Don’t Call him Mr. President

July 15, 2019

There’s a moment about ten minutes into Aaron Sorkin’s American President that has always been particularly moving to me. The Chief Of Staff, President Shepherd’s life long best friend, is about to leave the Oval Office, and says “Goodnight, Mr. President.” The President turns to him and says “Call me Andy…you were the best man at my wedding. Call me Andy.”

The Chief of Staff smiles, looks Shepherd in the eye: “Whatever you say, Mr. President.”

I thought of this scene a few months back when Tom Nichols—a guy I like and respect—who’s an Anti-Trump traditionalist, and the author of The Death Of Expertise, put out a series of tweets stating that Americans, no matter how much they may dislike Mr. Trump or his policies, should address Trump as Mr. President, because the office demands it, even if the person occupying it doesn’t live up to it.

For most of my life, I, like Nichols, believed in the notion that the office is larger than the individual who holds it. That’s why the American President scene had such resonance for me. Those words, “Mr. President” mean something. By intoning them, we hold ourselves and the president accountable to the ideals the office embodies and calls us to. We count on the President, especially, to aspire to the hopes we invest in the office and the honor it demands, and to recognize, for all of us, that this American nobility is granted, not inherited, and must be earned.

The words “Mr. President” are, like the office itself, not bestowed, and they too must be earned. They are an honorific. Not a constitutional prerogative. 

In another movie, Frost/Nixon, two aides of David Frost’s are discussing what they will do when they meet Nixon. One of them says “I won’t shake his hand.” A few minutes later, when the occasion presents, not only does he shake, he also calls him by his title.

The exchange is played for laughs, but the point is clear. The cultural imperative to go along with the rituals of power can bend the will of even the most committed members of the opposition.

Donald Trump is the president. Elected legally. Through that election, he earned the rights to the powers and privileges of the office. But he earned the burden of its responsibilities and demands, as well. And his regular rejection of the fundamental rights of his fellow citizens, his intentional manipulation of tribal fears and hatred, his blatant racism and calls to racist action, his disregard for the very rule of law that grants him the office itself, all prove his lack of interest in serving with honor. So I choose not to offer him the honorific.

If I ever meet Donald Trump, I will refuse to call him Mr. President.  And I hope you’d do the same.

The truth is that Trump himself doesn’t understand the purpose of the honorific. Instead he regards it, and the office itself, as a tool of pomp and circumstance, to be used to inflate his own status, business interests and sense of self.

Every other president of my lifetime became larger once they took office as they realized the way Americans counted on them. Even the ones whose policies I reviled were clearly trying to live up to the best of the American ideals. But Trump has proven that he doesn’t care about those ideals. He has proven that by using his position to bully average citizens on Twitter, by using his position to attract people to the properties he owns, like his Washington Hotel, by using his position to defend the many friends of his who have been accused of committing crimes, high and low, all across the land.

Mr. Nichols and others who see the world the way he does, seem  to believe that we are harming the institution if we don’t hew to the traditional signifiers of respect. I believe the only way to respect the office is by withholding those signifiers until the office holder earns them.

But this isn’t only about training Trump to act presidential .

In the same way calling someone Doctor imputes upon them authority and status, possibly allowing them to cut corners or worse, like Larry Nessor did when he was the United States Gymnastic Team’s doctor, calling Trump Mr. President imputes upon him strength and position, inviting him to indulge his worst instincts.

When I read Trump’s cruel tweets, when I watched the military parade he threw in his own honor, when I see him judge other world leaders through the prism of whether or not they said nice things about him, when I watch him strut around his company’s properties, I do not see a President. I see a character from yet another movie…

In the Princess Bride, the ruler of the land is Prince Humperdinck. Humperdinck is vain, he is selfish, he is cruel and, in his country, he is beyond reproach. Nobody will stand up to him. Nobody will call him out for his misdeeds.

Humperdinck preens and poses and acts like royalty. And he gets away with it for almost the entire film. But in a movie filled with sword fights, torture, giants and martial conflict, Humperdinck’s ending does not come through violence; Wesley, the farm boy, simply refuses to regard him by his title. Instead, Wesley calls Humperdinck out for his thin skin, his cowardice, his fear that at core, he is a weak, scared narcissistic baby.  Upon hearing these words, Humperdinck crumbles.

Trump is Humperdinck. Humperdinck is Trump. To call him Mr. President would be to ennoble him, would be to help him continue his giant con.

Like Wesley before me, I’d rather be sent to the Pit of Despair – because that’s where we’re all going to end up anyway if we don’t demand that our presidents rise to the honor of the office we have granted them, for a few, short years.

Teleplay for Overton Window (Billions 404)

April 12, 2019

A few folks asked for this. So here’s the script David and I wrote for episode 404 of Billions, Overton Window. BS404_GREEN_10.17.18_COLLATED

And the Rounders screenplay

February 18, 2019

Here’s the Rounders screenplay. This is the third draft, the one that went to agencies to get actor attachments, I think. It’s over twenty years old. But you will see we used Voiceover, we addressed the reader, we made notes about wardrobe. There are no camera moves spelled out in it, I don’t think. But that happened to be the style we found for it. I read it and I see very young versions of David and me. But I also see all the work we put into telling the story in a language that hadn’t been used very often. This made it harder to sell, but more distinctive, so that when someone liked it, they very likely loved it. Happy to answer any questions. ROUNDERS

Billions Golden Frog Time script and outline (episode 211)

February 18, 2019

Here are the outline and teleplay for Billions episode 211, Golden Frog Time.  Folks ask me for this stuff all the time. Happy to share it when I can and answer any questions about how/why or whatever. Hope this helps. BS211_BlackerBS211 Network Outline 10-17

Screenwriting rules

February 17, 2019

There was a good twitter thread today about supposed screenwriting rules. Mazin, McQuarrie, Mangold, Rian J and a few others got in there to reiterate that these supposed rules don’t matter. Here’s my screenplay for Solitary Man. You will see I break all the rules on the first page. Michael Douglas read it and signed on.

These rules–don’t use camera angles or moves, don’t use songs, don’t write emotions we can’t film–they don’t matter. Just be engaging. Just carry us through the story. Just demand our attention. Solitary Man, Blue pages

Only Cure For Me Is You

January 19, 2019

I believe in sharing your work. I wrote this song a couple months ago. It’s a great hobby for me. Forces me to stretch out, live in a place of discomfort. I like this one. (I am not singing).

I asked Twitter to recommend some novels

January 19, 2019

twitter book recs  And Twitter came through!

This list is ordered by how frequently a book was recommended. Enjoy!

Feel Better Tonight

May 4, 2018

Here’s another song I wrote with Michael McDermott. Sung by Adam Fears.  Feel Better Tonight. I like this one. Would love someone to cover it! If you dig it, share it. If you don’t, no sweat. 

Drinkin’ Songs

May 3, 2018

I wrote this song with Michael McDermott a couple years back. Someone heard it the other day, asked for a copy. So here it is. If you dig it, share it. If you don’t, don’t worry about it.

Oh, Mercy and me.

March 12, 2017

I told this story on Twitter yesterday, in 52 tweets. Some folks were touched by it. So here it is, in paragraph form, with very little changed.

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I don’t think I told this before. It’s a story about Bob Dylan’s music & me. And the kindness of a woman (not that type of kindness). And has nothing to do with politics, except that it involves a song about politics. It’s really about the romance of being young, and believing very much in the transformative power of music.

So this is 1988/9. I’m working at Elektra Records. Have been sent west to oversee the making of Faster Pussycat’s next album. This story is not about Faster Pussycat. Even though I had a fascinating time engaging with them and learned a ton about identity and point of view by watching Taime Downe work.

ANYWAY…

While in LA, I worked down the hall from Carole Childs, who was…1) A great person to learn from, smart, kind, wise, 2) a high level creative exec who made albums for a living and…3)was also in a long time romantic relationship with Bob Dylan at the time.

Bob Dylan was, and remains, essentially my favorite living artist of any kind. (I thought of this last night as Amy and I drove to pick up our son at the airport. I wanted to put on a perfect album).

So, while Carole and I were in LA, Bob was working on Oh, Mercy down in New Orleans with Daniel Lanois. I was 22 years old when this all takes place. And was very up front about my love of, and knowledge of, Dylan’s work. At the time, Dylan was in a lower ebb of cultural relevance. He was still enormously relevant, but not so much with the under 30 crowd.

Carole said it was cool that I, at that age, was a Dylan head. She thought he was making an important album, maybe his most significant in years, and, although she wasn’t working with him officially, she was getting tapes daily from the studio, and Bob was calling her to ask for guidance. I know this because I would sit in her office and hear her side of the calls.

When the calls would end, she’d say, “Bobby doesn’t have any idea how good this record can be. And then she’d say, “wanna hear a song?”

First one she played me was Ring Them Bells. Then What Was It You Wanted. Then Disease of Conceit. Then Man In The Long Black Coat None of these were finished recordings. She’s ask my opinion, which was, Holy Shit! And then she’d ask me detailed questions. What I didn;t know was she was then telling Bob that there was this kid who loved the music.

See, she and Lanois were trying to convince Bob that the record was special and he could connect with a more current audience. So she would put her REAL AND SMART OPINIONS in my mouth, as though the kid said them.

*It’s important to note: I contributed nothing. Said nothing of value. Carole said a bunch of brilliant stuff. Essentially, she and Lanois wanted Bob to sing vocals a second time to nail them. Eventually, he did.

They finished the album. I stopped getting to hear stuff.

Until: one night, late, she called me into her office. Had me shut the door, said, “we are having a hard time sequencing the record. I want you to listen and tell me what you think of this sequence. But,” she said, “no one can know you have the tape. No one in the world has it. There are no copies. His own label doesn’t have it. And,” she said (this is before the Internet, so there are no files) “You cannot make a copy. Cannot play it for a friend. I need your word.”

I shook on it. And left with the only copy of Oh, Mercy anyone had who wasn’t in the studio with Bob and Lanois.

But I had a roommate. So couldn’t play it at the apartment. I decided to drive to Santa Barbara and back, on US1, all night long, listening in the car.

This was a rented Ford Mustang convertible.

So that’s what I did. And the sequence didn’t need any input from me or Carole or anyone. It was the album you know.

I will never forget the car filling with the sounds of Political World. It was jaw dropping. I hadn’t heard that song before.
(I still think that’s the most relevant and important song there is right now).

I drove and drove and let the album become a part of me. Imagine those haunted New Orleans sounds drenched in Lanois ambience, and only you and the night sky and the Pacific Ocean on your left.

Or right, on the way back.

I have always thought it’s one of the best albums ever made.

And that night remains singular to me. Because it was as if Bob, who had no clue who I was, and never really would, was only singing to me.

Last night, driving to the airport, Amy and I put it on, and this all came flooding back.

As shitty as the world sometimes is, great art, art like Bob Dylan’s on Oh, Mercy, reminds me what we’re capable of. As does the kindness Carole showed me. Because that’s what was really going on.

I was a boy, alone in Los Angeles, in a grownups job. And she saw that, and decided to give me the gift of pretending I was helping. And then the gift of that all night drive, just me and Bob, and the sky and those songs.

And I will always be grateful, and try to pass it on. And I will always listen to Oh, Mercy and remember all of this, warmly, and, I hope, with some sense of grace for a moment in time that changed me, in a wonderful way.


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