirrors the language used by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to condemn probes into their conduct.
“Their cult of victimization is part of their persona,” Ben-Ghiat said.
But that doesn’t always work:
Trump’s victim mentality has historical precedent – including with the 17th president, Andrew Johnson, who ascended after Abraham Lincoln’s 1865 assassination. He was impeached by the House, acquitted in the Senate and did not stand for election at the end of his term, having failed to win his party’s nomination in 1868.
As president, Johnson delivered diatribes laced with self-pity and indignation that he was being unfairly persecuted and not appreciated by the American people as the simple man devoted to the Constitution that he thought himself to be, according to Brenda Wineapple, a historian and author of “The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation.”
“People were shocked at the first tirade they heard and thought Johnson must be drunk, but he wasn’t,” Wineapple said. “It was so similar to today as to be scary. Both men felt a victimization and a sense of being martyred by a radical group of fanatics not out to save the country but out to get them.”
Now imagine Andrew Johnson with a Twitter account. Someone sounds drunk:
President Donald Trump on Sunday escalated his rebuke of the anonymous whistleblower at the center of the mounting Ukraine controversy after House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry against him, asserting that he deserves to “meet my accuser.”
“Like every American, I deserve to meet my accuser, especially when this accuser, the so-called ‘Whistleblower,’ represented a perfect conversation with a foreign leader in a totally inaccurate and fraudulent way,” Trump tweeted before taking aim at House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff who confirmed earlier Sunday there is a tentative agreement for the whistleblower to testify before his committee.
“His lies were made in perhaps the most blatant and sinister manner ever seen in the great Chamber. He wrote down and read terrible things, then said it was from the mouth of the President of the United States. I want Schiff questioned at the highest level for Fraud and Treason,” Trump said.
Schiff had said he was offering “the essence of what the president communicates” and not quoting Trump directly. This was his interpretation. Trump said Schiff never said that. He did, but why argue? The shadow has the power to clouds men’s minds, but there was more:
Trump on Sunday also echoed his previous attacks on the whistleblower and promised “Big Consequences” for anyone who assisted in providing the person information.
“I want to meet not only my accuser, who presented SECOND & THIRD HAND INFORMATION, but also the person who illegally gave this information, which was largely incorrect, to the ‘Whistleblower,'” he said. “Was this person SPYING on the U.S. President? Big Consequences!”
Trump said last week that whoever provided the whistleblower with information about his call with Zelensky is “close to a spy,” and said that in the old days spies were dealt with differently.
Someone is going to be taken out back and shot. Lots of people are going to be shot. Lots of people are going to die.
Really? If this were a radio drama from the late thirties the deep-voiced announcer would tell listeners to tune in next week for the next exciting episode to find out what happens. Who dies? Or does something else totally unexpected happen?
Who knows? The Shadow doesn’t know.