Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Mary Trump's Book: Too Much And Never Enough




It is just so sad. That's my reaction to reading Mary's book. My God, the anguish that everyone in this super-dyfunctional family has had to live with! No one escaped. Mary's father, Fred Jr., “Freddie,” tried to escape and failed. He succumbed to a heart condition and alcoholism, divorced, solitary, poor, living in a spare small room in the garret of the Trump House in Queens (“The House” Mary calls it, the center of pathology from which no one could really escape) where he lay ill and dying for weeks when no one even called a doctor or took him to a hospital before he finally died at 42. Mary loved him, but being only 16 and infected by the family dysfunction, she accepted the family judgement that it was his own fault, that he hadn't measured up, that he had gone off on larks like being a commercial pilot and marrying a flight attendant (Mary's mother Linda) when his father had wanted him to succeed him as head of the Trump Company and keep the family business thriving as a good first son should and he couldn't make it. So he died for his alleged sins.

Mary grieves for her father now, probably thinking “if only I knew then what I know now.” All the others suffered, too, each in his or her own way. Her grandmother, Fred Sr.'s wife who was also named Mary, was chronically unhappy and suffered the misogyny of Fred Sr. The middle child of the five Trump children, Elizabeth, has been an introverted and depressed ghost. The eldest, Maryanne, succeeded in being a lawyer and a judge, but she also participated in the Trump hallmark dishonesty. She was part of the tax evasion fraud of wealth transfer in the family documented in the New York Times, and she joined the three-sib plot to defraud Mary and her brother Fritz from any semblance of a rightful inheritance. Robert, the youngest sibling, was the agent assigned by the other two after Fred died to get Mary and Fritz to sign the papers that would consent to the inheritance plan. The three Trump siblings stuck together in telling Mary and Fritz that the nearly $1 billion estate was only worth $30 million. The deluded wife of Fred declared him virtually devoid of funds in what seems perhaps to have been a gaslighting event. When Mary and Fritz delayed signing the documents, the sibling trio cut off Fritz's baby son's health insurance as he was being treated for infantile spasms, a very severe neurological disease of childhood. It was perfectly legal to do so. The lying about the value of the estate? Not so legal. As though there wasn't enough to go around. Trump Family Values. Just win, baby.

The original villain of the piece, of course, is Fred, Sr., who we learn grew up in a German-speaking family – so one would have thought that the Trumps' immigrant status should be palpable to them. Or perhaps because Fred became very wealthy, they learned the wrong lessons. He was a man out of time and maybe out of place: cold, authoritarian, wearing a three piece suit at all times and asserting control through absolute denial of the validity of feelings of others, even his wife's while she was severely ill – “You're fine, aren't you Toots?” Then she goes to the hospital for surgeries and recuperation for months on end. We don't know how Fred got to be that way, and Mary is probably in no position to know about this, and that's not part of her mission here. We just know how he was, and how his dominance forced everyone to adopt his point of view. When he finally deterioratd into dementia, it appears he received little family support. It must have been pathetic and even funny, the way Lear is funny wandering at the end, but ineffably sad. It was dog eat dog chez Trump.

Fred was the typical absent father who ran his company obsessively. The mother was in charge of raising the girls and the father the boys, but his being at work all the time limited his fathering chores, which it appears he was unsuited for, anyway. Even in this killer of a family, everyone strives for his favor. His success in business was largely from government-funded housing in the outer boroughs, Brooklyn and Queens. He got the jobs through “political connections,” the substance of which we are left to imagine. His large complexes featured impressive lobbies that bespoke luxury, but the apartments themselves were cramped and maintenance was lackadaisical. The Trump brand then was glitter outside, decrepit on the inside, and neglect after the deal is done. Fred's crucial insight was to retain ownership and carry no debt, which made them huge cash cows.

Although an effective money-maker, Fred was narrow and gauche and could never penetrate to the higher social ranks in Manhattan – he was Queens all the way. As his wealth grew, it appears he didn't know how to spend it, so accumulation itself appeared to be the purpose, and the personal control that accumulation conferred.

Fred is not the only father who envisioned his oldest son, and if not his oldest then one of the others, taking over the company and making him immortal, with nothing ever to be sold, like a shrine. When Fred Jr. dropped out of that fantasy, Donald was ready to take it up. He aped the old man, and then he entranced and gulled the old man with strutting, swagger and lies, which the old man was more than willing to gobble up and fund, even as the bailouts got bigger. But, after all, Donald did crack Manhattan as Fred Sr. had never been up to doing, got a lot of press, was a somebody, which Fred couldn't be. Fred was not the only father to let his fantasies run away with him. And Donald was not the only son to gull his old man and to try to fulfill his fantasies, to try to do what the old man would have loved to have done himself, to have cracked Manhattan and the world. The difference of Donald from others who inherited and then make themselves bigger – compare Ted Turner, for instance – is that Donald didn't really make or do anything, he just blew himself up with air and hype and tried to push it for all it was worth. It was worth a lot to Fred.


This book is written with a clinical eye, which I as a pediatrician appreciate. It can't be an accident that Mary became a PhD in clinical psychology. When you are one of the victims of a toxic family, what better expertise to acquire than that of a PhD clinical psychologist, studying family dynamics and family therapy? She could not only learn to understand herself, but she could help others who find themselves lost in similar situations. Relatives of gun victims, relatives of drunk driver victims, relatives of those stricken with diseases do the same – let at least some good come of this horrible event, let's get some legislation passed, let's fund research and treatment. Good for Mary! As she helps others in her work, so she tries to help the country with this book.

Mary's way of thinking is not so different from what we pediatricians are familiar with. Mary declares her family's affliction not rare, but uncommon. That's clinician talk. When confronted with a case like Donald's, we clinicians think, what happened in the mother/child dyad, what innate characteristics of the child were at play, and what were the family dynamics that caused this monstrosity? Something caused this.

For the mother/child dyad, Mary focuses on Donald when he was two and his mother had her major illness and was effectively removed from Donald's life for a year and replaced by … nobody. Mary tells us that this is the stage of a child's life when their emotions are sensed by the intimate caregiver, reflected back to the child, and the child comes to sense what his or her emotions are, and learns how he or she can be comforted. That's what parents, and archetypically mothers, do. When Donald had nobody to mirror and comfort him, his reaction must have been to deny his feelings, she says, to be cold, and in not recognizing his own feelings he was unable to recognize anyone else's, and so became cruel. I'm a little rusty on my first year med school Erik Erikson's stages of development, but I'm willing to go along with her analysis as being at least a good part of the truth. I have to admit that I have always thought less dynamically that Donald might have had the syndrome of oppositional defiance, which doesn't specify a cause, but many assume it comes at least partially from the innate nature of the child.

But whatever the origin, these developed characteristics of Donald's, the self-centered win and don't look back, don't worry about the feelings of others, and then the bonus of grandiosity – they lit up Fred's eyes as he saw his successor. This brings in family dynamics. I was introduced to the developing field of family therapy as a pediatric resident at UC San Francisco in the 1970's. I so vividly remember my astonishment when, rather than simply meeting with individual patients, we learned to treat the family as a unit, as a system within which all the individual component parts (the people) interacted and affected each other. Meeting with the family in the room, not just individually, was key.

In that family therapy rotation I remember being confronted with an elementary school-aged boy who was being aggressive at school and disrespectful to and uncontrollable by his mother. At the meeting we saw the mother express her understandable distress, and we saw the father agreed verbally, but we could also see, when our instructors pointed it out to us, that the father's facial expressions and body language said something completely different. They said non-verbally how proud he was of his son for being a “manly” little boy. The confused boy receiving this double message looked at his Mom giving society's party line, but he was not at all unaware of his father's pride in his “spunk.” He sought to please his father. It was complicated. The father of course had his own history, and there could have been a fair amount of misogyny involved. It was a classically dysfunctional family.

A further concept we learned in family therapy was that of the “identified patient.” The family comes in with the medical complaint that relates to one family member – she won't stop eating junk, he is bullying everybody, etc. Everyone in the family sees the squeaky wheel. But what the family therapist sees is how the pathology of the family system is expressing itself in this one member. If Fred Jr. had presented to a doctor with depression and the doctor referred him for family therapy, the therapist would have called Fred Jr. the “identified patient.” The family certainly thought there was something wrong with him. Today, we all might view Donald as the identified patient. But family therapy says, yes, those are the visibly ill ones, but they are expressing the illness of the whole system.

Donald and Fred, of course, would not be caught dead in family therapy. But if they had been seen, Fred would be clearly not giving the double signals that the father of our family at UCSF did. That was minor leagues compared to Fred. Fred would be seen giving one large unambiguous signal, giving it to everyone, and everyone would be seen as trying to win his approval, or to duck and not be seen. He would brook no opposition, he of the three piece suit and imperious demeanor.

When you're caught in the situation with a family like this, there are no magic bullets. There will be some survivors like Mary – barely, it seems – but most will continue to be sociopathic as they learn to exist in the system of the family, and in time it will be gradually diluted out by marriages, changing circumstances, and new generations emerging with less direct experience. In the meanwhile, one has to hope just that it won't come to one big blowout. Lacking the ability to go back in time and nip it in the bud, one can only seek to control all the collateral damage by the sociopaths.  Mary's most plaintive sentence in the whole book is this: Donald has never been loved. But so terribly sad as that may be, everyone needs to be warned, and that is what Mary is doing.


I have another memory from my first year in med school that is applicable. Our class was in the old Peter Bent Brigham Hospital auditorium on a Saturday morning, and beloved psychiatrist John C. Nemiah interviewed a patient in front of us. Under Nemiah's sensitive and friendly questioning, the patient told his florid story of how resounders had been placed in his brain, and how he got explanations of the world and orders to act through them. The statements he made had some verisimilitude to a possible reality, if you ignored that it was resounders delivering the news. After he had left, Nemiah asked us freshmen med students how we would describe the patient. Those of us headed for psychiatry took the lead, describing his paranoid ideation in detail, noting his affect, commenting on irregularities in his logic. I was impressed by their observations and expositions. Then Nemiah took charge and said, look, those are interesting and good observations, but let's just look at this guy, OK. What do you see? He's crazy! He's nuts! The shock of recognition grabbed us and we laughed hard, to the last person. Forest, said Nemiah, forest – not the trees. (He probably didn't say that, but that was his message.) I loved Nemiah.

So, our forest is the Trump family. They are totally nuts. A crazy father raised a crazy family. Just because you are rich and financially successful doesn't mean you can't be nuts. “High-functioning,” yes, incredibly able to raise money in the first generation and to spend it in the second, but nuts. A family constantly conspiring against each other, filled with terror and lies, yet reassembling at The House like clockwork for the birthdays and holidays and such. A family where the divorced spouses were induced to be part of the assemblage, until Marianne and Blaine, Robert's wife, asserted that they would no longer come if Freddie's ex-wife Linda, Mary's mother, were to continue to be included, thus exiling her. Forget Mary's feelings. “Feelings?” Good luck with that. A family where secrets and plots and illegalities were rife, where paying taxes was the ultimate sin, where the celebrated son and heir commerced in lies, damned lies, and false statistics. We can focus on the trees, which are astounding to behold, but let's take Nemiah's way and look at the forest. This is crazy town.

As to scion Donald, the self-proclaimed very stable genius, if there's one thing he isn't, it's “very stable.” But we should take the claim of genius more seriously. How could someone so unqualified, so ignorant, someone with probable dyslexia and ADHD and therefore someone who can't read well and can't concentrate well, someone so florid, so unmoored to the reality we commonly agree on, so full of constant easily-refutable lies, so totally cynical, how can such a person actually take over not only one of the two great parties of the republic, but the apparatus of state as well? How can someone whose schtick is best described as Borscht Belt fear, hate, and diminishment; whose taste is lower working class; whose vocabulary is elementary; whose greatest achievement was to be a third rate reality TV host; whose businesses were disasters, frauds, and hoaxes; whose ability to empathize seems totally absent; whose habits are publicly disreputable; whose inclinations are publicly gangsterish; who is obvious in his search for thieves and knaves to serve him – how can someone like that rise to the pinnacle of power in a well-established democracy? If that is not genius, what is?

Geniuses have their own individual ways. If there ever were a crazy genius, it is not some mad scientist making a Frankenstein monster in some home cellar, it is not an evil genius in the labs of Wuhan creating a lethal virus, it is not a James Bond villain. The crazy genius is someone who has found a way of seizing power and orchestrating destruction of government, someone who is seen by conventional society as a clownish and fraudulent would-be gangster, someone nurtured and enabled by a crazy but high-functioning family, who manages to disrupt the country and the world.


That's the forest. That's what Mary is telling us. She is saying, don't fall for his bullshit, he has always pulled this stuff, he has always blustered his way through things, he has always lied and manipulated, and he was selected for these characteristics and promoted for them and enabled for them by a very sick family with an immense amount of money. Here's how he lied, here is how cruel and acquisitive he has been, and please, people, see it for what it is. He's just doing what he has always done. You can see the end result as it appears now, but I see its long history, how the process has worked, how it came to be this way, how it has been this way for a long time, and I see how dangerous it is. America, don't fall for it.

Budd Shenkin

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Time Flies


Time's arrow is cruel, very cruel. The very definition of relentless, don't you think? Time impaled my parents, first my mother with breast cancer at age 72, then my father at 92, finally – he had warded off many an illness until he finally said, take me off everything that is prolonging my life. Time will get me, and you, too, and then my kids, sure as shooting. Time is a relentless mother-fucker, believe me.

Not that this is a big discovery. Time is to people not as water is to fish. Fish don't know they're in water, they just swim. We, on the other hand, we all know about time all too well, even though we live our lives often ignoring it. The Capuchin monks have a museum in Rome featuring their skulls. The caption to the display says, as you are now, so we once were; as we are now, so you will be. https://archaeology-travel.com/italy/capuchin-crypt-rome/. We were there when we were in Rome, Ann and Peter and I, back in the day, when we lodged in a hotel right down the street, and I cadged a room on the top floor overlooking the whole city from a huge roof deck – as they say, never accept the first room they give you, which in this case was like a cell. We moved to a new room, same price, and victory was ours! The Eternal City at our feet. Although “eternal “ is, we know, a exaggeration.

I wrote the other day – where, on Twitter? evanescent twitter? – that we have fought against time for a long time. Pictures of animals on cave walls that last for eons, made by those hands and minds of long-ago victims of time. Not that long ago, actually, if you put it into thei perspective of the earth's being four and a half billion years old, life on earth three and a half billion years, so cave people were just yesterday in that perspective, but just as gone as that original molten ball of earth that eventually cooled and permitted us to emerge and grow.

Then, after cave paintings, I thought about the oral epic story. Gilgamesh – Gilgamesh never did that much for me. (I hear my father's voice – “Didn't impress you then, big shot?” He would say that with a loving smile, he wasn't belittling me, I was the first-born Jewish son, and I wasn't to be belittled, a burden I carried all my life, but I guess it worked, channelled me, if that's what you want, persistence works. Anyway, who am I to belittle Gilgamesh?)

Then came writing, keeping records, recording stories of wars, heroics, love poems, philosophy, thoughts, talk, imagination, all captured by the code of lines on a surface. Architecture, too, all the trappings of civilization, capturing and freezing, then being lost, becoming decrepit, superannuated, obsolescent, obsolete, forgotten, and sometimes then unearthed and resurrected. Time just keeps going.

My parents were aware of it. They took the technology of the day to freeze time as much as they could. They took eight millimeter home movies in the 1940's and 1950's. Pictures of us running under the boardwalk. “What happened to that cute little boy?” my father would wonder as he looked at me in later years. They loved us so, their loved their young family, they remembered their own childhoods which we heard about in dribs and drabs. They had some old photographic portraits with names loosely attached – that is, there were no labels, just the photos, and we were told who was who but who could remember? They were our ancestors and relatives, but they looked just like everyone else from the 19th century, hats, dresses, mustaches, we are related to them? I guess so. That's how it works.

“You should have a hobby, Buddy,” my parents told me. I guess I was 12 or 13. We were still living in West Philadelphia, the four kids going to school just outside the city limits at Friends' Central School, so I was probably in 6th or 7th grade. I thought and answered, “Photography?” In no time I had all the equipment to develop negatives and prints with trays and chemicals down in the cellar, with a red light that wouldn't spoil the film and a yellow light for I forget what. I guess time has dimmed my memory.

I read about composing shots, f-stops, everything, and got pretty good. I was official photographer at my great aunt Sadye's wedding at her Rittenhouse Plaza apartment, and developed and printed the pictures of her and my new Uncle Henri the music publisher, and the overexposed eight by ten prints I produced were put under the glass top of Aunt Sadye's dresser forever. It was still there when she died at 96, lonely, asking me as a young doctor, is there a pill she could take to end it all? She was impatient in her loneliness, but her death was just a question of timing, as usual.

I am amazed at all the time and care and hopes my parents put into me. Supplying me with a hobby. I don't think I was grateful enough. I don't think I put enough back into my own kids. It's pretty hard when you're divorced.

I was in my thirties when the first camcorders appeared. I wanted one badly, I had the money, I saw the one I wanted at Eid's in North Berkeley, but I was taught to be thrifty. My soon to be wife Ann taught me to spend the money if that was what I wanted. So I bought it and got a tripod thrown in when I whined to Eid that it was expensive, but I knew its value. I remembered my parents eight millimeter movies, how they would get them out and run them sometimes and we would watch, and one time – it was still in the West Philly house – they were running it and I pointed at a cute little blond girl in a stroller, and I cried out, “There's Susie Levin!” But Susie's parents Herb and Beck were in the next room, visiting from their house a block and a half away, and Susie had died a few years ago from leukemia, decades before medicine learned how to cure it, and they could hear me, so in a moment of panic my Mom put her hand in front of the projector so the screen would go dark, and she hissed: “Shhhh!” Their pain was, of course, too great, people just can't talk about it. Just the other day I heard Peter Bogdanovich say how his mother could never talk about his brother who died at a year and a half. It never goes away, it perseveres, it is only covered up. The time up on the screen, they were good times, but not forever. It was long ago. Beck died a few years ago when she was almost a hundred, living alone near Rittenhouse Square, I think.

I started taking videos of our kids as my parents had taken movies of us. I got lost in the dancing at Play Day at Henry C. Lea Elementary School at 47th and Spruce Streets when I was in kindergarten, and there it was on the screen, anytime we wanted to look at it. I still have it, now on a DVD. I took lots of videos, lugged that bulky camera attached to a heavy recorder strapped over my shoulder, to games and even vacations. On Lanai I remember the busboy asking, “What's that?” It was bulky. I was relentless, I put in the effort.

We would go back from Berkeley to Philly regularly. My parents were then living in their I. M. Pei house on Society Hill on Fourth and Orianna, not far from Independence Hall, in the neighborhood my father had been born in and raised in and been happy in – he remembered when there were more horses than cars, he claimed, although I don't know, he was born in 1915 and was known to exaggerate – or lie, actually, or misremember – until the depression came and his father died of a brain abscess and his mother's family's bank failed and they moved in with a relative in some apartment, went the story. But here he was with my Mom back in city center, happy, prosperous, renewed.

I was in my late thirties, I guess, and newly confident. Camcorders were still bulky, so I left mine at home and rented one in Philly – what an expenditure! We also stayed at a nearby Holiday Inn instead of bunking with my parents – what an expenditure! And then I led them to my project.

“Buddy wants to do this,” said my mother, telling my father to go along with it. It had taken me that long to break through her iron grip on organizing the family, or so it seemed. Torch-passing, maybe, as we all got older. And what I did was, I got my mother and father in their car, Dad driving and Mom in the back seat trying to direct, certainly contributing to finding the best way to our objectives, which were all the places they had ever lived in, to film them and narrate. We would go from center city where my Dad was born, to the apartment on 42nd street where I was taken home from the hospital when I was born and where my earliest memories are – the shadows of the lights coming through the blinds as the clanging street car made its way past the apartment and I could track how the light and shadows on the walls progressed as it passed, to the house at 4931 Osage right around the corner from my mother's parents, then to the one at 422 South 47th where I learned photography and chess and had an aquarium, to the 52nd street squalid apartment where my mother was born (“the family manse, she narrated) and then out to 526 North Wynnewood Avenue where I went to Lower Merion High.

Then we went back home to Society Hill, and I don't know if it was that day or another, it might have been the next day, when I videotaped Mom and Dad in the TV room talking about old times and my father was standing up remembering when a patient, a relative or someone prominent, had been sent specially to Dad to operate on his back, I think it was. It was some kind of a tough operation. He was assisted in the operation by a resident from South America who had pustular acne, and he contaminated the op site with a bacterium that the elementary antibiotics they had at the time couldn't cure. Nowadays, of course, it wouldn't be a great problem, but the time for great antibiotics had not yet arrived. My Dad said, “I made rounds on him every day. It took him such a long time to die.”

“Don't, Henry,” my mother begged. But he had recounted it, and all the anguish that went with it. I have it all on tape. Not that I look at it. But I sent it to my siblings and I think they watched it, not that we talk about it, just one or two comments once or twice.

Back home in Berkeley I taped it when we told the older four kids that a new one was on the way, to their wonder. I taped it when we told them it was to be a boy and the three boys were thrilled and Sara, not so much. We taped Brian and Nicky and Allie on their skateboards and on their bikes, and Peter at his Little League games. Then eventually we just stopped taping, although we shouldn't have, when kids get older you just stop taping. Then came digital cameras that made taping easier, then I-phones when it's a true snap, and the kids had kids and they do it with their kids, of course.

And now it's 2020 – it should be the year of perfects eyesight but instead it's the year of COVID-19, shut up stores and staying home, waiting for COVID to disappear and for Trump to disappear as well. They will, for sure. It's only a matter of time. Waiting them out. In the end, Trump's right, everything goes away.

But with all this recording of events, freezing them in time with ever greater verisimilitude as the technology leaps forward, somewhere along the line we have neglected to take videos of me, just as we didn't take videos of my father when he got older, nor of my mother when she got sick and the good treatments for breast cancer hadn't arrived yet. But who would take them? Allie lives in Oxford with his own family, I was estranged from Nick for many years and now we're back together but his family lives in Marin and probably I'll get to see them in the future when COVID recedes in time, and Peter is not one to memorialize. And Sara my step-daughter has her own family and her own father. Maybe I'll figure out how to tape myself. Can't be that hard. I guess each nuclear family tapes itself, is the way it usually works.

So, like everyone else at this time, we wait. We have fewer events to mark it's passage, it just keeps flowing regularly on its own. We have our pursuits and our daily routines that are now more pronounced than exceptional events, I study my French and pursue writing projects and take walks for exercise, we have our meals to enjoy, our crows and squirrels to watch, the sun setting earlier each day. We just had our house painted and it's beautiful, best paint job ever. I was careful to take before and after pictures because if you're not careful and the new paint is already on, you can't go back and get the before picture. Do it then or you never will. And the new kitchen floor and appliances from two years ago are great, too. Change is good.

Actually, there's no alternative.

Budd Shenkin

A Stunning Majority, A Massive Crisis, An Historic Opportunity


I believe that the Democrats will probably run the table in November, taking the Presidency by a landslide, increasing their majority in the House, and taking the Senate by about 54-46. Who knows, but that's what I think. The election will constitute a massive rejection of Trump personally, and Trumpism, and the Republican party as it is now constituted. Not only will the united Democrats have complete control, but their Republican opposition will be divided and thus even less able to obstruct than the numbers will indicate.

They will take over in the midst of a huge, mishandled, dangerous, ongoing pandemic health crisis, and in the midst of the associated huge, dangerous, ongoing economic crisis. These two singular crises will take the major part of the attention of the public and the top administration. That is where the drama will be.

At the same time, however, the crises that Trump had precipitated even before the pandemic will still be there, ready to solve. These Trumpian crises are of two sorts. One is Trumpian policies – the tax policies, the destruction he has caused throughout the government agencies in their objectives as well as their ability simply to function. The other is the Trumpian trampling of the laws and norms of how the government does its business. To make a medical analogy, you might think of these two separate areas as the bones and the muscles of government. The bones would be the laws and norms, the stable structure necessary for the muscles to attach to and to operate. The muscles would be the policies themselves.

(I have discussed this in three previous posts focusing the the laws and norms – the bones, if you will – on Post Trump Reform, Post Trump Reforms Executive Summary, and Post Trump Reforms David Frum Commentary, with comments on David Frum's excellent book, Trumpocalypse. I have also discussed one specific important suggested reform that refers back to the paper that David Levine and I wrote recommending that the power of the presidential pardon be constitutionally amended to require that each pardon receive the co-signature of the Speaker of the House.)

So you have to wonder, if the Democrats take over as I have outlined, or something close to that, would the necessity of concentrating on COVID-19 and the attendant recession/depression completely suppress and delay all the other necessary actions of post Trump reforms? After all, you might think, their hands and the congress's will be more than full.

Maybe so. That will certainly be the argument of the disorganized rump Trumpian/Republican minority. But I have a different view. I am optimistic that the Democrats will find it possible to walk the COVID-19 and economic support walk, and at the same time to chew the gum of post Trumpian Reforms. And in fact, with COVID-19 and economic support at center stage, I would posit that, (switching metaphors here!) like a magician who has focused the audience's attention on his right hand doing the pandemic/economic juggling, the Dems could push the post Trumpian Reforms even faster and more completely than if everyone's attention were on them.

You never know until you get there, but it's possible. But, it will only be possible if the Democrats are prepared. It's all in the preparation. You have to rehearse the hell out of that left hand, or the chewing of the gum, take your pick of metaphors. If you're not ready for the opportunity, you won't be able to take advantage of it.

So here is what I'm suggesting. I'm suggesting that the Democrats construct a detailed battle plan right now. Even if the plan never survives the battle intact, you still have to have it ready so you can act with the knowledge of what you have planned. What are your major steps and how are you going to accomplish them?

I would divide them up into policies and laws/norms, muscle and bone. I won't deal with the muscle here and now, but first would probably have to be personnel; I would have them ready. Then there would have to be all the policies and rules and regulations that have been changed – just change them back and make them better – Build Back Better, the man said. Then, as the Republicans squawked about the cost of the economic support program, I would reverse the Trump tax cuts and say, you're right, we need the money, and guess how we're going to get some of it.

For the laws/norms, the bones of government, I think David Frum hit it on the nose. I would start with getting rid of the filibuster first thing, then vote in DC as a state before they can say Jack Robinson. As Frum reasons succinctly, just do it, you can do it with simple majority votes in both houses and a presidential signature. They'll never know what hit them.

I'm not sure what the professional Democrats would plan to do next, but there would have to be a list. I would take the Frum tactical line and just get it done. Invite the opposition in, allow cooperation and amendments – but not obstruction. If they howl, excoriate them. Respond – no more obstruction! No more emasculation of the legislative branch! But whatever, the crisis atmosphere and the rare Democratic predominance should not to be wasted.

I would start the planning, slowly and quietly, but bringing in the major players inside and outside of government, right now. Have your list ready. And have your playbook ready on how you are going to educate the nation to what you are doing. (Learn from the great missed opportunity and cautionary tale of the Obama administration – how to sell it. Personally, I would put Donnie Deutsch on the case, and the Lincoln Project people, and James Carville, but that's personal taste.)

You've got to be ready. This will be your chance. As my wife told me when I got Stanford's offer to buy my practice, as she very wisely advised me, and as she directed me, let me say now to the Democrats – Don't fuck it up!

Budd Shenkin