Index: Four Villains (Special Episode)
"Shame Cometh" & Other Stories
After writing about Trump and his sick crew for four years, I stumbled upon a new way of telling these stories back in February. I stopped writing like a journalist—well, a journalist who cracks wise and swears a lot—and resumed writing like a novelist. I sacrificed specificity for flow. This doesn’t work all the time, but it was effective in articulating how very bad some of these villains truly are. “Shame Cometh,” the piece about Jared Kushner written in this style, trended on Twitter for two days and got a quarter million pageviews in that span.
I am on the road this week, and my plan for the podcast was to read these pieces instead of having a guest. But that would have been 90 minutes of me talking, which not even my cats want to hear. Instead, for this week’s PREVAIL podcast, I asked four friends to help out. Fortunately for me—and for my listeners—I have some very talented friends.
Confidence Man: The Jeffrey Epstein Story
A tale of princes, presidents, and predators.
Published: June 7, 2022. Read by Alison Weller.
Epstein is a real-life Gatsby, but a poisoned Gatsby, a Daisyless Gatsby, a Gatsby without the green light, a Gatsby from hell. He is a magic trick inverted. Now you don’t see him, now you do. One day he’s just there, in the thick of it all, possessor of an opulent Upper East Side townhouse, the most expensive residence in all of Gotham. He could not have acquired such a signature property if he was not rich. That’s what everyone thinks, at least. That’s the rationale. If he lives there, he must be legit. Money can’t buy you everything, but it can certainly bring you the benefit of the doubt.
Rumors fly, but as with Gatsby, the rumors are little more than speculation. He’ a financier, is what the papers say. He must be very good at whatever it is he does. He must know how to play the markets. He must know how to invest. He must have the wealthiest clients in the world. He must be a magician with money. Rabbit from a hat. Now you don’t see it, now you do.
Portrait of an American Strongman
This is the real Donald Trump.
Published: February 1, 2022. Read by Robert Burke Warren.
Then came the TV show. It was the brainchild of a reality show producer whose initial idea was to make a program featuring Vladimir Putin. He was portrayed as a rich, successful, self-made businessman. None of those things were true, but viewers believed the myth, the legend. He was good at acting the part. He enjoyed uttering his catch-phrase: You’re fired. The executive at the TV station who had greenlighted the show moved from that network to the top cable news network in the United States, overseeing the entire news operation.
Despite having never held elected office—his only real political experience consisted of calling for the execution of the Central Park Five and disseminating the lie that the country’s first Black president was born in Kenya—he decided to run for president. Media outlets, especially the cable news network run by the friend who had greenlighted his TV show, covered him as if he were actually the character on the show—as if none of the horrible things he’d done in the past had ever happened. The correspondent covering his campaign for the country’s paper of record was more concerned with maintaining access than investigating the truth of his chequered past—a truth that could be found in the archives of her own company.
Shame Cometh: The Jared Kushner Story
A tale of hubris and disgrace.
Published: February 8, 2022. Read by Diana Spechler.
His portfolio was a catalogue of failure. He was tasked with solving the opioid crisis. He did not. He was tasked with ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He did not. He was tasked with building the wall between the U.S. and Mexico. He did not. He was tasked with managing the stockpile of medicine and PPE. He fucked that up royally—for the American people, at least, if not for his rich cronies. He hoarded the stuff and forced states to bid against each other for it.
During the early days of the pandemic, he set up a shadow task force to devise an appropriate response. When that task force gave him its recommendations—masks, contact tracing, federal coordination of supplies, etc.—he ignored them. The virus, he saw, was hitting the Blue States the hardest. It would help his father-in-law politically, he came to believe, if the pandemic continued to rage in those states. This way, his father-in-law could blame the governors of those states, who were all Democrats, for the escalating public health crisis, avoiding responsibility. So he decided to scuttle the plans given him by his own task force, and let the virus run amok.
At the time, the states hit the hardest by covid-19 were New York, New Jersey, and California. New York: where he lived for years, where most of his friends lived. New Jersey: where he grew up, where his parents lived. California: where his brother lived. He was willing to let the populations of those states—home to his family and friends—get sick and die to help his father-in-law’s re-election prospects.
The King Must Die
Ukraine: A play in five acts.
Published: March 15, 2022. Read by Tom Gualtieri.
Who will play Brutus to the king’s Caesar? His chef and most trusted friend, who runs the mercenaries and the trolls? The gas company head known as Darth Vader? The jackal of a foreign minister, who once yukked it up with the criminal in the Oval Office, with his yacht and his daughter in the posh London neighborhood? The simpleton head of the army, with his ridiculous ribbons and medals? The sniveling spokesman with the pedophile mustache? Probably it will be Patrushev, the spymaster—he has the invisible poisons at his disposal and the courage to use them.
And so the king rants and raves, and sacks some or other general, and makes increasingly unhinged public statements. The free world fears his nuclear weapons, but if he orders a nuclear strike, would anyone even listen at this point? Will the missiles even launch? The king is not sure enough to put it to the test.
And so his head swells, and his leg twitches, and his hands tremble, and he keeps up the wholesale slaughter of innocents in the queen’s country—as he did in Syria and in Chechnya, because the king is a ruthless butcher—and he waits to see which of his minions will rise against him and end his reign of terror.
The word tsar, the king knows, derives from caesar.
In this special episode, Greg Olear asks his talented friends Alison Weller, Robert Burke Warren, Diana Spechler, and Tom Gualtieri to read four of his narrative pieces on Jeffrey Epstein, Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, and Vladimir Putin.
Plus: a better SCOTUS steakhouse.
Alison is an actor, writer, producer and educator whose work has toggled between investigative and classical theater and now into film and television. She recently worked on The Good House, Don’t Look Up, Hocus Pocus 2 and Spirited. Her personal obsessions include the fate of our democracy and holding on to civil rights for all.
Robert Burke Warren
Robert is a writer, performer, teacher, and musician, author of novel Perfectly Broken and one-man show Redheaded Friend, and editor of Cash on Cash: Interviews & Encounters with Johnny Cash. His work appears in Longreads, Salon, Texas Music, Brooklyn Parent, The Woodstock Times, Paste, The Rumpus, The Bitter Southerner, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, among others. You can find his music on albums by RuPaul, Rosanne Cash, and rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson; The Roots used his tune “The Elephant In the Room” as John McCain's entrance theme on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. In the 90s, he performed the lead in the West End musical Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. Prior to that he was a globetrotting bass player.
Diana is the author of the novels Who By Fire and Skinny (both Harper Perennial), and of the New York Times Opinion series “Going Off.” She has written for The Guardian, GQ, Washington Post, Esquire, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Electric Literature, New York, Paris Review Daily, The Wall Street Journal, Glimmer Train Stories, Texas Monthly, The Southern Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Harper’s, Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, Boston Globe, National Geographic Traveler, Harper’s Bazaar, Tin House Open Bar, BBC Travel, Saveur, Bon Appetit, Ploughshares, and many other publications. She is an eight-time Moth StorySLAM winner and has been featured on The Moth Radio Hour, The Moth podcast, and NPR. Her awards and honors include the Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize, the Orlando Nonfiction Prize from A Room of Her Own Foundation, a Yaddo residency, a Hawthornden Castle residency, a Steinbeck Fellowship at San Jose State University, the writer-in-residency at Portsmouth Abbey School, a LABA Fellowship, a fellowship from the Sozopol Fiction Seminars in Bulgaria, a Visiting Artist residency at The Betsy Hotel, and a Willapa Bay AiR residency. Her fiction has been featured on Selected Shorts and her nonfiction was a Best American Essays Notable selection. Subscribe to her Substack of travel writing, Dispatches from the Road.
Tom is a Drama Desk Nominee for That Play: A Solo Macbeth (created with director Heather Hill). He maintains an ongoing collaboration with composer David Sisco and they have performed together in Sisco’s Bait n’ Swish at Stage Left Studio and in concerts of their work at Feinstein's/54 Below. Music by Gualtieri & Sisco is available at their Sellfy store. Gualtieri & Sisco are currently producing a video songwriting series, Draw the Circle Wide, intended to raise awareness about diversity and inclusion in musical theatre. Each episode features an interview with a musical performer and a song written just for them. Find out more here. That Summer: A Fantasia on Family, created with composer Andrea Clearfield, was commissioned by the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus has been published by Boosey & Hawkes. Tom has also written two short musicals, The Supper at Elsinore (with Joy Son) and Last Call, My Darling (with William Wade) and provided additional material for Broadway Bares.
Today, the “PREVAIL with Greg Olear” podcast hit a half million downloads—a dizzying number. Thanks so much for your support!
Photo credit: This is a section of the Berlin Wall that still stands. I took this yesterday. I have no idea what it means, but it looks vaguely villainous, and I wanted to use a picture than wasn’t the face of Epstein, Trump, Kushner, or Putin. I’m sick of looking at them.