I watched the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2011 when then-president Barack Obama made fun of the future-president Donald Trump.
I understood at the time that Obama deserved a chance to get even with Trump, who had just dragged him through a totally disrespectful non-scandal about Obama’s birth, the kind of thing only a black man has to endure, at the hands of a white man. It was a humiliation not just for the president, but for a country with a long history of racial oppression, trying to overcome its past.
But I had a bad feeling. I had learned from years of conflict in business and tech, that you don’t want that last bit of victory, it always comes back to bite you. When you win, you want to be gracious, extend an olive branch, be big, even if inside you feel like taking the revenge that is yours.
I learned this lesson from a defeated adversary. When I first arrived in Silicon Valley, I did a deal with a company called Personal Software, that had just bought a product called VisiCalc, which was the first spreadsheet program. They became a juggernaut, and my product, which eventually became ThinkTank, wasn’t making it. When I finally delivered, the company decided not to market it, and they told me about their decision in a nasty, humiliating way. I was forced to take a perp walk through the company offices, administered by a guy I’ll call Rick, though that’s not his real name.
A few years later, Personal Software was gone, a victim of its own success, and my company, formed around the project they rejected, was thriving. I forget what I was doing, but I was playing with Rick, making his life miserable, because our fortunes were reversed. I was on top, and he was the loser. He reached out to me, and said something memorable (paraphrased).
“You won, Dave, I see that. It would be great if you’d let me get on with my life.”
I felt shame. I stopped. And every time I won a personal victory, I remembered Rick and his humility.
But Rick, when he dragged me down, actually did me a huge favor, as Obama did for Trump that night. Rick motivated me. He gave me the push I needed to win. I had a reason to win, to kick his ass. It worked. And in the end I found I didn’t need to kick his ass, the victory itself was enough of a reward.
Obama should now have learned that lesson. He was the guy up on stage, speaking in front of a podium that said President of the United States. Trump was in the audience, with no mike, no voice. Trump had to take it. But he was brewing his revenge as Obama humiliated him, a revenge that he would ultimately take out on all of us.
Why tell this story now?
Because Trump just did it to his adversaries.
His tweet, where he called American journalism the “enemy of the people” was too much. It was so wrong, so dangerous, so “burn down the house” that it motivates me, an American citizen and voter, to want to see him brought down. It tells me that there is certainly something very awful that he doesn’t want anyone to know. So now we have to know it. And journalism will be part of how we get to know it.
It could motivate the Republican Congress to take a chance, really a small one, and authorize an independent commission with subpoena power, to investigate, so the news doesn’t have to break through leaks. It should come out legally, under government supervision. Whatever the truth is, whatever it is that connects the Trump Family to Russia, we have to know it, we will know it. Either through the government or through journalism. And Trump, if he wishes to learn from his mistakes, will know he shouldn’t have motivated his enemies.