The Trump Antidote…

I’m not easily upset or given to anxiety, but several recent high blood pressure readings on routine doctor visits raised a little concern at home. The readings particularly alarmed Marilynn, who is always surprised to hear that my blood pressure and cholesterol are lower than the average bear’s in spite of my affection for mayonnaise, eggs, butter, and sugar. So, in the interest of domestic peace, I caved and agreed to have it checked out.

I secretly hoped that the visit would be like the one to the car mechanic where, after an exhaustive inspection, the technician shakes his head, declares the problem non-existent, and hands me a bill for the labor. It turns out, luckily, that my suspicions were right; my doctor took three readings in the 120/70 range, smiled knowingly, and sent me home…with a bill for services.

In retrospect, my own diagnosis is “transient Donald Trump effect.” Hours spent listening to MSNBC tweet storm after tweet storm. After a while my muscles tense, my blood pressure rises, and I begin to shout at the TV. Not a blood pressure problem – just a form of global political stress. I’m sure I’m not alone, but if I’m going to survive the next two years I need to divine a coping strategy.

So, reassured that BP is not the problem, Marilynn and I began thinking of a survival strategy. Our first act was to acknowledge that our preference for dark little art films probably wasn’t increasing our joy and feeling of well-being. In the past few weeks we’ve seen Black Klansman, Collete, Can You Ever Forgive Me, The Wife, and Roma. None of them have you leaving the theater with a smile on your face. We need to let our affection for these dark, arty films slide for the time being. On Christmas Day we substituted Mary Poppins Returns.

I was skeptical but willing to try. Would this just be saccharine eye/ear candy? Those of you who know me will understand. I’m not a fan of animated films (there is animation). I’m not attracted to special effects where people fly (Mary flies). And, feel good films made primarily for children (this is one of those) are not in my wheelhouse. So, Mary Poppins Returns looked like a serious test of our new strategy. Surprisingly, it passed with flying colors (no pun intended) thanks to Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and I really did leave the theater smiling.

I’ve grown to love modern technology. Almost everything has a digital analog these days, and with TiVo and Roku there are so many options from Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, YouTube, Pandora and others. When I was learning how to use a computer (remember MS-DOS?) one of my motivations was knowing that if I mastered the basics, I could access the New York Public Library’s reference section. Imagine… Today, MS-DOS is ancient history and so are Internet Explorer, Alta Vista, Yahoo and the other early search engines. Today, it’s all about Google and research is as close as your next key stroke. My daughter writes for national publications from her Hailey, Idaho home and my wife manages a senior health care consultancy from Saigon, Berlin, Paris, and Rome – wherever we happen to be – with her MacBook Pro.

So, after seeing Mary Poppins Returns, we came home and pulled up YouTube on our living room TV and watched parts of the original Julie Andrews/Dick Van Dyke version, saw interviews with the actors, songwriters, screenwriters, and directors of both versions, and… it sounds pretentious, but also talked about the relevance of Mary Poppins to what’s going on in the world today.

Think about the films–both Mary Poppins’ versions. They’re about young families with small children. The Banks families – Jr. and Sr. They’re both struggling financially. In Returns the young mother dies. The distraught husband, a teller at the bank that holds the deed, neglects to make a house payment (the wife’s job) and they fall behind on their mortgage. The evil bankers, pretending to help, foreclose. In the first film the father, is fired by Mr. Dawes, the evil banker, but dies laughing at one of Mr. Banks’ Sr.’s jokes. I won’t give away the ending of the new film, but it’s equally satisfying.

So, how far do we have to go to find real life parallels? Not so far, it turns out. Trump’s Secretary of the Treasury made a fortune foreclosing on sub-prime mortgages sold to vulnerable people who shouldn’t have been given mortgages in the first place. In November, Munchkin and his thin-skinned trophy wife were making news at the US Mint while simultaneously disparaging the poor unfortunates who are unable to afford the luxe items she lives for. Indulge me while I imagine the Munchkins dying of laughter on their way to the bank. Life imitates art?

So… the strategy is working. My blood pressure is down and I’m having so much fun I’ve forgotten about Donald J. Trump. I’m reminded of Norman Cousins’ book Anatomy of an Illness in which Cousins, afflicted with a life-threatening disease, initiated a revolution in patient care by adopting the innovative theory that humor can marshal the body’s natural resources to combat disease. Thank you, Mr. Cousins; you and Mary Poppins have me smiling again. We’re on a roll.

Marilynn is lifelong fan of musical theater and she has brought me along in the last few years. They’re seductive and habit-forming. Two weeks ago, we saw Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, another feel good, smile generating musical – this one with an immigrant theme. How timely. These feel-good entertainments are charged with deeper meanings. Who knew?

At the end of Mary Poppins Returns, Mary flies away, and and as we left the theater we reminisced about how other musicals had also made us feel good. We remembered seeing Singing in the Rain for the first time and after checking out the Mary Poppins stuff on YouTube, we went to Amazon Prime and put Singing in the Rain on our watchlist. I suppose it’s the time we live in, but in these perilous times it’s easy to find secret messages in these feel-good movies.

Singing in the Rain is about how technology changed the film industry. It’s hard to find a more current topic. In the musical, the story line is about the transition from silent films to talkies. The star, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), loses her star role because of her shrill voice and Queens accent while Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) becomes a star because she can sing, dance – and talk. No lip synching (yes, lip-synching is what brings Lina down). Think Milli Vanilli, Ashlee Simpson, and Victoria Beckham.

And, if you think it’s a stretch to see Singing in the Rain as political, check out how the Sunshine State News (Florida rag) uses it vis a vis today’s news.

In any event, I think we’re on to something. It’s important to find some balance in our lives and coping strategies to deal with both disease and Donald Trump. Trump will be gone soon enough, relatively speaking, but if we’re not in good health it won’t matter. Find your own survival strategy. For now, finding things that make me smile and take me briefly away from Oval Office tweet storms, is my strategy. To die laughing isn’t a bad end is it Mr. Banks?



  1. Jack, I have an idea to help with the stress level…stop watching MSNBC. And a little history on Obamas sub prime disaster. That was his grandiose plan that every one should be able to have a home whether they could afford to make the mortgage payments or not. Then these sub primes were packaged into mortgage backed securities which were then sold to the public. Losers all arounnd.
    But I also like the feel good musicals.
    Happy New Year. 2019 is going to be great.

    • Deryl: I try not to argue with friends who comment on the blog, but I’ll make an exception for you since your grasp of the history of sub prime mortgages is off by about 4 years. Obama had nothing to do with its origin or collapse. The first sub prime mortgages came about because a Republican Congress repealed Glass-Steagill, the law that separated commercial and investment banking by the same institution. You’re right about the slicing and dicing of mortgages, but the first sub primes actually came along in 2003 and the crisis peaked in 2007 causing the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, etc and the financial crisis of 2008. It was, Obama who inherited the crisis and with Tim Geitner’s (and Hank Paulson’s) help dug us out – saving the auto industry in the process. Then, your favorite Congressman, Barney Frank, and Chris Dodd put together the Wall Street Reform Act in 2010 to protect against a similar meltdown. Unfortunately, this Congress is doing everything it can to gut Dodd-Frank and set us up for a repeat. Just sayin… Happy New Year my friend. I do love knowing that you read my stuff and that we can still be friends.

      • Thanks for your how-to-chill-ideas, Jack…we are reading your blog from Dubai, after a gorilla and Big 5 safari. It was our way of getting away from Trump’s tweets for a while and lowering our blood pressure while watching the Silverbacks romp. You helped us remember in 2004 when Greenspan said, “more homeowners should consider taking out Adjustable Rate Mortgages”. Or in 2008, when he said that he had put too much faith in the “self correcting free markets”, (within the context of The Glass-Steagill repeal). Happy (relaxing) New Year!

  2. Another fabulous article, Barno! I will go see the New Mary Poppins movie soon. And I love Singin in the Rain. It was about the time my Dad was in the films and I loved the music. Was in high school when I first saw the movie and sang the songs all my life ! Happy New Year!!!!!

  3. Another wonderful article, Barno! Singin in the Rain was one of my very favorite movies. It was about a time when my Dad was in the movies. I saw it in high school and have sung the songs all my life! Will now see the new Marry Poppins! Keep the articles coming!

  4. I need you to meet my brother in law, Erik Lundegaard, sometime. He’s the editor of a lawyers publication and lover of the written word, politics, musicals (especially Hamilton!), and a good discussion. Take care!

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