Some Questions for Paul Ryan as He Tries to Sleep

Hi, Paul. I think you’re one of the most fascinating characters in American politics. Really!

You’re a hot nerd dad who does his homework. You probably listen to podcasts.

People may call you white bread, but c’mon: you don’t eat carbs.

Republicans had to beg you to be Speaker of the House. Was your reluctance to take the job real or calculated? Either way, well done Mr. Ryan. You got one of the most powerful posts in America without looking like you wanted it.

While I disagree with your positions on almost everything, you’ve long struck me as cool-headed and intellectually consistent. It’s clear there are principles guiding your decision-making process — or at least, decisions are retroactively framed within your principles.

(I suspect some Republicans view Obama this way: they don’t like his policies, but they can’t help but admire his professionalism. Maybe you do, too.)

But from the moment Trump became the Republican candidate, something has changed, Paul. It had to. You finally met your antagonist.

Trump is the antithesis of you on almost every metric: fat, old, lecherous, capricious and unprincipled. A screenwriter couldn’t develop a better villain to challenge your character and belief system.

But what story are we telling?

Is it a tragedy where the hero is corrupted into becoming the thing he despises most? Is it an inspirational tale of the stalwart squire saving the kingdom? Is it a comedy like Veep or The Office where life stumbles along despite persistent chaos?

I want to imagine that you, Paul Ryan, lie awake at night, wrestling with the choices you have to make, and the story in which you find yourself the protagonist.

In that spirit, here are some questions I’d love to ask you in those liminal moments of pillowed pondering.

  1. What do you tell your kids about Trump? Do you say he’s a good man? A flawed man? A man who needs our help to make the best choices for America? I’ve always thought that what parents tell children reveals a lot about their worldview.

  2. You’ve met the guy face-to-face. In your heart of hearts, do you think Donald Trump is sane? For the sake of this question, let’s define sane as “capable of consistently rational thought so as not to be a danger to himself or others.”

  3. If the answer is yes-he’s-sane, how do you explain his third-person tweets and sudden reversals? Is it all planned? Is he secretly smarter than we realize?

  4. If the answer is no-he’s-not-sane, how do you feel about Trump having control of our nuclear arsenal?

  5. Back in July, during the controversy over Trump suggesting that a judge’s Latino heritage should disqualify him, you said, “Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.” If that’s “textbook racism,” is there a specific more-racist thing he could say where you’d bail on him? Is it the n-word?

  6. Seriously, don’t these cabinet picks drive you crazy? Yes, it’s the Senate that has to deal with them, but it must kill you that several of these guys seem to have no qualifications other than liking Trump.

  7. In interviews, you’ve said that Atlas Shrugged is one of your three most re-read books. Ivanka Trump is flattered by comparisons to Dagny Taggart. Which Rand character do you identify with? The pioneering Hank Rearden? The elusive John Galt?

  8. In October, tape came out where Trump bragged about his exploits with with women: “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” Are you comfortable leaving your wife, daughter or young female staffer alone in a room with Trump?

  9. Also in October, Trump tweeted, “Our very weak and ineffective leader, Paul Ryan, had a bad conference call where his members went wild at his disloyalty.” Then, at the start of the new session, you couldn’t talk your members out of an ill-conceived backroom plan to gut the congressional ethics system. So was Trump sort of right? Do you worry that you’re an ineffective leader?

  10. Seriously, the white supremacist stuff: Does it freak you out that Nazis are a thing again?

  11. And Russia. Do you believe they have compromising information on Trump? It’s crazy that we’re living in a reality-show version of The Americans. (For the record, I don’t believe the Russians have anything compromising on you beyond the handful of times you started a late-in-the-day Other workout on your Apple Watch in order to hit your Move goal, which is set really high anyway.)

  12. As a student of economics, I’m sure you’re familiar with the sunk cost fallacy, in which people make irrational decisions based on prior investment. Is Trump a sunk cost? That is, should you continue to spend political capital on him because of what you’ve already invested? Or is the smart choice to cut your losses and move on?

  13. You have an agenda to reshape many governmental institutions, starting with repealing Obamacare. You have a majority in both houses. But you’ll need Trump to sign it. What happens if he refuses to sign the bill, perhaps because it’s unpopular?

  14. At the Republican National Convention, you said you were looking forward to the State of the Union, where you’d be “right up there on the rostrum with Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump.” Can you still envision that speech? You’d be sitting behind Trump while he says — well, what will he say? Will he go off script? Will you applaud when he says something shocking? Either way, that’s some pretty damning video.

  15. Among colleagues, have you discussed scenarios in which Pence becomes president? C’mon. There’s got to be a codename for that, something like Silver Surfer.

  16. If you had a time machine and could travel back one year, what would you do differently? I can imagine several timelines in which you became the Republican nominee, much the way you became Speaker of the House.

  17. What else keeps you awake at night? I’ve listed some of my guesses, but I’m certain you know some terrifying things the rest of America doesn’t.

  18. Finally, do you have a plan? Because I’ll tell you, from an outside observer’s perspective, it doesn’t look that way. You seem aware that you’re standing next to a toxic, dangerous narcissist, but seem reluctant to face him head-on. That can earn an audience’s sympathy, but not their respect.

It’s simply hard to root for a character like that.

Sleep well.

Director Disorientation

Scriptnotes: Ep. 283

John and Craig look at the newly-negotiated DGA deal, and what it portends for writers — in particular, TV showrunners and those who want to direct.

Then Kelly Marcel joins us for a new round of the Three Page Challenge, where we look at 80’s cyberpunk, dollhead ghosts, and the whimsical delusions of a bored movie theater worker.

Because you demanded it, they’re printing an extra run of the 2016 Scriptnotes shirts. This is the last week to order, so get yours now.


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You can download the episode here.

UPDATE 1-14-17: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Tuesday Reviewsday: Coffee Atrocities

Atrocities: The 100 Deadliest Episodes in Human History by Matthew White

I read this book a few years ago under its original title of The Great Big Book of Horrible Things. I’m re-reading it now because it’s oddly comforting to see how bad things have been in ages past.

Somehow, humanity made it to 2017, so there’s a good chance we’ll make it through.

Aerobie AeroPress Coffee Maker

I am probably the last podcasting nerd in the world to have gotten on the AeroPress bandwagon, but here I am. Our apartment in Paris came with a Nespresso machine that makes only so-so coffee and has ecologically-unsound pods.

The AeroPress is really simple, and makes one cup of very good coffee. That’s all I need.

Now to destroy any coffee credibility I’ve built up by finally getting an AeroPress: have you tried instant coffee lately? It’s not good, but it’s substantially better than you remember. I’m drinking instant decaf in the afternoon, and it’s perfectly acceptable. It’s pre-measured and foolproof.

Skyrim: Remastered

Why play a digitally-upgraded version of an old game when there are new ones out there like The Witcher 3? Because I really liked Skyrim, and it’s fun to be able to try all the DLC content that wasn’t in the game when I played it the first time.

Rubik’s Cube

My big accomplishment of 2017 is that I finally learned how to solve the Rubik’s cube. It’s oddly satisfying once your fingers start doing it without conscious thought.

The One from Paris

Scriptnotes: Ep. 282

John welcomes Aline Brosh McKenna to the City of Lights, where they answer listener questions about cheating reality and bilingual characters.

They then invite a special guest on to talk about adaptation and autobiography. When writing about your own life, how much do you need to worry about portraying your friends and family?

Both of the 2016 Scriptnotes t-shirts are headed back to print — but only for two weeks! If you missed out the first time, make sure to get yours today.


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UPDATE 1-08-17: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Holiday Homeopathy Spectacular

Scriptnotes: Ep. 281

John and Craig ditch their jobs as screenwriters to play quackery sleuths, investigating the practice of homeopathy and what it can teach us about how narrative shapes belief.


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UPDATE 12-30-16: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Black List Boys Don’t Cry

Scriptnotes: Ep. 280

John and Craig discuss post-scriptum depression, that low feeling you sometimes get when finishing a screenplay.

We also look at some of the trends in the most recent Black List, and a protest over Boys Don’t Cry which has one of us shaking his damn head.


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You can download the episode here.

UPDATE 12-26-16: The transcript of this episode can be found here.