IT ONLY TAKES ONE

My friend Marty recently emailed to say how much he enjoyed my novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht. I hear from readers only occasionally. Then again, I don’t email authors. My purchase of their books tells them what they most want to know. Still, I need to acknowledge an author whose short story got to me.

Nathan Englander’s “The Reader” in the acclaimed anthology What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank touched me deeply. The story will appeal to any serious reader. Writers will experience a near-visceral response.

“The Reader” concerns both a writer, referred to as Author, and a devoted fan, called by Englander—you can see this coming—Reader. Author has reached relatively old age. He’s written several very successful novels—about one per decade. (No way I could take that long, but that’s another story.) Now, he’s driving cross-country on a book tour for his latest (unnamed) novel. Alas, his reputation no longer serves him. At one bookstore after another, he finds not small audiences but no audience at all. His career isn’t even running on fumes. But he encounters one exception.

Reader, also an old man, follows Author to every stop on the tour. While Author finds his fall from the heights both heartbreaking and debilitating, Reader will have none of it. He insists that Author deliver his promised reading at every store. Moreover, Reader insists that so long as he creates an audience of one, Author must give a great performance. Reader cares that much.

Why did I respond so much to this story? Fiction proves valuable because it arouses empathy. Every writer can see in Author either the fragility of success or the failure to achieve it. For most writers, the latter applies. I’m not sure it’s the worse position to be in.

Why do writers keep writing when readers aren’t reading? Maybe it’s an odd addiction. More likely, it’s a compulsion to share our observations of, and response to, the world. Think of it as therapy masquerading as art.

I don’t know how many Americans write fiction. I do know that among what may be millions of writers, only a small percentage ever get published. A smaller percentage get published regularly. Even fewer achieve enough success to give up their day jobs.

Ultimately, even the greatest writers fall by the wayside. For Author, this constitutes a living death. Of course, I’ve never come close to Author’s accomplishments. Still, everyone likes a little applause. So, when even one reader, like Marty, tells you that your work matters, you experience the emotional equivalent of being brought back to life by a defibrillator.

I relish the compliments I’ve received. A while back, I read from my story “Beautiful!” at the launch party for San Jose State University’s new edition of its annual REED Magazine. The audience offered enthusiastic applause, and the previous year’s editor asked me to sign his copy. What a rush!

It should be noted that Author’s experience translates to any profession or pursuit. Success rouses our spirits. Failure—no matter how many successes, large or small, precede it—can crush them. Check out Englander’s “The Reader.” See how you respond to Author’s pain. I felt it in spades.

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DON AND VLAD AT THE G-20

While the mainstream media lacked access to the conversation between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at the recent G-20 conference, sources of mine with digital flies on the wall produced a transcript of the first part of their private meeting. It’s kind of interesting.

Don: “So, Vlad, we finally meet face to face. My face, of course, being much more manly and handsome than yours. I mean, the tan. And the hair. But I envy you. You get to be in a room with Donald Trump and his lackey. Sorry, Rex. No one held a gun to your head. Anyway, Vlad, you have anything worthwhile to say while I make you look important?”

Vlad: “Mr. President…”

Don: “I’m glad you called me that, Vlad. Because I am president. And I’m making America great again. Wait. Since I’m President, America is great again. That’s what my other lackeys tell me. Sorry, Rex, but I’ve always had lackeys. They’re beautiful. Know why, Vlad? And you, too, Rex. Because I can say and do anything, and my lackeys go, ‘Fabulous, Mr. Trump. May I kiss your ass again? It’s been so long. Since yesterday.’ When you’re the billionaire President of America, you’re big. Huge.”

Vlad: “Mr. President…”

Don: “There you go again with that Mr. President thing. You respect me. You love me. Not in that way. Or maybe. But a guy with the three wives Donald Trump has had doesn’t swing the other way. Jesus, I’ve had women you can’t imagine. Remember my 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow? Beautiful girls all over me. Know why? Because I’m big, Vlad. Spelled h-u-m-o-n-g-o-u-s. You? You like to ride stallions. Me? I am a stallion. Not that you’re ever going to ride me. Maybe you swing that way. Is that a Russian thing? I don’t know anything about Russia. Except maybe nukes. You have nukes. Big deal. The frickin’ French have nukes. I mean, a guy like Macron has his finger on the button. Or whatever they use. Incredible. He could run the Miss Universe pageant in frickin’ Paris and never get laid.”

Vlad: “Mr. President, that’s what I want to speak with you about. Several contestants at the 2013 Miss Universe pageant have had babies. They claim you are the father. We provided DNA tests, since we have, of course, your DNA. You may have some explaining to do.”

Don: “You think I don’t use protection? Or maybe I didn’t. Doesn’t matter. Donald Trump controls his baby making thing at will. So, don’t think you can make up some ridiculous story to get me to make you a big shot by inviting you to the White House. And don’t tell me you made me President. Although I hear Russians are as good with computers as 400-pound guys in Jersey. See, America loves me. Look at this hair. I won the electoral college in the biggest landslide ever. Plus, I won the popular vote by ten million. Don’t tell me you win by more, because you’re always the only real candidate. And don’t have a cow. I’ll pay back those loans I took out from you guys by the end of my first term. Maybe after two. Possibly three. Four even. Why not more? Like you. Unless, after Christmas, I bail.”

Now you know.

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CONFESSIONS OF A CULTURE CRIMINAL

Last September, I wrote about “cultural appropriation” in “Let the Book Burning Begin.” Some attendees at a literary festival in Australia excoriated the novelist Lionel Shriver for advocating that “white” writers should be free to create characters of other ethnicities. They can also excoriate me!

My novel Slick! (one of Kirkus Reviews’ 25 Best Indy Books of 2012) presents Arab characters. They revealed all kinds of traits, some culturally specific, others simply human. Some characters I like. Others I satirize—as I did white American diplomats.

In San Café, I created—gasp—Latino characters. Again, I satirized human nature across ethnicities.

I avoided crossing most ethnic bounds in The Boy Walker but cop a plea to “cultural speciesism.” Like me, all my major characters are Jewish, but the novel’s narrator is the shattered Greenbaum family’s 12-year-old English Bulldog Brute. However, the speciesism isn’t all that grievous. Brute’s also Jewish.

In Flight of the Spumonis I had the gall to write about an Italian circus family with Irish roots. Was it okay because Italians and Irish are white? People think Jews are white, but I know many Jews with other genetic backgrounds. Also, I don’t identify that way. Still, I got enough Jewish characters into the novel to cover my tracks—including a “black” character who’s equal parts African-American, Chinese, Native American and, yes, Jewish.

Which leads me to my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht. I’m not giving much away by saying that Adonis is not—gasp again—Greek (would that be a no-no?) but Jewish. Yet he undertakes a relationship with a woman named Emily, adopted from Korea by white parents. He works closely with a Mexican-American named Fred. Can it be that in the major art museum where Adonis works, his contemporaries include people with Korean and Mexican genetics? Or must Adonis, living in a large but unnamed city, encounter only other Jews?

In Adonis, I also created an African-American character. I can imagine cultural purists salivating then snarling that Hunter Kirk must be a semi-literate gangster representing every racist’s stereotype. Or a star entertainer or athlete with no depth. Wrong! He’s the museum’s executive director. True, he shows Adonis a football in his office, but the protectors of cultural purity may be surprised:

“People always seem so startled,” said Dr. Kirk. “Or they think, Well, sure. All black men play sports.” A second-string tight end during his senior year, he’d caught the winning touchdown against his school’s archrival with seventeen seconds left. “Division Three ball. No pro scouts in the stands. Well, maybe one or two but not to see me. It was my only touchdown of the season. If you must know, of my career. A broken play. Life’s all about timing.” And discipline, he pointed out. It took discipline to earn a Ph.D. and an MBA. “No easy task for your average street kid.” He chuckled. “Of course, my father was a corporate lawyer, and my mother was a pediatrician.”

How dare a Jewish writer believe that an African-American can be educated and skilled, can lead a major arts organization, can be (final gasp) like anyone else? Take me to literary court and accuse me of recognizing the humanity in all ethnicities. I’ll plead guilty.

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PRESIDENTIAL LEGACIES

During this season’s “House of Cards” (Netflix), the wife of the presidential candidate challenging the evil incumbent Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) says of her husband: “He has a chance to be a fine president. A great president.” Maybe. But presidents don’t create legacies, and those who think they do subject the nation to great and unnecessary risks.

We hear much about the Affordable Care Act being Barack Obama’s legacy. Obamacare represented just a step forward. American healthcare has a long way to go. Moreover, President Trump and Republicans vowed to “repeal and replace.” Will they? We’ll see. But I suspect Mr. Obama’s legacy will reflect not what he set out to do but what he had to do. (More later.)

I doubt George Washington took office thinking about his legacy rather than the job at hand. He had to react to the creation of a new form of government under the Constitution. During his eight years in office, Washington had to shape the executive branch from scratch. He also had to contend with the pioneering efforts of a newly devised Congress, Supreme Court and thirteen states. All had their own Constitutional visions. Washington’s legacy consists of navigating unchartered waters successfully.

Abraham Lincoln assumed office with the nation on the brink of splitting. Shortly after his inauguration, the nation toppled over the brink. Lincoln’s greatness lay not in promoting grand plans by which history would hail him but in meeting this daunting challenge—leading in ways about which he may never have given prior thought.

Yes, some presidents see opportunities. Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark across the west and spearheaded the Louisiana Purchase. But he did so in response to Napoleon and European geopolitics. Jefferson earned good grades. To assure peace after “the war to end all wars,” Woodrow Wilson pushed the establishment of the League of Nations following World War One, which America entered well into his prsidency. Congress balked. Ultimately, the League failed. Wilson’s reputation is spotty. Franklin D. Roosevelt took office during the Depression and did much to provide a safety net for Americans while pushing the economy towards recovery. FDR made mistakes along the way, but he’s idolized by many.

George H.W. Bush, with no legacy in mind, responded to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and ousted Iraqi forces in a 100-hour war. Then he withdrew American troops. His son George W. Bush responded to 9/11 with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The younger Mr. Bush, with little knowledge of the region, decided to remake the Middle East. History will not be kind.

Back to Barack Obama. Whatever he thought he might accomplish—health care reform being a massive item on his agenda—he entered the White House with the American economy unraveling. He responded by rescuing financial institutions “too big to fail.” For that, he’s been lauded and vilified. While time will offer new perspectives, I think his actions will establish a very positive legacy if one unplanned.

I’m baffled by people who believe that a president’s first concern should be his (and someday, her) legacy. All presidents can do is shoulder their burdens and meet challenges with their best efforts. The world mocks our plans, and history exercises its own judgement.

Have a great Fourth. And remember, you can purchase THE ODD PLIGHT OF ADONIS LICHT directly from me or at Amazon. If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

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WARRIORS AND WARRIORS

I have nothing against athletes making upwards of thirty million dollars a year—or more. The NBA champion Golden State Warriors’ payroll (equivalent to 15 full-season players) came to $101 million. I don’t mind fans idolizing players. But I’m uncomfortable when people see athletes as heroes, and especially when athletes call each other “warriors.” Where does this leave the men and women in America’s armed forces?

Let’s start with money. A marginal NBA player can put away serious cash towards his future. Next year, the minimum salary for rookies (first-year players) will be $815,000. An Army staff sergeant (E6) with 10 or 11 years of service makes $41,000. In our voluntary military, pay is better than it used to be. In 1966, I made $94 a month during basic and advanced infantry training. When I entered officer candidate school at Fort Benning, my E5 pay shot up to $200 a month.

NBA players fly on chartered jets with plentiful food and drinks. Military personnel head to the Middle East on transports with no amenities. Buses take NBA players from hotel to arena and back. Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan leave their operating bases to go outside the wire in armored vehicles targeted by improvised explosive devices and other weapons.

NBA players stay in five-star hotels. Many of our troops in combat and combat-support areas live in shipping containers. During the Vietnam, Korean and Second World Wars, they slept in pup tents, hammocks or foxholes they dug themselves. If they got to sleep.

On the road, NBA players receive $106 a day for meals. That’s on top of their salaries. Today’s troops in the Middle East take what they can with them outside the wire and are thrilled to dine at a McDonald’s or Pizza Hut when they return to base.

After an NBA team wins a championship, it’s feted with a parade and usually—this year may prove an exception; Golden State players and coaches are not fans of the president—an invitation to the White House. Our troops return to the U.S. to be met by their families and maybe a military band. Many are rushed immediately to hospitals and VA centers.

I’m not calling on Americans to boycott the NBA or other professional sports. I enjoy sports, too. But most Americans—including all of America’s NBA players—have never served in the military. They don’t relate to the risks our troops take and the horrific personal consequences of bad government decisions, like invading Iraq. What can we do?

First, urge professional athletes, coaches, the media and fans to stop calling ballplayers warriors. Let’s save that terminology for people who train for or go into combat and dangerous combat-support roles. Second, let’s support our troops beyond wearing cammies to the ballgame or the mall, and posting photos of military and military-style weapons on Facebook as if combat is just another video game.

Today, I made another contribution to Fisher House, which helps families of military members live for a while at no cost near the hospitals which house their recuperating loved ones. Find out more at fisherhouse.org.

Let’s get real. NBA “warriors” face no risk of losing life or limb save from a freak accident. The warriors who protect us face risks daily. They too deserve love.

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LANGUAGE AND MEANING

Most people recognize the first verse of the Book of Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Clear? Not really. Commentators and scholars translate the Hebrew word B’reishit—“In the beginning”—in several ways. This gives rise to multiple insights into God’s actions. Language—in translation or out—often fails to accurately convey meaning. We might apply this principle to the June 8 testimony of former FBI director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Re Genesis, the Soncino Press (1993) translation stays with “In the beginning.” The Stone Chumash (printed Torah) offers: “In the beginning of God’s creating…” The Jewish Publication Society (1999) and the scholar Robert Alter prefer “When God began to create…”. Everett Fox chooses “At the beginning…” As Nahum Sarna notes, “The mystery of divine creativity is, of course, ultimately unknowable.”

Congress and the American people face another mystery—the meaning in President Trump’s words regarding an investigation into General Michael Flynn, Trump’s fired national security advisor. Former FBI director James Comey, also fired by Trump, testified that Trump told him: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Because Comey said he met in private with Trump, liberal commentators and Democrats exclaim, “Obstruction of justice!” Conservative commentators and Republicans respond, “No way!”

During Comey’s testimony, Senator Jim Risch (R–Idaho), skeptical that Trump did anything wrong, focused on the word hope. Risch asked Comey if was aware of any successful prosecution of someone who hoped something illegal was done. Comey said no. But that, despite Risch’s efforts, hardly ends the matter.

Read Comey’s words, and important details of his conversation with the President go missing. Hope, Risch suggested, represents wishful thinking. Trump, in private, simply shared his yearning that Flynn, “a good guy,” not face prosecution. But which word follows hope? You. If Trump uttered these words, he spoke not to himself but directly to Comey. “I hope you can see your way clear…” It’s hardly a stretch to interpret this as Trump telling Comey to drop the investigation without saying the precise words, “You drop the investigation.” Personally, I’ve never said, “I hope you can…” to anyone without expressing a clear intent that they do what I for all intents and purposes asked. In this context, I hope creates an expectation.

I mentioned missing details. Whatever words Mr. Trump uttered, we lack a recording, which Trump hinted at having, although he may not. What tone of voice did he use? We don’t know. Intonation colors any word or set of words. Trump’s tone could indeed have indicated wishful thinking. Or it could have projected a presidential order. We also lack an eye on such critical factors as Trump’s facial expression and body language. All these help make us understood. For that matter, we can’t see Comey’s physical response.

Will Comey’s memo regarding Trump’s hope be accepted by Robert Mueller, the Justice Department’s special investigator, as proof of wrongdoing? We’ll see. Will President Trump testify before the Senate subcommittee? We’ll see about that, too. But I doubt we’ll see a smoking gun.

Still, a pattern seems to be emerging. Each day, it becomes more disturbing. And when I write disturbing, let there be no doubt about what I mean.

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GLOWING IN THE DARK

In my April 7 post, “What I Have and What I Don’t,” I wrote that I have prostate cancer. My urologist provided several options. To minimize side effects, I chose hormone therapy and radiation—45 precision zappings over nine weeks. I’ve begun both. Interesting changes are taking place.

In April, I took the first of six quarterly shots of Lupron to suppress my testosterone. Ordinary men may quake, but as everyone knows, I had so much testosterone that even eliminating it will not make me any less of a sex symbol than I am in my own mind. My exploits are legend. Which Carolyn translates as fantasy. But a boy can dream. Which Carolyn translates as hallucinate.

Fortunately, the decrease in testosterone has barely impacted my life. Yes, I’ve taken up needlepoint, but my mother did that, so it’s probably genetic. Besides, the (truly) legendary New York football Giants lineman Roosevelt Grier did needlepoint. He also became a successful actor. I might start knitting.

Admittedly, I experience hot flashes throughout the day. And night. It’s a great way to keep warm in winter. Is it winter yet? It is in Australia and Argentina, but it doesn’t get particularly cold there. In fact, San Francisco winters don’t get all that cold. Maybe Carolyn and I will go to New York in January if temperatures approach zero.

My radiation treatments are simple. I lie down and a huge machine revolves around me and pinpoints radiation at my tumors. The day before a treatment, I can’t eat gas-inducing foods. No spicy stuff. No beans. No raw vegetables. Carolyn helped me work out a diet for the next two months. Still, I continue to release gas at interesting moments. The technical word rhymes with fart. Wait! That is the word.

On the bright side, I glow in the dark. The other night, I got up to go to the bathroom and didn’t have to stumble around the bed. In fact, Carolyn called out that I should turn off the damn light. The bedroom was pitch dark.

The only problem with glowing is, I can’t choose a color to match, say, a shirt I’m wearing. I’ve taken up biofeedback, hoping that when the mood strikes, I can change purple to green or orange to blue. Not easy. Oh, and when I’m out at night, I attract moths.

Still, life goes on. I can work on my next novel. It may take three or four years to complete. I also can promote my new novel, The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht. I’m doing that in this post. Are you ready to buy a copy? I hope so. Not that I’m trying to guilt-trip anyone, although my friends will disagree. It’s just that I have copies left which I’d love to sell and sign. Or have Amazon sell, so I can receive a royalty on each that won’t buy coffee at Starbucks.

Look, I’m only human and therefore self-interested. So, if half the people who say, “Oh, how exciting that you have a new novel out” buy a copy, I’ll probably be featured in The New York Times. Or maybe in my synagogue’s newsletter. Either achievement would be as using my radioactive brain to glow the blue of Adonis’ eyes.

Unashamed reminder: You can purchase THE ODD PLIGHT OF ADONIS LICHT directly from me or at Amazon. If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

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THE CLASH OF CULTURES

I often refer to Samuel Huntington’s 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Huntington posited that the world is divided into religious and national entities that would be at odds with each other given the Soviet Union’s fall. The book has been criticized, but I believe it to be correct. In a parallel vein, it’s certainly apt to say that in 2017, America is riven by a clash of cultures.

The 2016 presidential election pitted blue coastal elites against red heartland Americans. Cultural differences played a major role. Many voters took opposite positions less on the economy and foreign relations than on guns, global warming, abortion, and a multi-gender, multi-ethnic America.

If you’ve traveled or lived in a region not your own color, you understand. Differences in culture and perception are a fact of life. This becomes a problem only when two critical factors go ignored. First, being immersed in a culture not your own is perfectly acceptable—if those “opposites” don’t force their preferences on others. Second, Americans share a common culture in many ways. Red and blue, we (if not everyone) love sports. We go to movies and watch TV in all its broadcast forms. We gobble pizza, barbecue on holidays, go to the seashore or lake, hike and bike, honor our troops and take Mom out for Mother’s Day brunch. Conservatives, like liberals, drink wine. Liberals, like conservatives, drink beer. Christians of all political persuasions decorate Christmas trees.

Sadly, red folks and blue folks come into little contact, since the nation lacks a military draft or mandated national service. So, Americans often see only stereotypes. Many adopt a philosophy undercutting the nation’s core beliefs as a democracy. They define different as bad. They consider illegitimate people with cultural preferences not matching their own. The cultural divide leads to a political divide increasingly wide and bitter. Everyone shouts. No one listens.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned the Book of Leviticus. We’re now in the Book of Numbers, but Leviticus remains on my mind. Leviticus 19:18 commands, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Both red and blue types pay lip service to this verse. It demands more.

  • LOVE: Actions, not just words, prove the real measure of our intentions and integrity.
  • YOUR: The neighbor to whom Leviticus refers is ours, not someone else’s
  • NEIGHBOR: In a world grown more interconnected, we must expand our definition of neighbor from those nearest us to those at some distance. We can’t come to the rescue for everyone, but we can respect all people’s inherent worth.
  • AS YOURSELF: We cannot complain of prejudice and violence inflicted on us if we devalue, hate or persecute anyone else.

 

Democrats often vilify conservatives, as Hillary Clinton did in her sorrowful reference to Donald Trump’s “basket of deplorables.” Republicans eagerly point to liberals as “fake Americans” who control “fake news.” Yet most conservatives and liberals want the same things: good jobs, healthcare and education for their families, safety and peace. Because these issues cross cultural lines, good will and effort can help us find a measure of political common ground.

Yes, red and blue states—or communities—will continue to follow diverse cultural imperatives. But a closer look reveals that we’re all different just the same.

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TRUMP’S RESIGNATION SPEECH

Jan. 20, 2018. President Donald J. Trump resigned today on the one-year anniversary of his inauguration. His resignation came three weeks before special investigator Robert Mueller will release his report on alleged collusion between Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia. Leaked highlights of the report have produced negative reactions from Congressional leaders and the media. A transcript of Mr. Trump’s remarks follows.

“My fellow Americans. Real Americans who know what’s made America great again. Me! I’m sad. No one can be sadder than Donald Trump. Because the witch hunt… So witchy. But I’m glad. Because I’m rich. They hate that. And you know who they are.

“You keep hearing all that fake news from the so-called media. Terrible. So terrible! But the real news is, I’m here to celebrate.

“Donald Trump is celebrating the greatest presidency in the history of the real United States. Except those phony states on the coasts. I mean, the coasts north of swampy Washington D.C. Not the South. Not the Gulf out there somewhere. And California. California could drop into the ocean—the Pacific, right?—nobody would care.

“Please, don’t applaud. Not yet. Okay. Go ahead. I deserve it. In just one year, Donald Trump has made America great again. So great! That’s why I’m going to let a younger man carry on and keep America great. Not as strong a slogan as make America great, but there’s only one Donald Trump. Except for Donald Trump, Jr. But he’s a junior, right?

“I hear crying out there. So many people crying. You miss me already. So sad. I mean, one of the greatest presidents in history, right? Washington. Lincoln. Reagan maybe. Kind of Hollywood. And Trump! No. Hold the applause. Okay, don’t. I mean, you name a great thing, I’ve talked about it. Like telling Congress to cut taxes to stimulate ten percent growth. Four? I said four? Details. And keeping Muslims out of our country. That screw-up’s on the so-called courts. Pardon my French but they’re just like Congress. No balls!

“And China. I had Xi Jinping for dinner at Mar-a-Lago. I let him see how we handle our business. Now he knows. And those new islands China’s building in the South China Sea? Great development opportunities for American companies. Jobs, jobs, jobs. You’ll see the Trump name everywhere.

“North Korea? They only launched a dozen missiles during the past year. Not even. Something like eight. Maybe fourteen. Details. Doesn’t matter. Know why? The kid with the funny haircut, he’s scared. Of me. Syria? Very peaceful now. Very little fighting. Great opportunities for American companies to rebuild some of those ruins. A Trump golf course in Damascus? Beautiful! That’s how you kick ISIS’ ass. And Iran’s.

“Sure. Applaud. I earned it. That’s why starting today, I’m going to spend more time with my family. Who knew being president would take more than three days a week? Four in a crisis? And if President Pence needs me, he can call my villa outside Moscow. Or text. But not tweet. Donald Trump doesn’t follow tweets. Facebook, maybe.

“No worries. My portrait in the Oval Office? It’ll inspire him. The steely eyes. The iron jaw. All those emeralds and rubies set in a gold crown. Za zdarovye!”

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LEVITICUS AND THE PRESIDENCY

This week, Jews studying Torah are completing the Book of Leviticus. Its copious laws include animal sacrifices, sexual unions, physical impurities and dietary restrictions. While not necessarily the writers’ intentions, Leviticus also informs us about the American presidency.

The last portion of Leviticus offers the Tochechah or Admonition (essentially repeated in Deuteronomy). If the Israelites obey God’s commandments, they will live in peace and prosperity. If not, they will suffer calamities, including starvation (even cannibalism), war and exile among the nations. God, however, doesn’t intend to punish the Israelites on a whim. God wants them to exercise their free will (the Rabbis discuss free will at length) and make proper choices.

Granted, many of Leviticus’ biblical injunctions seem archaic. But the essence of the Tochechah, even for atheists, is simple. A community or nation enjoys the best odds for tranquility and good fortune when it chooses to do right. A society of just laws reinforced by compassion will—eventually—outperform one riddled with anarchy or tyranny and selfishness.

Where does this leave the United States? We pride ourselves on our democracy, imperfect though it may be. We believe that in regularly choosing our leaders, we promote life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But as God warns Israel, we can make good choices or bad ones. The latter can bring dire consequences.

Last November, America chose a new president. The popular vote went to Hillary Clinton, but as provided by the Constitution, the Electoral College determined the winner. That was Donald Trump. Many Trump supporters had no idea what his policies would be; Mr. Trump apparently had no idea either. But many voters liked that “he says what he thinks.” Mr. Trump said a lot, including calling his opponent “Crooked Hillary.”

Since taking office, Mr. Trump referred to his predecessor Barak Obama as a “Bad (or sick) guy!”, called the media—a bulwark of democracy—a “disgrace” for spreading “fake news,” and labeled James Comey, the FBI director looking into Trump campaign connections to Russia, a “showboat” and “grandstander.” That was after he allegedly asked Mr. Comey to go easy on fired national security advisor Mike Flynn—and before Mr. Trump revealed sensitive intelligence concerning ISIS airline bomb plots to two senior Russian officials.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to determine if the Trump campaign engaged in collusion with Russia. Mr. Mueller will be given wide latitude, including the power to bring criminal charges. Mr. Trump issued a brief statement welcoming the special counsel. Then he backtracked, calling the investigation a “witch hunt.”

Mr. Mueller may find no grounds to impeach Mr. Trump. (Trial in the Senate would follow.) Impeachment doesn’t concern popularity or competence. I suspect, however, that the special investigator’s report will highly damage Mr. Trump’s presidency, very possibly to the point of inducing resignation.

As to Leviticus, it’s not all doom and gloom. God promises that even after being severely punished, Israel can choose to return to the commandments. If it does, God will restore the people to their land. Going forward, Americans and their representatives in Congress will have to make difficult choices regarding chaos in the White House—chaos we chose to inflict on ourselves.

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