By Richard Gagnier

At times in our history such as these, as we now prepare to watch Joe Biden, an illegitimate winner, installed as our new President, it can seem to me that we’re caught in a political world that is largely illusion.

Despite all the seriousness many commentators attach to the sausage-making processes attended to by our representatives, it currently feels to me as if it’s all – every issue, every politician, pundit, fact-checker, every YouTube personality – that it’s, in total, the well-worn sho-biz antics of a street magician. No trick’s going to turn out except how the magician wants it to, despite his playing up the possibility of someone actually being cut in half, or actually disappearing.

We observe a continual, relentless, dressed-up presentation of representative democracy, of course, but nonetheless, it seems clear at the moment, that the sense of possibility we are sometimes encouraged to feel might be nothing more than the necessary sleight-of-hand to distract from what is essentially a rigged and predetermined game.

So thank God for brief respites.

In the world of political illusion and distraction, Donald Trump, and Carl Paladino before him, were rule-breakers, strange uniquely American pioneers. They were men who, in high-stakes manner, called out the sham, and broke the fourth wall of politics time and time again.

If you’re not from New York State you can be excused for not knowing who Carl Paladino is, but he was in my experience Trump before there was a candidate Trump, and, in fact, Carl Paladino acted as Donald Trump’s campaign co-chair in New York State in 2016. Paladino will be known to some of you for his having run against Andrew Cuomo in 2010 for the governorship of New York State. To explain the special kinship between the two men, Trump and Paladino, when I interviewed Mr. Paladino recently, he expressed sympathy for the cheated President Trump in saying, “I feel so badly for him, because he is me, and I have been told many times that people who know both of us recognize the traits.”

Carl Paladino speaks before a rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on April 10, 2016, in Rochester, N.Y.

Both Trump and Paladino arrived fully formed in their bids for higher office, understood instinctively the game-like aspect of politics, and preceded to singularly play politics like trash talk sessions between WWE matches. It was great fun for an observer such as myself. Their behavior instructed the home viewer that the likelihood of cutting through the rigged game would be roughly proportional to the amount you’d be able to upset your opponent’s balance, and call out the magician’s tricks which are routine to the world of politics.

When Trump noticed aloud, for instance, that the mainstream press – that perennial aid of the establishment politician — is “fake news”, he gave an apt example to us of revealing a magician’s trick to an audience. He pointed out the man behind the curtain. When Carl Paladino ran against Andrew Cuomo for the Governorship of New York, and Paladino saw that Cuomo would deny him a chance to debate, Paladino kept a running timer on his own campaign website. The timer was titled the “No Cojones Counter”, and it kept track of the days, minutes, seconds since Cuomo had been asked to debate and had not consented to do so. The counter unmasked Cuomo’s trick of avoiding debate, and its label – “No Cojones” – additionally cut a large hole in the media’s projection that the thuggish Cuomo is in any way a “man’s man” as opposed to being a family’s skittish sister.

I interviewed Carl Paladino the day after what many had interpreted to be Trump’s concession speech to Joe Biden, a sad history book moment made possible only by a rigged election, a willfully compliant media, and a smug political left open to accepting a cheated win as a win. My conversation with Mr. Paladino was at times sorrowful, as you might expect, and so we never did get around to nostalgically recounting comic aspects of his run against Cuomo, which I would have loved to, but Mr. Paladino did offer a way forward from the bullet-hole that is the current moment, which we’ll get to in a bit.

Mr. Paladino, in recounting an early meeting with Trump, told me that when a group of 35 businessmen approached Trump about running to be New York’s governor, Trump asked about Paladino, who had in 2010 competed for the position of governor against eventual winner Andrew Cuomo: Said Trump, “After all this discussion, before I respond to what you’re asking of me, to run for governor; I want to speak to Carl Paladino.” Paladino then traveled to New York City to dine with Trump, and to talk to him, during which conversation Trump opened up about his true political desire. Paladino recalled,

“He had watched my campaign in 2010. He had watched me say things nobody else would say, things that other people only think. He watched that, and he admired it, so he wanted to meet me, so I went down to New York, and we ate dinner, we had that discussion, and he told me, “Carl, I really want to run for president.” And I said wow, and then I asked the question, why? And he gave me that answer, and he had me sold at that moment.”

The “answer” of Trump’s that Mr. Paladino refers to, came up earlier in our interview. It may be that it’s been reported elsewhere, I don’t know, but if it hasn’t been, it’s one for the history books. Trump gave as his inspiration for a presidential run, quote “To honor my dad and my mom who gave me this opportunity”, and I very much had the sense that Mr. Paladino connected emotionally with Trump’s answer, whatever similarity or differences there may be between the men’s relationships with their own parents.

The origin story of Trump’s 2016 campaign made for a poignant moment in our interview, but the interview began with a palpable sense of disbelief at the recent turn of events, before the topic of Mike Pence came up, at which time the conversation took a noticeable downward shift:

“You put him [Trump] up against a really ridiculous candidate on the Democratic side, a person who, at least where I come from, people scratch their heads and wonder, ‘Why? Why would the Democrats go with such a weak person?’ It turns out that a person who has credibility problems, has all kinds of personal problems, has a possible criminal investigation he’s facing with his son… You see all these things, and you say, ‘Don’t worry about Trump. He’s going to win.’ And you just feel so confident about it because not only your Republican friends but your Democratic friends are all talking about Trump. Everybody’s talking about Trump. The signs go up in front of the houses, up and down the street. And I live in a democratic area in south Buffalo, and the Trump signs were all over. And then election day comes, and you say, ‘Wow, what happened?’ And then you hear all the stories. People signing affidavits. You, at least, have a prima facie case to question the vote. And you have this thing in your soul and your heart that the right people will do the right thing. And then it comes to Mr. Pence.”

If I were gunning for clickbait, I’d include every bit of what was said about Pence, but I think it might be better to say about Pence what I think needs to be remembered beyond this moment, beyond this week, this year, the next time, if ever, Pence makes reference to faith, God, or soul:

“… He [Pence] would force the President ultimately last night to back off and say, ‘All right. I guess truth doesn’t matter anymore.’ I was raised with truth. My father taught me truth. He said, ‘You fight for truth.’  That’s what we did in the army, that’s what we do in our everyday lives, we fight for truth. And the American people have been cheated, at least 74 million, but obviously it’s many millions more, were cheated by the Washington swamp that in my mind, overwhelmed Mr. Pence, overwhelmed all those other Washington slobs, to abandon their leader who had done such a wonderful job for the people for four years, who honestly believed that he was cheated.”

By the time we’d finished speaking, of many things suggesting no easy way out for the many Americans helplessly observing the steal, the one somewhat uplifting takeaway I was left with was Mr. Paladino’s impassioned talk of the fight for truth. Wouldn’t it be interesting if “truth” and “sacrilege” were the defining poles in a new political reality? Are you calling out the magician’s tricks, or are you making nice with him?

Although Mr. Paladino called out Pence for abandoning his leader in historic fashion, I should mention Justice Roberts also received minor attention:

“Those cowards. That Roberts, he’s a coward. You know when people say that he was on Epstein’s island, I don’t doubt it one bit. All I’ve seen is a man who has illustrated cowardice in one of the most sacred jobs that we have in government.”

I’ll end with a quote that again suggests the connection between Paladino and Trump, from a time in the beginning, well before the swamp had formulated its 45th plan to take down the 45th President, from the time just after Trump told Paladino his inspiration for wanting to run to be president was the memory of his parents:

 “… And he gave me that answer, and he had me sold at that moment. At that moment, I said, what do you want me to do? I mean, I was one of the day-one guys on his campaign; there were quite a few of us, but I was right there, and we became very close friends. As we traveled across New York State in the primary, we were together many times, for many discussions, and I came to admire, despite yes, despite his, if you want to call it over-confidence, his narcissism, his way of speaking, some confidence. In a businessman, basically, businessmen negotiate — their life is the art of negotiation — extreme confidence in what you’re saying. I mean, you could sell somebody the Brooklyn Bridge, but he used his confidence to explain why he was doing all these good things for America. You think of the things this guy did. I mean, it’s just shameful… and he stayed away from the bad actors, he stayed away from the swamp, and he did it.”

 

Rich Gagnier has been a public librarian for nearly 30 years. He has no particular interest in writing about politics, and will probably stop soon, so it would be a stupid waste of resources for any intelligence agency to “off him” for anything he might write. He also varies his route home from work daily and would not make things easy for you.