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Quick, Where’s the Anti-Trump Gel?

by on May 18, 2016 6:00 AM

I surprised even myself this morning by googling the words "Donald Trump antibacterial gel."

I had not intended to write about Trump today. In fact, one of my closest confidants had specifically advised me not to write about Trump or Sandusky.

But here’s what’s happening: After 15 shots of tequila, an editor from a previously reputable publishing house agreed to issue a collection of my greatest hits.

OK, I’m kidding about the shots. As far as I know, the editor was stone-cold sober.

Assuming she was not kidding, I’ve been going through my old columns – I’ve probably written a thousand since I rode the west wind into State College in 1995 – looking for the 10 percent that are worthy of reprinting between the covers of a book.  

It was during this deep dive into a pair of three-ring binders, a carton of yellowing clippings and a couple of electronic archives that I chanced upon an October 1999 column devoted to the upcoming local election.

In his statement to voters, a candidate for Centre County Board of Commissioners proclaimed his “no-nonsense approach to life.” My response: “The world could use a few more yes-nonsense types” – an idea I stole from New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast.

Another candidate promised that under his leadership, “civilized family life will be restored.” Since I was then sharing living quarters with a 12-year-old, a 9-year-old, a 5-year-old, two cats, Bop the Movie Dog and a goldfish named Louis, that was a platform I could wholeheartedly support.

The incumbent, meanwhile, said we needed to “value our values.” My comment: “If you’re scoring, he used the word “values” six times in a 34-word paragraph.”

(My comment about my comment: If you’re scoring, I’ve run across the words “if you’re scoring” almost as many times as I’ve run across the words “the Woo people” in my old columns, painful evidence that I, like all longtime wordsmiths, have repeatedly committed the sin of repeating myself.)

Then I turned my attention to the State College Borough Council. My idea: to launch an 11th-hour write-in campaign for Donald Trump.

My reasoning: “If we must have a council that erects monumental, costly, ugly edifices that no one wants, let's bring in a master.”

I was referring to hotly debated plans for a new State College municipal building. One critic called the design we wound up with – on a 4-3 vote -- “a soulless 245-foot-long monolithic, bland office building.”

A stint on borough council, I wrote, was an opportunity for Trump “to acquire some of the governing experience his critics say he needs before he can make a credible run at the White House.”

This was shortly after Trump had told the world, on “Larry King Live,” that he was thinking of running for president as the Reform Party candidate. He got the idea from wrestler-turned-governor Jesse Ventura at a Wrestlemania event, which is where I do my best thinking as well.

As is typical with Trump, he told King he was forming a presidential exploratory committee as if the idea had just popped into his head. Maybe it had.

King had introduced Trump thus: “Tonight: Donald Trump. Need we say more?”

When host asked guest if he had a running mate in mind, Trump said, “Oprah, I love Oprah.”

King’s response: “What a ticket that would be.” Note the lack of an exclamation point.

The idea of a Trump presidency did not sit well with me in 1999. Once he’s on borough council, I wrote, “we should have no trouble maneuvering him into so many yucky glad-handing situations that he'll conclude politics is not for him and he'll take his bottle of antibacterial gel and go home.”

This was an allusion to Trump’s reputation as “a clean-hands freak” (his words). And as we have known at least since Macbeth and his Lady made their own power grab, obsessive hand washing betokens a guilty conscience.

That was before antibacterial gel was a thing. There were a few years when a gel dispenser was positioned on the floor of the Bryce Jordan Center during commencement to encourage the new grads to goop up before pressing the flesh of deans, department heads and other platform party worthies.

We seem to be over it. I saw no gel dispenser at my college’s commencement exercises this year. Trump, too, seems resigned to the fact that there is no getting around hand-to-hand contact on the campaign trail.

Apparently, we are saner about cooties than we were in 1999. The gift of prophecy I evinced in that 1999 column has also been recognized: How else explain that book deal?

In most other ways, alas, ours is a world gone mad. How else explain that Trump is on the verge of winning not the Reform Party nomination, but the Republican Party nomination.

The very thought of it makes you want to reach for the goop, doesn’t it?

A collection of Russell Frank's columns from the past 20 years, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," was published this fall by the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place in the Commentary-Non Daily category of the Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter 2017 Spotlight contest. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania for 13 years. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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