How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

More thoughts on Trump

Richard Gere is the star of "Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer," a movie about a so-called New York fixer who spends his life trying to be somebody that he's not - an important person. Norman is a nobody, devoid of family ties or significant financial resources. He constantly boasts about knowing the right people and infers that he can pull off big deals. He wants very much to be seen as a fixer - a well-connected influential power broker who can make things happen.

The film by Israeli filmmaker Joseph Cedar does not psychoanalyze Norman or provide details on his past. We never learn where Norman lives or how he manages to survive. The compelling question that the film does not answer is whether Norman is a shameless wheeler-dealer or a decent, but obsessively overbearing person - a mensch at heart.

Norman Oppenheimer scurries around Manhattan dressed in a camel hair overcoat, driving cap, utilitarian black suit and phone ear buds. He is constantly working the phone trying to exploit his "iffy" circuitous connections to introduce people he meets to others for their mutual benefit. He wants to do favors for others, not because of what he gets out of it, but because "it would be his honor." He is not your classic "fixer" in the sense of being a wheeler-dealer, who in return for a pre-determined price will extract a needed favor for you from someone else in return for another price. Norman derives psychic rather than financial pleasure from providing favors. Sometimes during the movie you begin to feel that Norman is delusional and buys his own BS. At other times, you feel sympathy at the fragility of Norman's ego.

Told he is like "a drowning man trying to wave at an ocean liner," he retorts "but I'm a good swimmer." He is like a bull in a china closet when button-holing folks wherever he can find them and is able to quickly rebound from all forms of rejection. In fact, his resiliency to rejection is his primary asset.

Norman is not your classic con man. He is not trying to deceive folks to make a buck. He is not Bernie Madoff by any stretch of the imagination. He is not an evil man trying to become rich at the expense of others. He is not ripping people off. That's not Norman.

Neither is Norman a benevolent, magnanimous hapless huckster. Norman is a depressing hustler who constantly violates the rules of propriety and fairness. He invades people's space, interlopes at their parties, tells half-truths, tells outright lies, frequently exaggerates and exploits inequities within the system. Norman is a a highly flawed person.

It struck me that there is really no word in the English language that precisely defines what Norman is, but there is a word in Yiddish that well describes him. It is "macher" (with the "ch" as in Bach). "Macher" is best defined as someone who is constantly trying to be a big shot - someone who is really important.

When an Israeli dignitary named Eshel comes to the city, Norman decides to impress him by buying him a $1,200 pair of shoes he can't afford. He, no doubt, hopes that the purchase will someday pay off. It does years later when his chance acquaintance becomes Israel's Prime Minister, welcomes Norman into the inner sanctum and anoints him as his "unofficial ambassador to New York Jewry." Norman quickly makes promises to friends, based on his association with the Prime Minister that he can't keep. Suffice it to say, he gets in way above his head with shattering results when he's accused of bribing Eshel.

The movie's climatic ending does not tell you whether Norman's final action was because he was concerned about others or because he was compelled to preserve his ill-gotten reputation and was willing to avoid vilification at any cost. The audience is left to decide whether Norman is a saint or sinner.

What makes Norman so unusual is that he is constantly and obsessively seeking to close deals not for the money, but rather to satisfy an intense inner need he has to be seen by those around him as someone who they admire and respect -- as someone who is important. He is constantly seeking prestige as a means of satisfying his ego.

Norman in some ways reminds me of President Donald Trump, who after having ascended to the most powerful position on the face of the earth, still needs constant reassurance that he is universally revered. What other explanation is there for Trump's making a fetish about the media's correctly reporting that the crowd at his inauguration was smaller than the crowd at President Obama's inauguration? President Trump and Norman both are insecure people who can only satisfy their insatiable craving for recognition only by single-mindedly and without regard to appropriateness or boundaries seeking their next opportunity to secure praise.

This obsession for the next short-term win, without having a clear plan designed to maximize the likelihood of achieving long-term goals and objectives, is what is most frightening about President Trump.