Trump’s Foundation Is Crumbling

Listen to this episode

S1: The following program may contain explicit language and. It’s Wednesday, August 5th, twenty twenty from Slate’s The Gist, I’m Mike Pesca, and I am not here to tell you how to store your ammonium nitrate.

S2: I’m not I don’t want to be that guy. I understand you didn’t ask. You might be peoples from another land who didn’t want my advice. And I.

S3: I understand that that is not my role yet. Still, might I suggest, at the risk of overstepping my bounds, that when storing two thousand seven hundred fifty tons of ammonium nitrate for six and a half years, you do it away from the populated city center and infrastructure hub. OK, according to news reports, a Russian ship flying under the Moldovan flag and really is the rest of the sentence after that beginning ever good? A Russian ship flying under the Moldovan flag, spread candy and cheer to all the good little boys and girls is not the way that usually goes. Anyway, the ship was docked in, I think twenty thirteen made to unload its two thousand seven hundred fifty tons of ammonium nitrate there. It sat in port, no doubt a local curiosity, but actually a potential powder keg, though gunpowder is actually less dangerous in many regards than ammonium nitrate. In the US we have had ammonium nitrate disasters. This despite the National Fire Protection Association’s code for the storage of ammonium nitrate. That’s NFPA 490. Companies don’t always follow it. Twenty thirteen. The Adare Grain Company had an explosion, killed 13 people. Maybe you remember it. There were a couple of different things about that accident and that incident as compared to the one in Beirut, one in Texas. It was in two thousand seven hundred fifty tons of ammonium nitrate. It was less than a tenth of that. And two wasn’t stored in the port of the country’s largest city was stored in west Texas, 18 miles north of Waco, which I never understood since. Waco is in pretty much the eastern part of Texas, west Texas, it turns out I found this out today is the name of the town and it was named after TRM West. T.M., terribly mudded, terrifically mystifying. Either way, you can start in El Paso, drive nine and a half hours east and be in West Texas. Makes no sense to name a small town eighty miles north of Waco, west Texas. But, you know, it does make sense storing your ammonium nitrate their way away from people. Still 13 died. Horrible, tragic, terrible explosion. But in Beirut, catastrophic explosion killed over one hundred, maybe hundreds. Here in Brooklyn, we store our ammonium nitrate and bespoke little kiosks. Many of our shopkeepers have a take ammonium nitrate, leave an ammonium nitrate dish again. Not going to tell you how to do this. It’s too late now anyway. But please, please. Other countries that might have thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate laying around, maybe you want to ship it to the outskirts of town or ventilate. You could always ventilate on the show. Today, the president, who votes by mail while warning us against voting by mail, is now saying that kids could go back to school, which, of course, his own kid is not doing. Wait, who? Tiphanie. I thought he graduated. The president was heard to have said no. We’re talking about the other kid. We will break down this breakdown in good sense on the spiel. But first, Jesse Eisenberg is back to discuss the inspiration and execution of his new audible show, which is called When You Finish Saving the World. If you missed yesterday’s episode, that’s fine. What you need to know is that Jesse plays a single mother of four who’s trying to work her way through mortuary school, all the while staying one step ahead of the law for a crime she didn’t commit. Or did she? I don’t know, because that’s not what this audio play is about. When you finish saving the World is a three part play, a work, an audio drama that shifts character. It shifts time. It’s really very good. And I don’t just say that as I try to finish my embalming homework while giving the slip to a determined police detective proving to be quite savvy, Jesse Eisenberg. Up next, Jesse Eisenberg’s When You Finish Saving the World is told in three parts. If you heard yesterday show, you know that he plays a strapping, six foot tall Scandinavian fishing boat captain who seduces young ladies through his mastery of the zither. Again, that is not true. I keep lying about what this work is about. I kind of want to keep it from you, but I’ll tell you enough so that you’re oriented. Jesse’s character is a young father who is not bonding with his baby son. That’s interesting because the real life Jesse Eisenberg has a son. I’ve witnessed their interactions. They certainly seemed warm, in fact, snuggly, quite delightful. And you can’t fake that unless you’re a very successful actor. But I did wonder, had Jesse witnessed or heard about that? Phenomenon. So I asked him, was this an exercise in imagination where you try to get into a mindset of a parent not bonding with their own child?

S4: Yeah, I mean, I actually only heard the phenomenon once, and I was so sad for the guy who was experiencing the, like, the lack of feeling for his child that, you know, let me interrupt.

S1: It sounds just like the military. It’s like, wow, this is so foreign to me. I need to rush to it. I need to figure it out.

S4: Yes, exactly. When somebody I was friends, a guy who told me I had a daughter and he said I felt nothing for I was shocked that he told me, but kind of even more shocked that he felt nothing, because it just seemed to me like this unbelievable phenomenon that you’d immediately feel this wave of a million different things. And so I always thought got to be such an interesting character to explore in a play, because I was just always writing plays. But I kind of every time I started writing something that would become, you know, a theatrical experience with a baby in it, it just is immediately impossible. You know, when you do something with a baby on stage, it’s usually a blanket, a speaker wrapped in a blanket, you know, then there’s some sound designers making the speaker cry and then you have to hold the baby and it’s impossible to act really well. So I was thinking I was kind of always looking for like a format to tell this, a story of a character who didn’t connect to their child. And then when I met with these executives at Audible, and I have to say, it’s like actually an amazing company in this way. They said, you know, we’re all kind of figuring this thing out together. So if you have any stories that you think could work for this medium, tell us. So I pitched them this story about a guy who doesn’t connect with his child and they, you know, I’m sure assumed that it was about me and that I should get help and then show them pictures of me hugging my son. And then they let me do it as a piece of fiction. It’s amazing what you could do with Photoshop. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Yeah.

S1: But then again, your wife, just like the wife and this does well, her mom ran this this women’s shelter in Indiana. And your wife, just like the wife in the in the show, you know, the Audible Original has that connection. There was I think at the end, yes. It was the end of your character’s episode. There’s a payen to how lovely and great and giving it is to to do this work. And I’m wondering if either your wife or your mother in law has heard that and interpret it as, you know, you just giving them a great compliment to the millions of people who might hear this.

S4: Yeah, my view of myself is that I’m I’m a hedonist and incredibly fortunate, having put forth very little effort and received so much from the world. And my assessment of my wife is that she wakes up every morning and tries to figure out, like, who she can help and how she cannot get credit for it. And so everything I write has been kind of like really colored by this kind of dynamic that I’m obsessed with because of my hedonistic narcissism, which is the thing that begets the theory in the first place. So, like everything I write is like usually some kind of, like, artist doing something that has no social value that they’re incredibly confident about. And then somebody who’s doing something that has immense social value and gets no credit for it and doesn’t and doesn’t lament the fact that they get no credit and of course, they’re happier and the artist is miserable. And so this is kind of like my current world view, which I hope matures into something a little more healthy. And my and so that’s the dynamic in the you know, in the series.

S1: OK, but what you just said, how you idealize your wife and she she probably deserves it, but that is what’s going on with all of your characters in a different way. They each have an attachment to another character and they have they’ve really fall in love with the dream version of that character to one extent or another.

S4: Yes, that’s right. And by extension, you know, I will say, yeah, that kind of happens to me. Then I idealize people like my wife and people like, you know, my best friend is a teacher for kids who are formerly incarcerated. And, you know, I idolize these people to the point where I, you know, I lionize them. And then, like I would say, just by contrast, like denigrate my own work. And then when I’m writing and thinking about things a little more, kind of calmly, I’m able to kind of assess that they have flaws that are maybe driven by selfish things and that I have some value and or maybe I’m maybe driven by some socially benevolent things as well, and that the manifestations of our work and our interests are much more complicated than I always feel.

S1: Yeah, well, I think you maybe give yourself a break if the Nathan character is a little bit like you, because at one point the Nathan character makes a joke, not a terribly off color joke, but certainly not a sensitive joke about Haiti. And then we hear that resonance in the next episode when his son makes a somewhat enlightened comment about the Marshall Islands, which we’ve come to learn is now underwater, which, by the way, is quite scientifically sound prediction. But I. I also do think that you’re not actually saying that the guy who made the bad joke is a bad guy, in fact, maybe even doesn’t need to be redeemed. So much for making the joke.

S4: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, he he is, like, I would say, a kind of average person who who falls in love with a better than average person. And so all the kind of average things he’s doing, like making us fly, comment about Haiti at a party and kind of making light of an earthquake there is, you know, shattered by this woman who spends her life, you know, who’s built wells there and spends her life kind of you know, she’s she’s what we’re referring to now as people who are kind of like standing up, not standing by. And she’s done that her whole life. And so, you know, when she hears this comment at a party, you know you know about Haiti, you know, she stands up and yells at him. And the guy is kind of so, you know, he’s he’s kind of like, you know, emotionally stunted. But, you know, it’s intellectually kind of rigorous. He spends the night reading about Haiti and writes her a long email and donates money and then ends up boxing up things for Haiti, not because he has this kind of well of emotion, but just because he realizes that he made a logical mistake.

S1: Yeah. Now, you talked about imagining a character who doesn’t bond with his son because you do bond with your son. And so it’s interesting to imagine. But then when you set that the son when you said his life as a 15 year old in twenty thirty two, then you have to do some imagining of your own. And there’s a little bit of world building. There are universal credits given out. Of course there are only driverless cars except for nostalgia purposes. But of course there’s also it’s a teenager. There’s lots of slang. Things are chalk or brim or whatever. How much logic? Tell me about the process of inventing the slang words. And if you have a back story as to why each of those slang words became the words they became in twenty, thirty two?

S4: Yes, it was more like a process of elimination than a than a creative process. I would come up with a word, I would look on Urban Dictionary dotcom and they would inevitably be defined as some horrific sex act that I’ve never heard of and can never unlearn. And so I don’t know what the percentages of words that mean. Some like, you know, impossible to enact sex act on Urban Dictionary. But I mentioned 90 percent of their definitions. And so I would think of the word go to Urban Dictionary, be discouraged, and then think of another word. And so the words that I came up with, I had like a glossary of, like, I don’t know, 30 words that and and what they meant. And so I would kind of sprinkled them throughout, you know, luckily, I was creating a 15 year old boy who’s a bit pretentious and who thinks of himself as like a cutting edge artist. And so I thought, well, this is the kind of guy who would use a word even before it’s fully embraced as like, you know, that’s part of the lexicon. And so, yes, I was kind of just thinking of words that have I don’t know, you know what? I don’t know how slang develops, but I guess you know that they have some correlation to a word and and, you know, regular use. And then it’s taken to a different place. And and it has the feeling rather than, you know, some kind of like logical or, you know, linguistic basis. And I don’t know, it’s fun. You know, it’s just kind of fun to do. And it kind of colors it in a different way. It reminds you that you’re in the future.

S1: Did you in your own life find yourself calling things Brimm or Chalkie?

S4: Yeah. The truth is, once you start coming up with slang in the future, it just kind of highlights how arbitrary and silly the slang is that we have now. I mean, in fact, you had somebody on your show talk about Thatta Attic’s. You know, it’s the idea that, you know, that there are these words that are meaningless, like, you know, how are you doing? Cool. You know, these things that don’t have any meaning, logical meaning, but are just used to kind of like, you know, you know, Greece, the social dynamics between people and it’s all meaningless and arbitrary anyway. So, you know, putting things in the future makes it sound funny because it’s not used. But now but it’s it’s no less logical than the current slang employing now.

S1: Yeah. I think that and it reminds me of the futuristic part, reminded me a little bit of some George Saunders writing or Kurt Vonnegut speaking of an Indian an Indiana writer. But I also had this notion that for the most part, any time anyone makes the conscious decision to set something in the future, it’s necessarily because they want to say something about the future, just like in a movie like I got to tell you, any time it rains, it’s on purpose and it’s a choice. And it’s not just because it happened to rain that day. Usually I find that in not so great movies, it rains on sad days, funerals in movies, 80 percent rainy days.

S4: I don’t know how that. That’s right. And it’s much more expensive. So you know that. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. It’s really put the effort. But here this is a really rare work of, I guess, sci fi or futuristic writing where just because of the structure of it, you were forced to write it in the future and you didn’t shy away from making some predictions. But that wasn’t the. Purpose, in fact, that wasn’t really at all the motivation, so it’s kind of a different kind of sci fi writing, not that there is no sci fi that’s basically driven by the emotion of a character. Ad Astra, for instance, this movie I saw was mainly about trying to figure out the relationship between a father and son. But I’ve never I don’t know that I’ve read so much sci fi where the sci fi was incidental and forced upon the author as just a necessity because of how he’s constructed the rest of the stuff.

S4: Yeah, so that’s a really good assessment and totally true. The only kind of consideration I was the only kind of commentary I wanted to make on the future was to create a kid who like a kind of unapologetic capitalist at a time where jobs are increasingly scarce. This is probably because Andrew Young was spiking in the polls when I was writing that section and otherwise has no basis in my world philosophy. But and also I come from a family of animal rights activists and they’re all convinced that no one will be eating meat in a decade, that it’ll be lab grown meat. I think they’re probably right in terms of that happening, but probably wrong in terms of how quickly it can happen. And so in that story, the kid goes to this thing called a candle party, which is a party where they don’t allow tech and it’s like only lit by candles. And it’s like a party that’s to celebrate, you know, basically a backlash to technology. And they eat a real chicken. And it’s like a novelty for this kid who hasn’t eaten chicken, real chicken since he was a kid.

S1: Right. Right. And he’s like, I think it’s called the breast. I don’t know. It’s kind of weird. Yeah. OK, so my last question is, I think it took me after listening to all of them and then four minutes before this interview for me to get why the title is When When You’re Finished Saving the World. When did the title come to you?

S4: Talking to me after I finished it, it was always the kind of working title was The Ziegfeld Fails because Ziggy’s name was Ziggy, who’s the boy in the show and the I don’t even know what they call it. We need a new name for the format. That sounds cool. Like Blu ray. Can we take Blu ray since that’s no longer a thing? Yeah. So the title came to me. Yeah. After I finished writing it, I was at a at a talk that my friend was giving. He’s an activist against mass incarceration and he said something about the mother of his child saying, you know, when you finish saving the world, remember, you have a son because he was out to kind of always giving speeches about mass incarceration. And he’s done so much good work. But, you know, sometimes that maybe came at the expense of visiting us, you know, as a kid back in Brooklyn. And I thought it was such a I don’t know, such a potent phrase. And it was both condemnatory, but at the same time implies that the person is doing amazing work. And so you kind of almost feel guilty for being so snide to a person who’s doing such great work. And I think it speaks to like what we owe our family when we’re doing things that are really important, when we’re an activist for the right causes and we’re on the right side of justice, you know, what do we owe our personal life? What do we owe to our personal life? What do we owe the people who are left at home while we’re doing something great? Yeah, I think about that all the time. And that’s what this is about, because it’s about it’s about these characters trying to figure out how to kind of do important work in the world. But on the other hand, they kind of struggle to feel comfortable in the family.

S1: Jesse Eisenberg’s new work is an audible original, which means, you know, it’s out there. You got to do a little searching on the app. Maybe I hope they push it at the public hard because it’s really just excellent. It’s a story of a family in three parts at three different times when you finish saving the world. Thanks so much, Jesse. Thank you so much.

S3: And now the spiel sometimes President Trump, Donald Trump says a thing and that thing is dead solid, nailed down six ways from Sunday. Perfecto, for example, Russia used to be a thing called the Soviet Union. Absolutely, Mr. President. He’s all over that. No, Pinocchio’s, in fact, negative Pinocchio’s. If you started off with a Pinocchio, we’re taking Pinocchio away. We’ll leave you with a real boy. That is how true that statement was. But at other times, the president FIPS today was such a day and his luck would have it. Fox News was such a forum.

S5: My view is the school should open. This thing’s going away. It will go away like things go away. And my view is that schools should be open. If you look at children, children are almost and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease. So few if they’ve got stronger. Hard to believe. I don’t know how you feel about it.

S3: I don’t feel good about it because the salient point isn’t if it kills kids and occasionally it does, it generally does spare children, but they can transmit the virus. They can and they do. So the question isn’t why does the president say what he says? He says what he says because he just wants it to be true. The question is, is there any strategy to this not psychological but electoral? What’s his plan? What’s his angle? What’s his tactic for laying out a plan based on a lie, that lie being that children don’t get or spread covid-19? Who does that help? If an outbreak happens, who’s going to benefit? How does that help his re-election chances? Why is he saying that? I told you basically he says things because he wants them to be true. But to an extent, there is a strategy. It’s not the kind of strategy where he got together with advisers and they said, emphasize this point that you think the kids are safe. It’s more like a strategy that represents the tingling of his reptilian brain and it leads him to certain areas. This is true that there is a cohort in this country that believes Trump no matter what Trump says. So if Trump thrills and delights that cohort, Trump thinks all will be fine. Part of thrilling the cohort is attacking liberals, which Trump truly, really and genuinely has a talent for liberals. For instance, don’t like the president of the United States mismanaging the greatest health crisis in a hundred years. They do not like it now. Conservatives, if you ask them, I don’t know, five years ago, would you like that? They’d say no. But what they see right before them is just how much liberals don’t like it. And they say, well, in that case, it’s got to be good. But if you take a step back and examine the strategy of only thrilling your base, you do see some flaws. First of all, how solid is the base to begin with? How big is the base? Donald Trump got fewer votes than his opponent in twenty sixteen. I would think that every other politician in history who got fewer votes than his opponent did last time would say, at least let’s try to get more. Maybe maybe the bad ones would say, let’s try to get just as many. But most would say let’s try to get more. Not Trump, since you won with almost three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, perhaps he figures that he’ll be in really, really good shape if he gets four or five million fewer in twenty twenty. Maybe he thinks that counts as running up the score. It’s not. By the way, once you get past, I don’t know, four million, five million deficit in the national vote, it’s very hard, if not impossible, to win the Electoral College, no matter how skewed the Electoral College is. Trump has some bigger concerns, even if he is still intent on running a strategy of aggressively repelling everyone who didn’t vote for him already, but of course, thrilling those who did so probably win one for Trump, his 2016 voters are more likely to be dead in 2020 than Democratic voters are just by age two Americans are less likely to be Republican. There’s been a small but perceptible drop in Republican registered voters and also a small but perceptible drop in the number of self-identified Republicans to pollsters. That’s maybe in the two percent range. So whenever Trump talks about or thinks about how well he does with Republicans, if there are fewer Republicans, he’s not doing as well. And again, there’s no wiggle room. He got fewer votes. The first time brings us up to the third problem facing Trump that self-identified independents, when asked, do you lean Republican or Democrat, used to break pretty much fifty fifty. But now, for the first time in more than a decade, over half lean Democrat. That’s not good for Trump and for Trump has tweeted over. And over again, that he is in ninety three or ninety four percent approval rating among Republicans, the number did in fact hit ninety four in a Gallup poll early in twenty twenty, although it seems like he was making up that number in twenty nineteen. No polls showed him at ninety three or ninety four, but it came true. I guess that’s a power of positive thinking. In June the numbers slipped to 85 percent. However, among Republicans since come up a little bit, it’s still strong, but it’s not the ninety three ninety four that he was banking on. So fewer Republicans, slightly less fervor among Republicans for Trump and a disadvantage among independents and starting from bases of unpopularity and comparative in absolute terms. Trump strategy of only exciting the people who elected him in the first place does not seem to have much to recommend it. It may in fact be a poor strategy. It may in fact be a strategy that was never wise, that never had a chance of working. That will be remembered along with all the crazy nonsense and the dishonesty in the graft and the lies as a non-starter, doomed from the get go. Let’s be honest. When we say it will be remembered, it will be really hard to remember any nuances of Trump’s tactically unwise electoral strategy when future generations are trying to contemplate his preposterously disastrous governance. But everything I’m saying is true. We could find out, wow, this game he was playing all along was a failing game, doomed to fail, had no chance. Of course, history, as Kierkegaard said, can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forward. So Trump is forwarding along once more misinformation that is not only unhelpful to Americans and students and parents and teachers and potential Korona patients, but also seemingly not helpful to himself.

S2: And that’s it for today’s show, Daniel Shrader and Margaret Kelly are just producers, each voice a character in a two part audio original series told from the perspective of an out of work classical composer who has written the world’s first palindromic opera. And the second part is about a lack of slack. Recep Moch, who tries to eat a repo. Alicia Montgomery is the executive producer of The Gist. She’s assembling a two hour, 15 minute slideshow to be consumed as the visual element alongside that Jesse Eisenberg audio play The Gist. I have written a three part audio play that starts Finn Wolf hard as Wolf Bik, a scientist attempting to meet a bird with a wild dog, the Flamingo dingo available from Audible but only barely Dupere.

S3: And thanks for listening.