Rothman At-Large

A Fake Newser in King Donald’s Court

May 1, 2017

Late last night I fell asleep reading the Failing New York Times on my iPad here in Alexandria, Virginia. 

To my surprise, though a time warp and other inexplicable phenomena, I awoke in a spare bedroom in the former Trump White House. I say “former” for a reason. The time was the mid-2020s. And the White House, as I would soon discover, was instead a 100-story palace with TRUMP signs all over the facade.

My iPad was gone. King Donald never had liked the lefties in Silicon Valley or the independent press. Instead of an iPad, I could now read from a paper copy of Breitbart, the official publication of the United States. 

No more fake news, just government-certified truth. No one ever pestered the King about his tax returns---it no longer mattered. L’Etat, c’est moi.

Reading between the lines of Breitbart, I got an inkling of what had happened. The Trumps and friends had trashed our creaky old Constitution some years ago. What a barrier to getting things done! Who needed checks and balances? Forget about jeremiads from the Founding Fathers. America instead needed a robust, manly monarchy. Donald Trump had once called himself the King of Debt; now he was simply King.

Under King Donald, Queen Ivanka and Prince Jared, every American baby was born owing many thousands of dollars in advance payments to the King’s family and his billionaire courtiers.

Coal mine-based theme parks, however, provided gainful employment for millions of the King’s commoners. They loved to ride the pit railways into the dim, dusty tunnels and dig up real coal. With diversions like that, they could die contentedly in their 50s without health insurance, knowing they had still lived full lives in their time on earth and under it.

King Donald grew to love coal so much that he ordered the beheading of all commoners caught using solar or wind power. Exceptions were made for the nobility. They could get away with mere waterboarding.

Determined not to pamper Washington any longer, King Donald had torn down most of the office buildings and non-Trump-related monuments to make room for towering casinos for the minority of Americans bored with shoveling coal.

It didn’t matter if they couldn’t afford to gamble. King Donald’s people just added to their existing debts.

Even in this paradise, some courtiers still worried---about, for example, climate change. Having drained the swamp, did King Donald really want Washington flooded anew?

But then the wise King truly solved the climate challenge, signing a royal proclamation to replace the White Office of Science and Technology Policy with the White House Office of Magic and Mysticism, run by a distant relative, Merlin Trump. With one majestic, all-encompassing spell, Merlin ended the problem. 

For good measure, he instantly willed into existence an anti-Mexican Wall without adding a penny to the national debt.

Illegal aliens no longer threatened us. The King replaced them all with leggy, legal aliens brought in from Eastern Europe to serve in the royal brothel. 

Even African-Americans born in the United States were stripped of citizenship and deported---becoming simply Africans, not Americans---whether or not the King’s friends caught them burning American flags.

Isn’t the Kingdom of Trump terrific? 

Now that history has vindicated King Donald, as irrefutably shown in the documentaries of Steve Bannon, I’m recanting all my past lies and heresies. 

As usual, we clueless Fake Newsers screwed up the facts. Our beloved King did not want to return to the 1950s or even the 1920s to make us great again. Wrong! Off by 800 or 900 years. 

Image source: The picture of Merlin is from The Nuremberg Chronicle, one of the earliest printed books. Still, I don’t see why we should bother with this or any other kind of history or culture. You feel bored, just dig coal or check out the newest Ivanka-branded casino.


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On Ivana and Libraries

April 25, 2017

Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump’s daughter, drew angry howls from librarians across the U.S., and understandably so. 

She’d blithely tweeted: “This #NationalLibraryWeek, we honor our libraries and librarians for opening our eyes to the world of knowledge, learning and reading!”

Wow. As it happens, Ivanka’s father wants to kill the Institute of  Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which helps fund America’s libraries. The 73-employee agency’s current $230 million budget is less than two years of the President’s travel-related expenses, if his jet-setting keeps up the clip recorded 10 weeks into his term. From classes for the blind to ebooks, IMLS money has helped U.S. libraries in a highly cost-effective way.

In Washington, a librarian named Elisa Babel reminds me that an IMLS-run program has helped pay for the Digital Commons area of the Martin Luther King Library.  Patrons can get hands-on experience with the latest tech, including 3-D printers. What’s more, among other benefits, IMLS has sent literacy money to D.C. 

Chances are close to zero that either Donald or Ivanka Trump will read this pro-IMLS plea. But who knows? If nothing else, a certain ex-wife of his just might take an interest—Ivana Marie Trump, née Ivana Zelníčková (now a naturalized U.S. citizen). 

She grew up in the former Czechoslovakia, in what is now the Czech Republic, aka Czechia. The Czech Republic has ten times more libraries for its population than the U.S. does. 

That figure is for public libraries. One exists for every 1,971 citizens, according to a survey from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And remember, that does not include school libraries. What’s more, Slovakia, the other part of the former Czechoslovakia, is itself no slouch in the library department. “I grew up reading lots of books from public and school libraries,” a Slovakian follower of my TeleRead ebook news site told me. “In childhood I had some 7 well stocked libraries within easy walking distance … and was borrowing from each one.”

So what does this mean for the literacy rates in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, even if the number of libraries is not the only promoter of literacy? As of 2003, the rate stood at 99 percent in the Republic, according to the CIA World Factbook, and in Slovakia it was at least 99.6 percent. In all fairness, the Factbook lists the U.S. rate at 99 percent. But then, the definition of “literacy” can be tricky. 

“According to a study conducted in late April by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy,” the Huffington Post reported a few years ago, “32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read. That’s 14 percent of the population. 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read”—not the best of news for those of us worried about crime and unemployment figures.

Some library foes might still argue that with a far more diverse population in the U.S. than in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, those comparisons are not appropriate. On the contrary! This is all the more reason for federal, state and local governments and private donors to support America’s libraries. Talk about a force for assimilation and equality, as well as a smarter workforce!

As gung ho as I am about the creation of a national library endowment—see articles in WaPo and the Christian Science Monitor—I recognize the need for library money from a variety of sources. The immediate priority of library supporters should be the preservation of IMLS and related agencies and programs. No argument there! At the same time, we should still fight for public libraries’ long-term survival. An endowment would at least mitigate possible future damage from Ivanka’s father and like-minded politicians at all levels of government. For now, the good news is that Congress as usual is free to ignore budget recommendations from the White House. It certainly should in this case.

(A longer vision of the above is at

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A Trump-Era Etiquette Guide

February 21, 2017

George Roper, my good friend from high school, is dead now. When alive, he was often as right-wing as they come—complete with a passionate anti-Obama blog. And yet George and I avoided hand-to-hand combat. Up to his death several years ago, we followed each other on Facebook. He even talked up my novel. Similarly my parents got along just fine with a neighbor who would go on to help craft Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy.


But what to do about the Trumpists? How to socialize with them? Donald Trump himself is not just a racist with ties to anti-Semites, he is also a sexual predator and kleptocrat who admires authoritarian killers in the Putin vein. I know the reason for the long dyed hair. It’s covering up sawed-off horns.


The good news is that most people in places like Georgetown and Alexandria, where I live, are not as likely to run across Trumpists as Americans elsewhere in the country are (he did, after all, win the electoral vote thanks in part to voter suppression and Jill Stein). But even in D.C., face-to-face encounters will happen. Ivanka, remember, attended Georgetown for two years and undoubtedly is reconnecting with some old friends. How can progressives interact with Trumpists at a party or online and still respect themselves in the morning? Or at the family dinner table?


Ahead are a few thoughts not from High Society in D.C., but from Almost Outside the Beltway:

First, realize there’s more to life than politics. As little as I respect Trump, I’d also wonder about the 73-year-old retired prison guard in Washington State who supposedly divorced her husband of 22 years because he planned to vote for The Donald (“a deal breaker”). “It opened up areas between us I had not faced before,” Gail McCormick told Reuters. “I realized how far I had gone in my life to accept things I would have never accepted when I was younger.” I suspect the next sentence would have been: “Shows you—we have different values.” True, perhaps. But why should it have taken Ms. McCormick all this time to find out? Trump was a symptom, most likely, not a cause of the breakup.


Still, one poll found that 16 percent of respondents stopped talking to a friend or family member due to politics, and 30 made the sayonara complete. Here’s a more sensible response. Stop talking about politics. Otherwise enjoy the other people’s better side. Family and friendship first! You can always go online or to a political rally and find scads of people who share your beliefs. Dear family members and old friends are not so replaceable.


Another suggestion, a bit related, would be to try to distinguish between The Orange One and his followers or quasi followers. Also, look for areas of agreement if you can comfortably discuss politics with the Trumpists.


Our dictator in waiting is exactly as Richard Cohen described him in the Washington Post, “a one-man basket of deplorables.” But many of the people who voted for Trump were really just protesting against East Coast elitism, worker-hostile trade policies, and high Obamacare premiums. Nod when you can, and add your own progressive angles. Yes, so many powerful Ivy Leaguers in the East Coast media, Congress and elsewhere are out of touch with the needs of run-down cities in the Heartland. Free trade should not happen without sufficient retraining opportunities and other protections for workers, especially the full right to unionize. Obamacare premiums are in fact too high for many. Higher taxes on the one percent to pay for it? Simply put, voting for Trump as a protest does not by itself make anybody Satanic, and a little empathy with a Trump-loving friend, acquaintance or family member can go a long way.


I’d also remember that many of the people working directly for Trump are there in part to contain the damage, not because they swallow his bilge. In this category I would place Secretary of Defense James Matthis and Security Adviser H. R. McMaster. Were they my friends, I would understand.


Similarly, if I knew Ivanka Trump from Georgetown, I would not shun her but rather keep the lines of communications open despite concerns over the blurring of government and family business.


That said, I’d encourage my fellow progressive to keep speaking out against Trump in person and online, and to march, otherwise protest and resist. The last thing we want is to normalize Trump. Just don’t get in shouting matches with friends and family you have little chance of converting anyway, and don’t de-Friend anybody online if you otherwise find them likable.


Consider Trumpism a hyper-annoying but not “deal-breaking” flaw, like snoring loudly or forgetting to replace the cap on the toothpaste, and get on with your life and relationships.

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