Notoriety is a funny thing, and when it comes, you'd better be prepared to roll with the flow. Get your people ready. When the public turns its eyes to you, anything can happen. Andy Warhol famously said that in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes, but these days fame does not arrive and depart with such tidal efficiency. It sloshes and roils like choppy surf. One day, you're on top of the news cycle; 24 hours later, no one remembers your name, as you sink beneath the waves. (See, Scaramucci, Priebus, Hicks, Tillerson, McMaster, Spicer, et. al.)
When you're a corporation, like, say, United Airlines, notoriety can eat your lunch. A couple bad PR moments — a passenger dragged off a plane, say, or a dog dying in an overhead bin — and your reputation is shot. The only good news is that expectations are lowered, as in, "Oh, we were on the tarmac for three hours and they sent my bag to Milwaukee, but what do you expect? It was United."
There are ways around this peripatetic cycle, of course. One way is to become president. When you're president, you can be famous 24 hours a day, if you want to be. You can be famous every 15 minutes, nonstop. You can turn every news cycle into your own reality show, filled with people talking about what you said and how you said it, where you went and what you did. It can be all about you. Which is how President Donald Trump appears to like it.
But this week, Trump is having to take a seat in the gallery and watch as the nation pauses to remember President George H.W. Bush, who passed away at 94 last weekend. Bush 41 was not without flaws during his presidency; some of his domestic policies, his "Willie Horton" ads, and his ignoring of the AIDS crisis were marks against him. But Bush and Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev together engineered the end of the Cold War and brought down the Berlin Wall, a monumental achievement that will remain his enduring presidential legacy. Bush was, by most accounts, a decent and honorable man who loved his family and served his country with dignity.
During Bush's presidency, he was plagued — unfairly, given that he was a World War II combat pilot and played college baseball — by what was called the "wimp factor." He was compared, on occasion, to George McFly, the hapless character played by Crispin Glover in Back to the Future, to whom Bush bore some resemblance. George McFly's nemesis was the evil bully, Biff Tannen, who delighted in giving George noogies and shouting, "THINK, McFly!"
It's not a stretch to see the parallels between blowhard Biff and Trump, who, at a rally just a few weeks back, took great delight in making fun of the elder Bush's volunteer program, "a thousand points of light."
"A thousand points of light. What the hell was that?" Trump smirked to his adoring cult. "Can somebody explain that to me? I don't think anyone ever understood that." He might as well have added, "THINK, McBush!"
Ha. Ha. Nothing says class more than making fun of a dying 94-year-old former president and war hero for a cheap laugh. But time has a way of evening scores. In Back to the Future, George found his courage, gave Biff a shot to the jaw, and won the girl, demonstrating that the fearsome bully was all bluster and bravado. Time may do the same to Donald Trump.
I believe the next few weeks will test the country's resolve — and the rule of law — as Robert Mueller's Russian investigation brings to light more unsavory connections between the Trump organization and Russian intelligence during the 2016 campaign. We'd best batten down the hatches. Trump's American reality show will reach new heights of drama and intrigue — and maybe even a season finale.
But no matter what happens, it helps to remember that notoriety fades in a flash and history is written in indelible ink. If Donald Trump lives to 94 and his body is brought to the Capitol Rotunda, I suspect the years will not be as kind or as forgiving as they have been to George Herbert Walker Bush.