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Our Fictional President | HuffPost

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As the pandemic and the election season of 2020 unfolded, I kept thinking back to a book I read in March, Elisa Gabbert’s eerily timely and thoughtful “The Unreality of Memory.” In several of her essays, Gabbert examines how we experience and consume disaster — as an intimate experience, as a distant spectacle, as a narrative event. “When a tsunami rises over a city, or a plane flies into a skyscraper, we say it’s ‘just like a movie,’” she writes. “This suggests that disaster movies help us process disaster — it’s the only exposure most of us get, outside of news clips, to deadly spectacles. There’s no script or template for a novel disaster.”

Gabbert is referring to Chernobyl, a novel disaster that, Nobel Prize-winning journalist Svetlana Alexievich found, its survivors struggled to put into words; they simply lacked reference points for what they’d experienced. Fiction offers us tidy narratives and images that we can fit our traumas into.

I think of this passage because while it is true, Donald Trump’s presidency has so often made me feel the converse: the bewilderment of finding yourself actually living through something you only dreamed of encountering in a story. The 2016 election marked the certain intrusion of the stranger-than-fictional into sober reality, and suddenly fiction seemed both wan by comparison and a comically insufficient tool for processing what was taking place.

The past four years left us with a confused relationship to fiction. During this time, we read fewer novels, but we did read enormous amounts of lies presented as truth, or truth condemned as lies: the news, presidential tweets, Reddit posts, QAnon memes. Nonfiction flourished, though mostly of the variety engineered to sell hundreds of thousands of copies to gullible partisans and then vanish from the conversation. Dozens upon dozens of exposés, manifestos, memoirs and diagnoses of Trump were published during his term. This fall, Washington Post critic Carlos Lozada published a book about all these Trump books, apparently discovering little worth taking away from them. Fiction, newly apt — witness the runaway sales of dystopian classics early in Trump’s term — risked seeming newly frivolous as well.

Immediately, great writers began trying to capture Trump in a novel. But somehow, again and again, they failed, or their success registered as flatly as failure. Trump seems to resist fictionalization; his appearance in a novel can be a jolting distraction or a thudding over-elaboration.

Trump, if anything, is too transparent to be fictionalized. He was relentlessly and, I think, quite accurately diagnosed by columnists and pundits; fictional accounts offered no fresh insight into his narcissism, his crudeness, his showmanship and his cruelty that could not be found on Twitter at any point during his term. He is all surface, all id; however much he might imagine they are, his corrupt business dealings aren’t especially secret, nor is his yearning admiration for brutal dictators, nor his frustrated desire to be accepted by the Manhattan elite.

Trump turned out to be nearly impossible to effectively satirize.

In the beginning, some novelists, like comedians and cable news moguls, were almost optimistic about their role in Trump’s America. “It’s an awful thing to say,” Salman Rushdie told Poets & Writers in 2017, “that this thing that is very bad for America is very good for the novel.” He had just come out with a book, “The Golden House,” set against the Obama presidency and the 2016 election, with Trump played by a flamboyant, chartreuse-haired real estate magnate nicknamed The Joker.

He was neither the first nor the last prominent novelist to address Trump. “Several authors,” wrote Washington Post critic Ron Charles in 2017, “told me they felt compelled on Nov. 9 to set aside their work and begin something that felt more relevant to our scorched political landscape.” Howard Jacobson, author of “The Finkler Question,” began work on a satirical fable about the president just four hours after the election was called and published it mere months later. Dave Eggers’ 2019 satire, “The Captain and the Glory,” took place on a massive ship whose passengers replace their venerable retiring captain with a vicious, ignorant grifter who sports a yellow feather on his head. Trump was featured in a Carl Hiaasen caper, “Squeeze Me,” and in Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Rodham,” a grindingly dull alternate history. Some novelists painted the real Trump into the background, like Jonathan Lethem in his “The Feral Detective,” in which the heroine leaves her job at The New York Times in the jarring aftermath of his election and throws herself into saving her friend’s daughter from a masculinity-worshiping cult.

In Trump, there’s self-evidently the allure of a particularly juicy character, prefab for any writer casting about for inspiration. But the Trump novels that emerged from his term were not merely entertainments, though Eggers literally subtitled his “An Entertainment.” They read as attempts to grapple with the anxiety of having been severed from normative reality and having to navigate a world more recognizable from fiction. The endless buffoonery, overt corruption and cascade of alarming news made it a cliché, during Trump’s term, to archly suggest that the writers room had really overdone it with this week’s twists. It seems fitting to address the unruly fictional creature of the president by writing him back into the controlled genres he embodies. If a monster is hunting you in your nightmares, you defend yourself in your dream world. If you find yourself in a speculative satire, shouldn’t you be able to battle it on that terrain? Protest art never seemed so called for.

Or so toothless. Trump turned out to be nearly impossible to effectively satirize. Political humor failed to meet the moment so profoundly that multiple investigations have been undertaken into what went wrong with late night comedy during his presidency. He’s too ridiculous to exaggerate into a caricature, too unpredictable to outflank in his absurd twists. If the jokes practically write themselves, what do we need comedy writers for?

The literary satires of the president tended to collapse on this front. The decision to attempt them seemed to arise not so much from the need to expose him with a lacerating pen, but from his superficial suitability to satire, and from the author’s desperate urge to do something. Both Jacobson and Eggers described their decisions to satirize the president as a personal act of catharsis. Jacobson immediately named his work in progress “Pussy,” over objections from his wife and agent. “My agent said, ‘People aren’t going to want to buy it, and shops aren’t going to want to stock it,’” he told The Atlantic.

Set in a mythical country called Urbs-Ludus, “Pussy” depicted the adventures of Prince Fracassus, the coarse, narcissistic heir to an oligarchical duchy. Jacobson directly satirized all of Trump’s most superficially ridiculous qualities: His blond pompadour; his obsessions with TV, Twitter and gleaming real estate developments; his limited vocabulary; his crude bigotry. “Pussy” was a #resistance Twitter reply-guy tweet, delivered as a 200-page fairy tale. Fracassus’ vicious ignorance often manifested as unprovoked strings of slurs he hurled at anyone nearby, a particularly dispiriting example of how satire of the president not only thudded ineffectually off of him, but risked simply multiplying the cruelty it intended to skewer, replicating slur-filled rants in a feeble attempt to show how wrong they are.

Rushdie’s “The Golden House,” an airless, overcrowded tale about Nero Golden, a mysterious, wealthy patriarch from Bombay, and his attempt to reinvent his life and family in a cloistered New York neighborhood, may not be centrally concerned with Trump. But his cartoonish depiction of the campaign, cloaked in ominous superhero-vs.-supervillain tropes, operates as an opportunity for Rushdie to wax broadly philosophical about American politics and cultural divides. (René, the handsome filmmaker who narrates the story, often thinks wistfully of the city as a “bubble” in which he has been protected.) These musings, as pompous and mournful as any Times op-ed on the topic of our political divisions, only serve to fracture the world of the novel so that Rushdie can openly gesture at how bad things are out here, in the real world.

Mark Doten’s 2019 “Trump Sky Alpha,” one of the more intriguing fictional takes on the president, framed a post-apocalyptic drama with a stylized portrayal of the president himself, delivering an addled monologue to the populace from a luxury zeppelin amid a hail of nuclear hellfire. Doten is a wonderful writer; in his opening section, 22 pages, he writes in tumbling, fluid clauses that resolve into just a handful of sentences, imbuing the arrival of nuclear calamity with a viscerally stomach-sinking, clattering momentum.

Like the clunkier satires, Doten’s book, though dazzlingly written, also tripped over the sheer closeness of the crisis, the difficulty of being fresh or original about the most-discussed person of the age. A “Trump Sky Alpha” scene in which Ivanka Trump, horrified by her father’s lurch into nuclear war, vomits down her silky blouse and cries out “no no no” while television cameras watch, smacks of liberal wish fulfillment colliding with lefty nihilism: We’re all going to die, but at least we’ll see those responsible humiliated.

Twenty pages of flawless Trump mimicry is just a showy writer’s exercise, as empty beneath the surface as his own words.

Later in the book, amid a lengthy speech by a Trump now flying toward Mar-a-Lago in a Trump Sky Alpha damaged by enemy fire, he upbraids his turncoat daughter: “I would say, Ivanka, read the polls, this is all so popular, and we can get out, too, get out of things that are failing, I am very good with getting out. Ivanka, look at yourself, your mouth and your hair, look at how beautiful you are. And I would say, What did I do? What did I do? Look at my mouth and my hair. Aren’t we the same? I loved you, you know?”

What has been more overexamined, in art and commentary, than Trump’s borderline-incestuous fascination with his elder daughter? The result, however pitch-perfectly delivered, would necessarily read as an easy allusion rather than a stroke of insight. Twenty pages of flawless Trump mimicry is just a showy writer’s exercise, as empty beneath the surface as his own words.

But perhaps the most depressing artistic cul-de-sac of the past four years was the yearning turn back toward a vanished present amid the ascendance of white, neoliberal feminist leadership: Meg Wolitzer’s “The Female Persuasion,” and still more on the nose, Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Rodham,” a novel written as the memoirs of President Hillary Rodham in the present day. After a passionate courtship with Bill Clinton, Hillary becomes fed up with his infidelity (and the whispers of graver misconduct) and leaves him before they even get married. She goes on to have a sober, serious career as a law professor, becomes a senator for Illinois, and then runs for president in 2016 — against tech billionaire Bill Clinton, whose political career exploded before he could become president in the ’90s. Trump appears as a minor character, a possible spoiler in the race who instead chooses to publicly back Hillary Rodham.

“Rodham” is hundreds of pages of naked wish-fulfillment, written as blandly and self-servingly as a real presidential memoir. It’s a woozy reversal: The bizarre and outlandish presidential crisis is fact, and the somnolent working of bureaucracy is fiction. If fiction allows us to imagine a better world, it’s perhaps most heartbreaking of all that the horror of Trump’s presidency has induced these novelists to spend time imagining a world no more ambitious and radical than the reinstated pre-Trump norm.

But even if the presidency goes back to normal, the nation as it was before Trump is indeed now firmly in the realm of fantasy. This ripped-from-pulp-fiction president ushered us into a future that will be defined by crises long left to fester, hand-waved away, and relegated to speculative fiction: white supremacy, pandemics, climate change. Perhaps now that we’ve seen that truth can resemble the wildest fictions, we’ll be ready to imagine a more radical and beautiful way of fighting back.





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Joe Rogan Admits He’s A ‘F**king Moron’ After Offering Selfish COVID-19 Vaccine Advice

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Wildly popular podcast host Joe Rogan admitted he’s a “f**king moron” and “not a respected source of information, even for me” when he addressed his selfish comments about young, healthy people not needing to get vaccinated from COVID-19.

Rogan, whose audience is in the hundreds of millions, drew backlash — and a rebuke from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert — when he said on an episode of his “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast released on Spotify last week that “if you’re a healthy person and you’re exercising all the time and you’re young and you’re eating well, I don’t think you need to worry about this.”

On Thursday, Rogan clarified in a video shared on YouTube that he was “not an anti-vaxx person.” “In fact, I said I believe they’re safe and I encourage many people to take them. My parents were vaccinated,” he explained. “I just said, ‘I don’t think that if you’re a young, healthy person that you need it.’ Their argument was, you need it for other people.”

“So you don’t transmit the other virus,” said his cohost.

“That makes more sense,” agreed Rogan. “But that’s a different argument. That’s a different conversation.”

Rogan, whose show was snapped up by Spotify in a $100 million deal last year, later attempted to explain away the comments by saying how he doesn’t plan what he says on air.

He’s often high or drinking alcohol during the shows, he said, before accusing “clickbaity” journalists of blowing his comments out of proportion.

“I’m not a doctor, I’m a fucking moron and I’m a cage fighting commentator who’s a dirty standup comedian who just told you I’m drunk most of the time and I do testosterone and I smoke a lot of weed but I’m not a respected source of information, even for me,” he said.

“If I say things, I’m always going ‘check on that Jamie, I don’t know if that’s true,’” Rogan added. “But I at least try to be honest about what I’m saying.”

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Gabrielle Union Talks Baby Kaavia’s Free Spirit: ‘Shade Is Her Super Power’

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Gabrielle Union recently talked about her daughter, Kaavia James, and her funny “shady” moments, characterizing those times as her 2-year-old’s “super power.”

“Shade is her super power because when Kaavia gives you a look, it’s either you’re not respecting her boundaries or something is happening that she doesn’t like,” the actor told People in an interview published Wednesday.

Union and her retired NBA star husband, Dwyane Wade, welcomed Kaavia in November 2018.

The couple has since poked fun at the toddler’s occasional adorably shady facial expressions — and hilarious side-eyes — like when a photo of Kaavia seated on a couch looking pensive and slightly unbothered became a meme last year.

Or when the little one looked less than pleased with the outcome of her face paint design at her second birthday party:

Inspired by Kaavia’s witty personality, Wade and Union created an Instagram account for the little girl, often using the hashtag ”#Shadybaby” in the posts’ captions. The couple also collaborated to write a Kaavia-influenced children’s book titled “Shady Baby” due for release next month.

Union explained in Wednesday’s People interview that she celebrates Kaavia’s freedom to be her authentic self amid a long history of harmful ways Black women and girls have been treated in society.

“The main takeaway is that she’s free to be this amazing, dynamic, shady at times, loving at times Black little girl when the world has not been so kind to Black girls and women,” she added.

In addition to Kaavia, Wade is father to Zaya, Zaire and Xavier. Union and Wade also parent his nephew Dahveon Morris.

Wade told People that he and Union make a point to encourage their children to be their true selves.

“If we allow our kids to be their true selves we don’t have to worry about them conforming with anything or anyone,” he said. “Why wouldn’t we push our kids to be their authentic selves?”

Last month, Kaavia took a side-eyeing break to enjoy a sweet play date with 2-year-old Cairo, the daughter of actors Tia Mowry and Cory Hardrict.

After some hugs, Kaavia generously took Cairo for a spin in her toddler-sized electric car:





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Anne Heche Says Ellen DeGeneres Didn’t Want Her To ‘Dress Sexy’

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Anne Heche took an unexpected swipe at former girlfriend Ellen DeGeneres this week during an online fashion retrospective.

In a short TikTok video Tuesday, Heche looked back at some of her favorite looks from years past, including the 1998 VH1 Fashion Awards and a memorable “Dancing with the Stars” routine from last fall.

The actor’s enthusiasm for nostalgia, however, notably dipped when she came upon a photo of her and DeGeneres from the 1998 Golden Globe Awards. The pair appear to have color-coordinated their outfits, with DeGeneres in a navy suit and Heche in a blue velvet gown and matching coat.

“Why do I look like a hippie? It’s because Ellen didn’t want me to dress sexy,” Heche, who has starred in films like “Donnie Brasco” and “Six Days, Seven Nights,” declared. After giving the look a zero out of 10 and a thumbs down, she added, “Bye, no!”

Heche and DeGeneres dated from 1997 to 2000. During their time together, the women were among Hollywood’s most-buzzed-about same-sex couples.

The former couple has remained mostly tight-lipped about the specifics of their relationship in the media. Heche, however, touched on her ex in a number of interviews timed to her appearance on “Dancing with the Stars” last year.

Chatting with Mr. Warburton magazine last year, she recalled angering Hollywood executives when she brought DeGeneres as her date to the premiere of 1997’s “Volcano.”

“I was told by Fox Studio executives that if I brought Ellen to the premiere, my contract would be terminated,” she told the publication. “I brought Ellen despite those threats, and we were escorted out of the theater before the lights came on by security and not allowed to attend the premiere party because they did not want any photos of us together.”



Ellen DeGeneres (left) and Anne Heche at the 1998 Golden Globe Awards.

“I was a part of a revolution that created social change,” she added, “and I could not have done that without falling in love with her.”

In an interview with Entertainment Tonight last October, Heche noted that she hadn’t spoken to DeGeneres “in years,” but would be open to a reunion under the right circumstances.

“With relationships, I think many of us have [been there], you come to a fork in the road, ‘What do you want and what do I want?’” she said. “Those goals, that intent in life, is determined by the individual. Her intent and my intent were different and that’s why we separated.”



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Elliot Page Emotionally Shares What’s Given Him The Most Joy Since Coming Out As Trans

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Elliot Page is sharing the moment that has brought him the most joy since he announced he was a transgender man in December 2020.

In a peek at an interview with Oprah Winfrey slated for release on her Apple TV+ series “The Oprah Conversation” on Friday, the 34-year-old said that he’s found “the most joy.”

“Getting out of the shower and the towel’s around your waist and you’re looking at yourself in the mirror and you’re just like, ‘There I am.’ And I’m not having the moment where I’m panicked,” he said, before breaking down in tears. “It’s being able to touch my chest and feel comfortable in my body for the — probably the first time.”

The actor added his tears were “tears of joy.”

Earlier this year, Page talked to Time magazine about his decision to get top surgery and described the experience as something that allowed for him to recognize himself. Page recalled puberty as “total hell” and told the publication that the surgery “has completely transformed my life.”

He also told the publication that he spent much of his energy being uncomfortable with his body and the surgery has helped bring that energy back.

Page notably came out to fans last year with a heartfelt Instagram post, sharing that he would be using the pronouns “he” and “they” and said: “I feel lucky to be writing this. To be here. To have arrived at this place in my life.”

He went on to say: “I love that I am trans,” Page wrote. “And I love that I am queer. And the more I hold myself close and fully embrace who I am, the more my heart grows and the more I thrive.”  



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‘Bachelor’ Matt James Is Seeing Final Rose Recipient With Racist Past

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It isn’t over.

Matt James, who became the first Black lead of the dating reality series “The Bachelor,” told People on Wednesday that he’s been seeing Rachael Kirkconnell, the woman he chose but then rejected after her past racially insensitive social media posts were unearthed.

“I’ve seen Rachael a handful of times,” James said. “I’m not pursuing any relationships right now outside of that. I said I was going to focus on my relationship with her and that means focusing on it.”

Kirkconnell received James’ final rose on ABC’s reality series. After the season was in the can, pictures emerged on social media showing Georgia native Kirkconnell attending a slavery-era plantation-themed party and liking photos containing Confederate flags.

Kirkconnell apologized and said she “will continue to learn how to be anti-racist.” James said in the “After the Final Rose” episode last month that they broke up and that Kirkconnell had work to do on her own.

As for her progress, James told People “that’s something you could talk to her about.”

A report last week said the two were not speaking to each other, but that does not appear to be the case.

Stay tuned.





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Halle Berry Reacts To A Joke About Her Blunt Bob Debut At The Oscars

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Halle Berry joined the fun on Twitter after she debuted her new bob hairstyle at the 2021 Oscars on Sunday night.

The Oscar winner responded to a Twitter user who linked her new ’do to a popular lighthearted video from rapper Saucy Santana, who channels Nicki Minaj from the B.o.B. song “Out of My Mind” while rocking a bob.

“Halle Berry tonight,” the user tweeted on Sunday alongside the video. Berry retweeted the post on Tuesday and playfully responded with two emojis, including a laughing-face one:

Berry stunned on the Oscars red carpet in a pink-toned Dolce & Gabbana gown that featured a prominent bow. She showed off her new bob with bangs after she teased the hairstyle on Twitter earlier in the evening with a photo that only showed her hair chopped off.

Her hairstyle sparked a lot chatter on Twitter, with people sharing memes and all sorts of opinions of the ’do.

The legendary actor and style icon, who made history becoming the first (and still only) Black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress in 2002, apparently wasn’t phased by the blunt-bob-detractors.

Berry arrived at the ceremony with her Grammy-winning musician boyfriend Van Hunt.

Hunt posted photos on Instagram Monday of him and Berry getting ready to attend the ceremony. His caption said it was the couple’s first date night. The two publicly confirmed their relationship on Instagram in September last year.





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Kate Middleton, Prince William Mark 10th Anniversary With New Portraits

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Kate Middleton and Prince William are celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary with brand-new photos.

Kensington Palace released two portraits on behalf of the couple on Wednesday, one day before their anniversary. The new pictures were snapped earlier this week at the palace by photographer Chris Floyd.





The two appear to have recreated the official photo William and Kate released for their engagement, which was taken by Mario Testino:

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who have been together nearly 20 years, officially tied the knot at Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011. Millions lined the wedding procession route, while an estimated 2 billion tuned in from around the world.

Celebrities including Elton John, Guy Ritchie and David and Victoria Beckham made up some of the 1,900 guests invited to the ceremony. Ellie Goulding performed at the couple’s evening reception, an honor she called quite “scary.”

“I did their first dance and like, talk about scary,” the singer told Vanity Fair in 2016. “I was so nervous, my hands were shaking.”

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge smile following their marriage at Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011, in London.



The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge smile following their marriage at Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011, in London.

Ten years since their wedding day, the duke and duchess now have three children: Prince George, 7; Princess Charlotte, 5; and Prince Louis, 3.

William and Kate celebrated Louis’ birthday last week by releasing a brand-new photo of their little one taken before his first day at nursery school.

Louis’ birthday is just two days after his great-grandmother Queen Elizabeth’s big day.

The queen turned 95 on April 21 and released a statement thanking people for the tributes to her late husband, Prince Philip.

“My family and I would like to thank you for all the support and kindness shown to us in recent days,” she said. “We have been deeply touched, and continue to be reminded that Philip had such an extraordinary impact on countless people throughout his life.”

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Kate Middleton’s Most Memorable Looks Of 2019



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