Magazine | February 11, 2019, Issue

Equal and Opposite Overreaction

Fast food from McDonald’s on a table as the 2018 College Football Playoff National Champion Clemson Tigers are welcomed in the State Dining Room of the White House, January 14, 2019 (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

BuzzFeed bombshell: Unnamed sources say Donald Trump strangled a White House aide with a lamp cord last year, then sat next to the body for six hours, smearing himself with grease from McDonald’s wrappers, grunting softly, and occasionally taking a sip from a can of pre-mixed margarita.

Reflexive Trump defenders: That’s ridiculous. Everyone knows the president doesn’t drink alcohol.

Reflexive Trump attackers: It’s a troubling story, and not entirely out of the range of what we’ve come to expect. We know he likes McDonald’s.

Trump skeptics who shade towards disapproval: Well, I’ll have to wait for corroboration, or a coroner’s report, or an indictment, but, you know, he’s been in the hotel business for years and bought a lot of lamps.

Now let’s see how it plays out on TV.

CNN host #1: If true — and we have to state for the record that the murder allegation against Donald Trump is just that, an allegation, of murder, a felony —

CNN host #2: He did say he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue.

CNN host #1: Yes, but, to be fair, we are talking strangulation here. Still, no president has ever been accused of throttling an aide to death, and we’ve asked presidential historian C. Pursley Bonkars to put this in context. Professor Bonkars, thank you for coming. Strangulation is particularly personal, isn’t it?

Professor Bonkars: Thank you for having me, and yes, it is. The victim thrashes around and foams at the mouth, and it’s really quite extraordinary even to be talking about such an event happening in the Oval Office, which has been seen as a hallowed space, if you will, the final repository of the will of the people.

CNN host #1: Just to be clear, we don’t know whether the president strangled someone in the Oval Office. It could have been anywhere in the White House.

Professor Bonkars: Yes of course. But I should also note that the personal nature of the act seems at odds with Donald Trump’s behavior as we’ve seen it in his administration.

CNN host #2: So you’re saying the story — which BuzzFeed stands behind, according to their latest tweet — might have holes?

Professor Bonkars: No, I’m saying he has shown himself unwilling to fire people face to face, preferring to delegate the job or do it via tweet. I think it is more like he stood behind the victim in the same way BuzzFeed stands behind the story, so as not to see the face of the person whose life he was ending.

CNN host #1: Thank you for your historical perspective. We turn now to former prosecutor Anna Oneanatoo, now with the Welk Foundation. Ms. Oneanatoo, we’re in un­charted waters here, and there are lots of questions. The District of Columbia does not have the death penalty. It’s unclear which jurisdiction would prosecute the murder, and some are saying the president could pardon himself. Does the president have the power to save himself from lethal injection in Virginia, if that’s where the case is tried?

Oneanatoo: (blank stare into the camera) What in the name of God are you —

CNN host #2: I’m going to have to interrupt you there because we have Chip Dorqchest at the Capitol with reaction. Chip, can you tell me what the mood is on the Hill?

Chip: Here on the Hill, Frank, I have to tell you there’s a lot of reaction. Speaker Pelosi has said that the allegations — and I have to emphasize, the story that the president strangled an aide, with a cord, choking the life out of the person, killing someone who had come to D.C. with the hopes and dreams you find in all civil servants, who really make up the backbone of this town, and suffered so much during the shutdown — I have to remind you that the unprecedented talk of murder in the White House is, as of this minute, not yet proven.

CNN host #1: Did Speaker Pelosi actually say anything?

Chip: She said she was deeply concerned, and I should say on a personal note that I have not heard her say “deeply” since last year’s allegations about that matter concerning the president’s secret trip to Moscow to gargle a gallon of Vladimir Putin’s spittle. As you know, that did not happen, but it intensified calls for investigations into the possible ties between the president and Russia.

CNN host #2: Thanks, Chip. We’ll check back later to see how this plays out on the Hill. Any word from Alex­andria Ocasio-Cortez’s office?

Chip: Yes, she has said that the president’s decision to smear himself with McDonald’s grease underscores the need for a Green New Deal to discourage meat consumption, as it contributes to climate change — and I do have to say, it’s unseasonably warm up here on the Hill tonight.

CNN host #1: All right. We have just received word from the White House in the form of a tweet, and the president is saying, and I quote, “The idea I would strangle anyone is FAKE NEWS.” It’s interesting that he said “strangle” but doesn’t deny killing someone. Could BuzzFeed have gotten that detail wrong?

CNN Host #2: When stories develop rapidly like this, sure, sometimes the details are fuzzy. But it doesn’t detract from the essential truth. We —

CNN host #1: I’ve just been informed that the aide named in the BuzzFeed piece is alive and is holding a press conference outside a Chipotle’s in Georgetown. Well, that certainly has to be a relief for his family. We turn now to international news, where . . .

Washington Post, next day: Doubt Cast on Trump Murder Allegations; Conservatives Pounce

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