Invasive Species: Trump in Florida and Other News From the Sunshine State

The news from Florida is often bizarre. This is partly due to its geography I think. It’s barely above sea level—for now—and is shaped like a lint sock on the discharge valve of a washing machine. And in fact it functions socially something like a lint sock—as you would know if you ever sat around a pool in an apartment complex in West Palm Beach. There you could listen to any number of people describing the failure of their final business venture in New York, their seventh and last restaurant in Manhattan. After which they decided it was time to ‘retire’ and they packed up their Louis Vuittons and migrated south. A friend of mine is a TV producer and reporter who has covered local news in New York City and West Palm Beach, and when we visited Tampa a few years ago she said to me, “Florida is where all the people who flop in New York go.”

I’ve learned a lot from her about the news business, especially local news. One thing I learned is that, like fiction, there are genres in news stories. The theft of a sentimental object is one. The classic version of that is when someone steals the Baby Jesus from the town’s Nativity scene. That always yields a great MOS byte—MOS is ‘man on the street,’ a random person you interview. She did one of those stories and the MOS guy said, “What kind of a pervert steals the baby Jesus?” Then there’s the porch collapse. That’s when the whole family gathers to celebrate the graduation of the first person in the family to go to college. They all get together on the front porch of an old house and—boom. At a porch collapse she covered the grandpa said to her as he dusted himself off, “I survived World War Two and I’ll survive this.”

One of the most important genres in local news is animal stories. These range from the slow-news-day story of the cat trapped in the tree rescued by the fire department to the more interesting versions—golfers chased by alligators, a man half-swallowed by an anaconda rescued by illegal aliens with their faces pixelated out.

The two most recent animal stories from Florida involve invasive species. One concerned wild pigs who have overrun the state like drunken college kids on spring break. You can tell the difference between the college kids and the wild pigs because the college kids have their baseball caps on backwards. The other animal story concerns exotic pets that get loose, mostly lizards and snakes. The stars of this story are pet iguanas who escape and make their way into the sewers and end up, of all places, in people’s toilets. What are failed restauranteurs drinking pina coladas by the pool compared to the iguana in your toilet?

When Donald Trump announced that he would make Mar-a-Lago his residence more than a few of his neighbors greeted that news the same way they did news about wild pigs running amuck and iguanas in people’s toilets. His relationship with the residents has been contentious since he converted what had been a historic estate into a private club. There was opposition to that, but after negotiations an agreement was reached between the city and Trump, with Trump agreeing to a clause that no member of the club could live there for more than three weeks of the year. In January there was renewed opposition by some residents to Trump making Mar-a-Lago his residence. An attorney Philip Johnston represented a group of neighbors who he said wanted to ensure that Palm Beach remained, in his words, “a genteel community.” Johnson said they feared Trump’s presence might turn “Mar-a-Lago into a permanent beacon for his more rabid, lawless supporters.” This was after January 6.

Having brushed aside the local opposition Trump got down at once to the real business at hand. Seeking revenge against everyone who harmed him since last year’s election. Most of this has been done off stage due to the quarantine imposed on him by Twitter and Instagram. With the exception of his speech on the neo-Nazi CPAC stage, most of his tantrums have only been reported second hand. “The former president is said to have…” etc etc.

That is in itself good news for everyone in the country except for the 74 million idiots who voted for him. Denied the bullhorn of Twitter clearly irks him and only increases his anger and his blood pressure. But the real good news is that almost all his venom and vituperation is directed at the Republican Party establishment.

Due to his lock on his idiot base, the most powerful people in the party establishment—Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham foremost—have been forced to slither to his feet to absorb more punishment. They can’t be so obtuse as to expect that Trump will ever forgive them. They do this only in hopes that it will somewhat appease his moronic followers and that in the meantime some other wretch will incur his wrath and so at least temporarily draw his fire away from them.

This situation has produced a series of surprising and laughable contortions among Republican leaders like McConnell and Graham. Perhaps the most amazing one is that Trump has directed them to stop using his name in the fundraising efforts for the party he now controls lock, stock and barrel. ‘I write you today to ask you to donate $100,000 for a man whose name I am not allowed to mention. He is large and has an orange complexion.’ McConnell, Graham and their lessers are reduced to disavowing their own words—especially those of January 6—knowing that it makes them look like what they are. His hopelessly abject lackeys.

They also know a few other things. That Trump’s angry exile has thrown the party into such confusion that the lesser and even more obtuse idiots in the party are coming to the fore and grasping at the most stupid straws in their attempts to right the ship. Making it illegal to give a bottle of water to someone waiting to vote. Or the Texas Republican representative who responded to the mass shootings in the Atlanta massage parlors by bemoaning the recent lack of lynchings. I don’t believe these tactics will win back those stray suburban women.

These things entail another unfortunate contortion from the standpoint of the Republican leaders. Their greatest fear now is that Trump will ‘primary’ their candidates by backing his even more moronic choices, people like Marjorie Taylor Greene with her Jewish space lasers—an unfortunate coinage in the mass media. Since the political appeal of such candidates seems limited to pockets of red state voters, their victory in the primaries looks to ultimately entail defeat in national elections. And when was the last time a Republican won the popular vote in a national election? The early works of Dr. Seuss and Jewish space lasers as wedge issues seem of limited use on the national level.

Then, as though the leaders of the Republican Party don’t have enough headaches, looming over the whole mess are the lawsuits and indictments of both Trump and a large number of his other supporters. Among the most recent is Sidney Powell, who appeared with Rudolph Giuliani and Jenna Ellis at Giuliani’s famous hair-dye press conference in November when they announced they had evidence that the election results were a fraud. Powell is now the defendant in a billion-dollar defamation lawsuit filed by the Dominion voting machine company. Powell claimed at the press conference and in legal briefs that Dominion’s voting machines used technology invented in Venezuela to help Hugo Chavez steal elections, and that the machines had stolen millions of votes from Trump and given them to Biden. Powell is now trying to get the Dominion lawsuit dismissed. Her unusual defense is that no “reasonable person” would have taken her claims as facts. Since a key part of defamation is showing that the defendant knew the claims were false, Powell’s lawyers are also claiming that she then and now thinks the claims are true. Unlike a reasonable person. It would seem her defense has some problems, but who knows? The same argument was made by Fox News to defend Tucker Carlson. When Carlson accused the Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal of extorting Trump with her claim that she had sexual affair with him, McDougal filed a defamation suit against him, and Fox News argued that no “reasonable viewer” would mistake anything Carlson said on his show for fact. And the judge agreed.

Meanwhile Covid-19 has infected Mar-a-Lago This prompted a partial shutdown according to Trump Organization spokesman “out of an abundance of caution.” A standard the club has not always met apparently—in January, Palm Beach County issued a warning to Mar-a-Lago that its New Year’s Eve party violated an ordinance requiring employees and guests to wear masks. Donald Trump Jr. posted video of the party online which showed that only a few of the 500 guests wore masks while they danced to rapper Vanilla Ice, Beach Boys co-founder Mike Love and singer Taylor Dayne. Next thing you know it’s firehoses and TVs flying off the balconies. So much for the loonies.

The central thing that has emerged since Trump went to Mar-a-Lago is the havoc he has caused in the Republican Party. By cleaving to Trump, the purblind leaders like Graham and McConnell are hastening the demise of the Republican party. As I’ve said Trump will not and cannot change. He is too far gone in his narcissistic world of alternate facts and has been for a long time. Ever since his dad began kicking him like a miserable mutt for being so stupid as to even be born. He will destroy the Republican Party without a second thought if it offers any resistance to him. Or maybe even inadvertently if it doesn’t. Given his latest adventures in syntax, it seems likely that Trump will end up at some point like his dad whose dementia was such that his flunkeys fixed his phone so it only connected with other phones in his office.

In the meantime, eighty-sixed from Twitter, Trump has his own website and he uses whatever opportunity presents itself to speak out.

At a recent wedding at Mar-a-Lago he took the mic to toast the couple. It began with a brief preamble was full of the flashes of brilliance we’ve come to expect. “You know, I just got—I turned off the news. I get all these flash reports…” Then he regaled the bride and groom and all their guests with the horrible messes Biden has already created. Iran, China, the border. Of the border he said, “You saw what happened a few days ago was terrible and, uh, the border is not good. The border is the worst anybody’s ever seen it. And what you see now, multiply it times ten, Jim. He’s the only one I know who would handle the border tougher than me.”

It’s unclear who Jim was. He may have been someone who held a position in his administration for a couple of weeks or the guy who parked the cars. Whoever he was, he multiplied it ten times.

Trump summed up—either the mess at the border or something else—this way: “It’s a humanitarian disaster from their standpoint, and it’s gonna destroy the country, and frankly, the country can’t afford it because you’re talking about massive, just incredibly massive amounts. Our school systems, our hospital systems, everything. So it’s a rough thing, and I just say, ‘Do you miss me yet?’”

It was unclear what massive amounts he was talking about, but probably Jim knew what they were and where he’d parked them. Finally, after the obligatory mention of the stolen election, he toasted the couple. It was brief and dignified. “Now, a lot of things happening right now…have fun.”

Daniel Beaumont teaches Arabic language & literature and other courses at the University of Rochester. He is the author of Slave of Desire: Sex, Love & Death in the 1001 Nights and Preachin’ the Blues: The Life & Times of Son House. He can be contacted at: