Friday night after work, I stopped by the Round Robin Bar for a properly made cocktail or two, and was enjoying a Van Gogh Vanilla and Caffe del Fuego white Russian, up, shaken, with a sprinkle of powdered Sri Lankan montane cardamom when I spied a haggard gentleman with huge bags under his eyes pounding down what appeared to be Seagram’s Seven on the rocks. He was staring me, taking inordinately large draughts, obviously working up enough Dutch courage to walk over to my table, sit down and confront me. After a couple more, he did.
“Tom Collins, I presume,” he opened with that distinct, supercilious smirk borne of excessive booze which innate cowards often sport when they are drunk, while simultaneously extending his hand. “I’m Manley Cheste, White House staff.”
“Pleased to meet you,” I responded.
“Around Washington, since I got here, I’ve heard them say,” he grandly proclaimed, “that you are the smartest person inside the Beltway.”
“Which is a lot,” I shot back, “like being the tallest building in Baltimore.”
“Baltimore?” he sneered. “Godforsaken hell-hole full of bleeding-heart liberals, fourth generation welfare queens, poor white trash and illegal immigrants.”
“Yeah, it’s a pretty blue city,” I allowed. “But the cuisine is great – especially the seafood.”
“Oh, really?” he hiccuped. “And why is that?”
“Because,” I told him, “living there is so damn boring, there’s nothing to do but eat. Now, what’s on your mind, sir?”
My sudden directness having taken him somewhat aback, I could almost see him thinking to himself, trying to recall what, in fact, it was that drove him seek my company. After a short pause of inebriated confusion, however, he confidently responded. “President Trump’s [expletive] tweets, that’s what.”
“Oh, really?” I mocked, mirroring his supercilious smirk of a moment earlier. “I thought you Tumpistas proudly claim that The Donald’s Twitter rants are his direct conduit to the Real Americans he represents, boldly circumventing the lying media’s pernicious fake news and failing hidden agendas.”
Cheste raised his right hand defensively, as if he were a traffic cop signaling a bus to halt at an intersection. “Okay, okay,” he muttered from the depths of his cups, “yeah, I know. You’re saying that I’m some kind of hypocrite. All right then, you show me somebody in this room,” he challenged, offering a sweeping and quite exaggerated gesture around the Round Robin, “who isn’t one, and I’ll kiss his [expletive] twice as long as I kiss Donald Trump’s!”
“Well,” I conceded, “as long as you’re not trying to say that Donald Trump isn’t a hypocrite, I’ll let you off the hook on that one.”
“Right,” he snorted, “so come on, then! Of course we say that stuff about his tweets! It’s what his political base wants to hear, and this is Washington, right? So you gotta give the American people what they want, don’t ya?”
“In my experience,” I observed, “what the American people want is to have their cake and eat it, too. They want low taxes, no restrictions or regulations on their behavior or commerce, no matter how deleterious to themselves, to others or the planet itself; they want the world’s mightiest military, government subsidies for their home mortgages and family farms, unemployment insurance, the best healthcare modern science can provide, and a social safety net to save them when the make stupid decisions. And what’s more, they act like they’re entitled to anything they want and the whole damn world owes them a living. The attitude is ubiquitous and, ironically enough, especially pronounced among conservatives. They’re the worst, actually.”
Cheste knit his eyebrows and took another gulp from his drink. “Uh… what exactly are you… getting at?” he slurred.
“That the inhabitants of the United States of America are a bunch of spoiled children,” I clarified. “They desire unreasonable things, many of which would do them no good if they actually got them, they expect to be given those things without any effort, sacrifice or commitment, and when they don’t get them, they rant and rave and throw tantrums. The current president of the United States promised them unreasonable things, many of which would do them no good if they actually got them, and he assured them they would get those things without any particular effort, sacrifice or commitment. So consequently, when President Trump arrived in Washington, and those things didn’t immediately materialize within the attention span of a five-year-old, he took to Twitter and started ranting and raving and throwing tantrums. And now, it seems, it has, somewhat belatedly, I might note, occurred to at least some of the folks who work at the Trump White House that the president’s one-hundred-and-forty-character thumb-twiddling Internet antics are confirming the already widely-held suspicions of the international community that the USA is home to three hundred and twenty million vapid, ignorant, boorish and shallow idiots. And President Trump has achieved that dubious accomplishment, I might add, while concurrently rendering the United States of America a global laughingstock.”
“Waiter!” Cheste shouted, a bit too loudly, gesturing at his drink and at mine. “Over here! Same all around!” Turning his gaze to me for a moment, our eyes locked. Then he looked sheepishly down at the table. “Yeah, well, nobody’s perfect. Look, it’s become… readily evident… that something needs to be done about president Trump’s tweets. The question is… what?”
“So what,” I echoed, “have you considered?”
At that, Cheste did a face-palm of utter despair. “Oh, Jesus Christ. Getting a handle on this tweet thing has turned out to be a [expletive] can of worms! It’s like a goddamned accordion knot!”
“Gordian knot,” I interjected. “What have you thought of so far?”
“Ah, well, first of all,” he sighed, “a lot of his tweets get dictated to a… an assistant, I guess you’d call her.”
“A woman?” I pressed.
“Yeah, well, sure,” he nodded, “a female of the species, if you want to be politically correct and all. Truth is, Trump likes hot babes transcribing his tweets. And of course, we thought maybe we could put some kind of app on her phone that transmits the tweet to a panel of… I don’t know what you’d call them exactly… editors, maybe? Moderators? We were thinking three of them would be the best – don’t want to have too many, because we need quick response time here, right? Then they could send back an acceptable version to her and she could post that to his Twitter account. But to tell the truth, that would only solve a fraction of the problem, because that’s just during the day. The really demented [expletive] comes out when he’s alone – the stuff he types on his own, late at night or early in the morning. Handling that is a lot more complicated, you know? He’s there by himself in his bedroom with his smart phone, typing stuff and sending it to his Twitter followers right after he’s done. We were thinking, well, he doesn’t know what the time lag is between sending a tweet and when it’s visible to other people, so maybe we could switch the real Twitter app on his phone with a fake one that looks exactly the same, but sends his tweets to the… moderators, monitors… whatever we’d call them – for review and editing before the tweet gets posted. Getting a fake app like that to work with re-tweets and stuff turned out to be a technical nightmare, though,” he sighed again, this time more heavily, as our drinks arrived, “or so I was told.”
“And with either approach,” I noted, you would run the risk of Trump discovering that somebody was changing his tweets – or perhaps not posting them at all.”
“Yeah, I suppose so,” Cheste conceded. “We reviewed all his previous tweets and you’re right – what we found was, based on those, we would probably have to completely delete or replace about fifteen percent of Trump’s tweets because no amount of editing could render them less of a pain in the [expletive] for the administration.”
“Delete… or replace?” I asked. “Replace with what?”
“Hell,” he shrugged, “in most cases like that, just about anything. At first, it was suggested we just repeat tweets with less obnoxious content from some reasonably remote time in the past – six months, a year, whatever. But then there would be the content issue – would it be obvious the tweet was six months or a year old? Another possibility would be to make up a bunch of tweets with acceptable content in advance and just use them one after another. Getting those to look like authentic Trump tweets didn’t work out to be as easy as you’d think. We finally had to get a geek to program an artificial intelligence with the mental capabilities and vocabulary of a third grader to write them, and he’s still working on giving them an edge that’s nasty enough to sound genuine when you read them out loud. When we asked him about that, he said the average third grader is nowhere near as mean as Donald Trump and the AI is going to take another month to six weeks of programming to reach his level of verbal cruelty and insult.”
“You don’t think Trump would notice he hadn’t actually written substitute tweets composed by a computer?” I inquired.
“Actually,” he confided, “we’re much more worried that people who read his tweets regularly might suspect there’s something fishy – we haven’t found any evidence that Trump checks his tweets after he sends them. Which makes outright deletion an attractive option for some of us on the team.”
“Team?” I said. “Which team is that?”
“Oh, well,” he chuckled, “the ‘Team’ is just a group of us at the White House that grew out from three or four guys discussing solutions for the Trump tweet problem, that’s all. Nothing official, you know, or nothing too official, anyway, although we have managed to locate some… resources… for research and technical staff – that sort of thing.”
“Interesting,” I responded. “Any other strategies under consideration?”
“Ah… yeah,” Cheste murmured, taking another deep quaff of whiskey and contemplating the ceiling briefly before continuing. “There’s the… direct approach.”
“Somebody tells Trump he has to stop sending out tweets that haven’t undergone proper vetting by appropriate White House staff, including RNC, State, Defense and congressional liaisons, media communications and legal review – that sort of thing?” I sought to confirm.
“Um, sure, right,” he agreed.
“And what,” I asked, “do you think the odds are that Trump would acquiesce to such a proposal?”
“Oh, [expletive],” he replied with a nervous chuckle, “between zero and non-existent, of course.”
“Is there general agreement on that?” I continued.
“No… not really,” he cautiously responded. “There are, in fact, a significant number of people on the Team naive enough to think Trump will go along with the idea.”
“And which of those brave souls,” I wondered, “will be the one to meet with Trump, point out what an albatross his tweets have become and tell him he’s got to stop, right away, and let a panel of White House staff screen his thundering screeds of slander, insult, cant, fantasy, prevarication, distortion, expostulation, lies and vitriol, transforming them into a bland pablum of emasculated pipsqueak mewlings before allowing his millions of loyal Twitter followers to read them?”
“That’s just it, you see,” Cheste managed to slowly choke out, “that’s why I’m here getting [expletive]-faced tonight, because everybody’s convinced that I’m the one who should do it. And I when I saw you, I figured before I go and destroy my career, maybe you could come up with something better than me being the man who tells Donald Trump he has to quit playing with his favorite toy.”
“Well,” I told him, “since you were kind enough to buy me a drink a the Round Robin Bar on a Friday night, I will, in fact, suggest something considerably better.”
Cheste nearly spit out his whiskey in surprise and excitement. “What? What is it?” he implored, leaning close to me over the table.
“The solution,” I declared, “is to hack Trump’s Twitter account.”
Cheste’s face fell in a landslide of bewilderment. “Hack it?” he whispered. “You mean… break into it and write our own tweets?”
“Tweets,” I affirmed, “that will be attributed to President Donald Trump. Things like, ‘Being in Oval Office agrees with me – balls have doubled in size since Inauguration;’ or, ‘Just got latest nude pix of Putin – sending him a selfie of Donald’s Dominator as a thank-you;’ or, ‘Ever notice what an ugly old diesel Angela Merkel is? Found out at the summit she smells like one, too;’ or, ‘Having a sleepless night – can’t decide whether to bomb North Korea or invade Mexico;’ or, ‘Just met Ivanka’s new BFF and she’s no 10 – she’s an 11!! Gotta find a job for her here at the WH;’ or, ‘Saw Steve Bannon doing the black cleaning lady on a desk in the West Wing at 2 AM – guess nobody can call him a racist now;’ or, ‘Asking Erdogan to send me a few of his bodyguards for security at my next rally;’ or, ‘Martial law works for Duterte in the PI, why not in Chicago? First move – lock up Rahm Emanuel; or, ‘Hillary Clinton isn’t just a lesbian alcoholic socialist murdering traitor – she’s a sore loser, too;’ or, ‘Why can’t Paul Ryan get the House to do what I say? Big wimp. I hear he likes to wear dresses and makeup when nobody’s looking;’ or, ‘Maybe getting shot down and tortured makes John McCain a hero, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a pathetic loser for dissing me;’ or, ‘Telling congress I need at least ten million a year to do this job, gimme a raise. Also figure Melania should get about five million as FLOTUS, plus expenses;’ or, ‘I don’t get it – what’s the point of having all these nukes if we can’t use them once in a while;’ or…”
“Slow down,” Cheste interrupted, scribbling frantically with a ball point pen on the back of a cocktail napkin, “I can’t remember all of these.”
“Write down a plain old snail mail address on one of those napkins,” I suggested, “and I’ll send you twenty or thirty like that to get you started.”
Cheste stopped scribbling. “You’d do that?”
“In hopes that should my advice prove useful,” I explained, “you might consider booking a series of legitimate consultations with me in the future.”
“Okay, excellent!” he exclaimed. “It’s a deal. So you’re saying, if we hack Trump’s twitter account and it starts tweeting stuff like that, there will be no choice but for the account to be shut down.”
“Well,” I cautioned, “yes, the idea is, those kind of tweets ought to get Trump’s Twitter account shut down – either by the White House, by public outrage, or by Twitter, at least you’d think so, and pretty quickly, at that. But America’s so screwed up these days, who knows? You have to be open to the possibility, however remote, that Trump’s supporters might like the fake, new, totally insane, utterly obnoxious, completely toxic Trump tweets even more than the old, real ones.”
“Holy [expletive],” he moaned, reaching for another deep swig from his drink. “What then?”
“Well,” I opined, “in the former case, hacking Trump’s Twitter account and inserting fake tweets such as the examples I provided should result in cancellation of that account and subsequently, the desired cessation of Trump tweets, which will save the presidency and the United States of America. But in the latter case, where the even more extreme content becomes a fad with his political base, Trump will seek to emulate and even outdo the fake tweets, and that will probably result in the downfall of civilization as we know it.”
“I guess that’s a chance we’ll all have to take,” Cheste remarked as he gave me a cocktail napkin with a post office box address printed on it, handed our checks to the waiter along with a hundred dollar bill, and rose to leave. “I’m sure not about to risk losing my job telling Trump to knock off the tweets, and besides, as far as I can tell, Twitter looks more or less like the downfall of civilization as we know it anyhow.”
“There are times,” I confessed, “when I cannot say I would disagree.”