It was just a little thing, a scratch, that he failed to treat and gangrene set in and it was killing him. They were on safari, in Africa, and their truck had broken down and the rescue plane was never going to make it in time. This is the way Harry died in Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” I reread it the other day because of President Trump. I think of him as Harry. Stormy Daniels is the scratch.
The saga of the adult-film star and the juvenile president has become a rollicking affair. Each step of the way, Daniels has out-Trumped Trump. She is as shameless as he, a publicity hound who adheres to the secular American religion that, to be famous, even for nothing much, is to be rich. By and large, that’s not true, but then there is Kim Kardashian to prove otherwise.
Daniels alleges she and Trump had an affair beginning in 2006. The president’s lawyer and his press secretary allege that the allegations are not true. The lawyer, Michael Cohen, does admit to paying Daniels $130,000, apparently to keep her silent about an affair that, according to Cohen, did not happen. To do this, Cohen set up a private Delaware company and concocted false names for everyone involved — the allegation-maker and the allegation-denier. Only the name Delaware is legit.
The payment of $130,000 over an affair that did not happen did not deter Daniels. For one thing, no one could possibly believe Cohen paid a woman not to talk about a sexual interlude that did not happen. (What’s the price for one that did happen?) I, for one, am understandably mortified that any lawyer named Cohen could be that stupid. Second, the various deniers, both at the Trump Organization and at the White House, keep confirming that Trump and Daniels were fighting it out in court. For instance, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently said that Trump’s lawyers had won an arbitration case “in the president’s favor.” Bingo!
Sometime in the last month or two, it must have occurred to Trump that he is up against himself. Daniels is indefatigable. She appears everywhere. She makes statements, vows, rebuttals and allegations and is scheduled to appear this Sunday on “60 Minutes.” Trump must be shaking his head in admiration. He supposedly used to call in gossip items about himself to New York reporters, employing a false name and false voice. He even exulted in publicity about his extramarital affair with Marla Maples, who was overheard by the New York Post alleging it was the “best sex I’ve ever had.”
Sometimes, as with the Iran-Iraq War, it is hard to take sides. Here, too, it is difficult. Daniels, after all, is a porn actress. She directs and writes screenplays as well, but she is best known for having sex in the movies — turning what used to be called a romp in the hay into a payday. But, with the inadvertent cooperation of Trump and his band of merry incompetents, she now comes across as the victim. Cohen says he can demand as much as $20 million from her for breaching a nondisclosure agreement. In other words, they’re out to crush her.
This, then, is not about Russians with Dostoevsky-ish tongue-twisters for names, or the financial machinations of Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and others. It’s not even about Hillary Clinton or the FBI — which was once the paragon of civic virtue but now, inexplicably and not credibly, is rotten to the core. It’s about a woman up against a bully and it makes other things explicable: This is what Trump did to Andrew McCabe, fired from the FBI hours before he qualified for his pension. Crushed.
In pre-Trump days, it might have been possible to destroy Daniels by calling her a slut or whatever. But Trump himself is a slut. He is a liar and a moral harlot who revels in irresponsibility and bad-boy behavior. He has no moral edge over his accuser. We have all been instructed by Trump himself to disregard schoolhouse virtues of honesty, dignity and rectitude. Trump himself travels light.
It was the little thing that killed Harry on safari. It was the unattended cut, the disabled truck, the tardy rescue plane. As he died, he dreamed of Kilimanjaro, “unbelievably white in the sun” but the hyena that had been stalking him made “a strange, human, almost crying sound,” and he knew what the hyena already knew. It is what Trump is learning.
Read more from Richard Cohen’s archive.