THE TWENTIETH DAY OF JANUARY
January 20, 2017
HILOBROW’s Josh Glenn occasionally makes an appearance, in character as “Josh Glenn,” a globe-trotting semiotic brand analyst, on Benjamen Walker’s popular Radiotopian podcast, THEORY OF EVERYTHING.
In a 2004 Boston Globe interview (with Josh), Benjamen first articulated the idea for THEORY OF EVERYTHING: “In public radio there is this received notion that you have to keep fiction and nonfiction segregated. But these days the news sounds like a conspiracy theory, and bloggers promote their own version of events. Objective reportage isn’t working! So I’m pioneering ‘investigative fiction,’ in which a mix of formats — from interviews to radio drama — will reveal the truth about the world.”
Just in time for Inauguration Day, Josh and Ben have recorded a new THEORY OF EVERYTHING episode about… well, today! The transcript is below; and you can listen to the episode here.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: My friend Josh has one of the best job titles in the world. He is a semiotic brand analyst. And his work takes him all over the country — all over the world. On the side, as a hobby, for several years now he’s been running HiLobrow.com, where he’s been blogging about his favorite adventure novels — treasure hunt adventures, crime thrillers, war novels. Which led him to discover the nerdy world of…
“JOSH GLENN”: Spy novel book clubs. Every time I go on a business trip I try to sit in on a spy novel — excuse me, espionage thriller, that’s the preferred term — book club in that city. And what’s really great about these clubs is I meet a lot of interesting people, from all walks of life, and I learn all about spy novels that I might not have read or even heard of.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Over the years Josh has learned about a number of cult spy novels. Jules Verne’s 19th century spy adventure Michael Strogoff, Geoffrey Household’s ’50s classics A Rough Shoot and A Time to Kill. And Len Deighton’s Action Cookbook, a hardboiled 1965 kitchen guide by the author of The IPCRESS File. And…
“JOSH GLENN”: This really obscure British spy novel, written by Ted Allbeury, who was a contemporary of Len Deighton’s. It’s called The Twentieth Day of January. It was published in 1981. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve been told that it is Donald Trump’s favorite thriller.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: I thought Donald Trump hasn’t read any books?
“JOSH GLENN”: Well, I heard about this book everywhere. From spy novel fans in New York, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Miami, Jersey City, Dallas — even London, Paris, and Prague.
In each case, this was from someone who had encountered Trump in the late ’80s — when Trump was first rising as a celebrity. One woman used to work backstage on Oprah’s show — Trump talked to her about the book in the green room. There was a guy who worked as crew on Trump’s yacht — what was it called? The Trump Princess? And one guy had been a pilot on one of Trump’s Sikorsky helicopters. For a couple of years there, Trump apparently talked the book up to everyone he met — so enthusiastically that, years later, they remembered.
Now, I never paid any attention to this. I had no interest in reading an obscure spy novel just because Trump liked it. But then over Christmas after the election, I was visiting family in Bozeman, Montana. And there it was, in a used bookstore: The Twentieth Day of January.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: And? Is it good?
“JOSH GLENN”: No, it’s terrible. The plot is ridiculous. A Republican — Logan Powell — has just been elected president. This guy has never been in politics before, but he beats a crowded field of experienced politicians to become first a senator, then president. He’s from a wealthy East Coast family, but he sells himself as a populist. And his big idea is — he wants the US and Russia to be friends. And despite opposition from within his own party, this guy wins the election.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: This is kind of a weirdly prescient novel!
“JOSH GLENN”: I’m just getting started! With only a month to go before the inauguration — on the 20th day of January — an officer in Britain’s intelligence service (!) who’d spent years under diplomatic cover working for the agency, MI6, in Russia and Paris and London, gets wind of a plot by the Kremlin to influence the US election.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Whoa!
“JOSH GLENN”: The FBI is too political and can’t be trusted with this intel. So the CIA get involved. But they’re reluctant to investigate — because they don’t want to meddle in the electoral process. And because this guy is about to be their boss. It turns out that nobody, not even the Democrats, wants to reveal the truth about this guy’s ties to Russia. They don’t even want to know the truth.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Why not?
“JOSH GLENN”: Well, the Republicans believe they can control this joker, because he’s an outsider to Washington — and ram through their own agenda.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Which is?
“JOSH GLENN”: Tax cuts.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Ah…
“JOSH GLENN”: Exposing this scandal could be like the Kennedy assassination and Watergate combined. Either way, whether this Moscovian candidate takes office or he’s exposed as a stooge, Russia wins! Here’s how one of the CIA agents puts it. I’m going to read to you from the book: “Every solution spelt disaster. Deep depression for millions of people… all the words of 1776 made nought… It was like working diligently to prove you had cancer. Whatever happened was going to be bad for America.”
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: How is it possible that no one is talking about this book?
“JOSH GLENN”: People are! Just not in the mainstream media.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: So you’re saying this predicts, like, how the Russians would get their — I guess, in this case — commie stooge elected?
“JOSH GLENN”: No, no. He’s a capitalist. But he’s also a narcissist who desperately wants power and recognition. So he keeps dancing to Moscow’s tune, because he knows he can’t win without them. Besides, the KGB has the goods on him, thanks to the art of kompromat, which — as we all now know — means the collection of compromising material as a source of leverage.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Oh my God.
“JOSH GLENN”: Yeah. Old-school Soviet sexual blackmail. They have photos of our man with a prostitute.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: How does this book end?
“JOSH GLENN”: Um, the CIA convinces the guy’s wife — who supposedly never wanted to move into the White House anyway — to show him the compromising photos and beg him to retire, on some pretext, before the inauguration.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: And does he?
“JOSH GLENN”: No! He’s so humiliated that he commits suicide.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Hmm…
“JOSH GLENN”: Yeah. It’s not a very good book.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: But you think Trump actually read it?
“JOSH GLENN”: Like I said, I’ve met a lot of people over the years who say he did. But the real question you need to ask is, “Did the KGB give Trump this book?”
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Why would they do that?
“JOSH GLENN”: OK. In 1986, shortly before Trump starts telling everyone he meets that The Twentieth Day of January is his favorite thriller, he met this guy — the Director of the Information Department of the Soviet Union’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs — in New York. He was is in town to talk about Chernobyl. His name? Vitaly Churkin. Churkin meets Trump and tells him how much he loves Trump Tower, and how they want to build one in Moscow right across the street from the Kremlin.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: That can’t be true!
“JOSH GLENN”: It was a lie. But it was a great way to put a hook in Trump and reel him in. On the 4th of July, the following year, Trump travels to Russia with Ivana, his first wife. She speaks fluent Russian, but it’s Churkin who acts as his tour guide to Moscow. Now, at this time guess who is stationed in Moscow, working for the KGB’s First Chief Directorate — which is dedicated to monitoring foreigners?
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Vladimir Putin! I know this because I’ve seen some of the photos of him following Reagan around, at this time.
“JOSH GLENN”: Well, we don’t actually know for sure if he and Putin met. But after he comes back, he can’t stop obsessing about two topics. One of which is this crazy idea that he is the only one who can end the Cold War — by making friends with Russia. In 1988, he spends a hundred thousand bucks on a full-page ad in the New York Times and other papers making the case that Russia should be America’s friend, and that America is getting taken advantage of by NATO and its allies. The same pro-Russian stuff that he’s been spouting ever since!
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: And what’s his second obsession?
“JOSH GLENN”: Trump starts talking about The Twentieth Day of January to everyone he meets.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: How do you know all of this?
“JOSH GLENN”: OK. So like I said, I go to spy book clubs all over. And just last week, as all this Russia stuff was breaking, I’m in London for work. And I get an email from this book club that I’ve spent many an enjoyable evening with — they call themselves the Dear Watsons. Well, it turns out, they’re having a special get-together to discuss The Twentieth Day of January — like, the night before I leave town! So obviously, I go.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: That’s weird, no? I mean, why would they suddenly be into this book?
“JOSH GLENN”: Um, because I’m pretty sure that half the members of the Dear Watsons are retired MI6 agents. In fact, Christopher Steele is a member.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Christopher Steele, the British intelligence agent that broke this whole thing about Trump and the prostitutes? You met him — at your book club?
“JOSH GLENN”: No, he’s in hiding. I think I might have met him on an earlier occasion, though. But one of the ladies — definitely MI6 — she made it sound like Steele told her everything before going to ground. And she said, “It was Churkin who gave Trump the book.” Which explains all that stuff he did after his trip to Moscow in ’86.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Yeah, but like, what’s the point? I mean, the Berlin Wall falls shortly after that, and then the whole Soviet Union collapses…
“JOSH GLENN”: Oh yeah, this was devastating for Trump. And at the same time, don’t forget, he was going bankrupt. He abandoned his presidential ambitions.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Well, obviously someone got him to reconsider. But… was it really the Russians?
“JOSH GLENN”: So in 2013, Trump makes his now-famous trip to Moscow — for the Miss Universe pageant. And guess who shepherds him around?
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: No…
“JOSH GLENN”: Oh yeah! Churkin even takes Trump out to dinner with Rex Tillerson, who was in town to personally accept Russia’s Order of Friendship award from — Putin. [Note: Churkin died suddenly, one month to the day after this TOE episode was broadcast. — ed. ]
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: And did they meet this time?
“JOSH GLENN”: According to this woman from the book club, no one knows for sure. But she says this is when Trump gets videotaped by the FSB doing — whatever he was doing in that hotel room. But here’s the thing. Trump knew that he was being filmed — and not for the first time, either.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: That doesn’t exactly add up, though. Because — why would Trump let himself get caught on tape doing something shameful? When that is exactly how the guy in the novel gets taken down?
“JOSH GLENN”: Benjamen, Trump is an exhibitionist! He wants the world to know what a sexy beast he is. He performs better when he’s being filmed than when he’s not being filmed.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: So you’re saying Trump played for the cameras — and beat the Russians. You mean he’s not a puppet?
“JOSH GLENN”: Think about it. The KGB gave Trump this book, they’re the ones who studied this novel! Remember — in the book, the CIA couldn’t stop Powell from taking office. Logan Powell committed suicide because of shame. In order to win, the Russians knew they would need a man who could overcome shame.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: I’m so confused.
“JOSH GLENN”: Well, think about Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, purposely getting himself thrown into prison in Bhutan so he can hone his fighting skills. Think about Rocky IV, how the Soviets spend years training Ivan Drago to win the World Heavyweight Championship. “I must break you.”
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: What are you even saying?
“JOSH GLENN”: After the fall of the Soviet Union, with help from his ex-KGB handlers, Trump spent 25 years in training — purposely making a buffoon of himself.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: You mean, The Apprentice?
“JOSH GLENN”: Yeah.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Trump University?
“JOSH GLENN”: Yup.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Lusting after his own daughter publicly?
“JOSH GLENN”: Naturally.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Trump Steaks?
“JOSH GLENN”: You bet.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Birtherism?
“JOSH GLENN”: Of course.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Grabbing women by the pussy?
“JOSH GLENN”: Right.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: The comb-over?
“JOSH GLENN”: Ah, the pièce de résistance in the Moscovian Candidate’s quarter-century long campaign to become… the Post-Shame Man.
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: So this whole “post-truth” thing, it’s just a red herring.
“JOSH GLENN”: Classic spy novel plotting. Genius!
THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Oh my God.
“JOSH GLENN”: We laughed at him — and that just made him stronger. And now he’s become unstoppable.
MORE FURSHLUGGINER THEORIES BY JOSH GLENN: TAKING THE MICKEY (series) | KLAATU YOU (series intro) | We Are Iron Man! | And We Lived Beneath the Waves | Is It A Chamber Pot? | I’d Like to Force the World to Sing | The Argonaut Folly | The Perfect Flâneur | The Twentieth Day of January | The Dark Side of Scrabble | The YHWH Virus | Boston (Stalker) Rock | The Sweetest Hangover | The Vibe of Dr. Strange | CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (series intro) | Tyger! Tyger! | Star Wars Semiotics | The Original Stooge | Fake Authenticity | Camp, Kitsch & Cheese | Stallone vs. Eros | The UNCLE Hypothesis | Icon Game | Meet the Semionauts | The Abductive Method | Semionauts at Work | Origin of the Pogo | The Black Iron Prison | Blue Krishma! | Big Mal Lives! | Schmoozitsu | You Down with VCP? | Calvin Peeing Meme | Daniel Clowes: Against Groovy | The Zine Revolution (series) | Best Adventure Novels (series) | Debating in a Vacuum (notes on the Kirk-Spock-McCoy triad) | Pluperfect PDA (series) | Double Exposure (series) | Fitting Shoes (series) | Cthulhuwatch (series) | Shocking Blocking (series) | Quatschwatch (series)
What do you think?
Churkin dies suddenly:
Michelle Goldberg in today’s New York Times:
This week, Time magazine named those who’ve spoken out against sexual harassment — collectively called “The Silence Breakers” — as its Person of the Year. “When multiple harassment claims bring down a charmer like former ‘Today’ show host Matt Lauer, women who thought they had no recourse see a new, wide-open door,” the cover article says. In truth, however, this new door is open for only some people — those whose harassers are either personally or professionally susceptible to shame.
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