When Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich won a Pulitzer in 2012, I commented on the eclecticism of the columns that she entered. For instance, “There’s a poem written as a tribute to Richie Daley when he left office. (She writes two or three poems a year. She’s got a knack.)”
Writing in rhyme is something Schmich says comes easier than prose, and lately she’s been doing it a lot more than two or three times a year. “It’s almost like writing anonymously,” she says. “There’s a freedom to it. It’s like putting on a costume. Like writing in any kind of form, it forces the mind into slightly different places. I call this doggerel by the way. It’s doggerel. I cringe when somebody refers to it as poetry. I have no pretensions of being a poet.”
Doggerel? There’s no dog in what she’s writing about Donald Trump. We’ll just call it verse.
Trump said of Clinton last August during the campaign, “By the way, if she gets to pick her [Supreme Court] judges, nothing you can do folks. Although, the Second Amendment people maybe there is. I don’t know.” Trump defenders said he was joking, and then four lines popped into Schmich’s head and she posted them on Facebook:
No, I don’t believe in hate!
Did I say assassinate?
What I said was all in fun!
But don’t let Hill’ry take your gun!
“People responded,” Schmich says. So she wrote some more Trump verses on Facebook. “One day I thought, ‘I’m doing a thing here,'” she says. Another day she had a column due so she skimmed some of her Trumpies off Facebook, wrote a few more, and she filled the column. Basically, whatever she wrote in Trump’s voice was something Trump had said himself, and her slight alchemy was to turn this into mockery.
Persistent mockery, in the genial cadences of Dr. Seuss. I’ve told her she’s become Trump’s Herblock, tormenting him, letting nothing pass. But that’s wrong: Herblock’s editorial cartoons in the Washington Post imposed a dark and sinister caricature on Dick Nixon. Schmich draws a fatuous two-year-old—and again, by letting the two-year-old speak for himself.
What a loser, Meryl Streep
Such a witch, I mean a creep
Very, very overrated
Not a woman I’d have dated
Mocked me out in Hollywood
(Never thought that she was good)
Just another lying actor
(Too bad Putin hasn’t hacked her).
Lib’rls thought her speech was spunky
Really? She’s a Hill’ry flunky!
All those losers! Sort ones too!
Can’t stop crying boo hoo hoo.
Don’t you love my morning tweets?
Very great my verbal feats!
Please discuss them please please please!
And ignore my nominees.
“Honestly,” Schmich says, “I intended to stop doing this shortly after the election, but as his transition went on there was enough material based on almost all of his remarks . . .”
So she pressed on. And today, as the satirists of America muster up, each itching to snare our new president in a mesh of derision but uncertain if it’s possible—if nothing’s worked already, is this hopeless?—Schmich has been, to me, a writer for the times. Now and then a columnist gets in a groove: she knows what there is to say and exactly how she wants to say it, and the words pour out. And it’s exactly what needed to be said.
“It’s comical. It’s a chronicle of his remarks,” Schmich says. “It’s not just about mocking him. It’s about keeping track.” Do you think of stopping? I asked. “Every time I write, I do that. I don’t want it to get old. Mockery does wear itself out, so I’m always attuned to not overdoing it. And then he says something that I cannot resist. But I swear I’m not doing this for four years.”
Still, as she swears her ambitions mount, and a recent, trickier Facebook post finds Trump not just sounding like himself but actually thinking about what he sounds like:
On this day for MLK
Here is what I meant to say:
Old John Lewis is a hero
My self-sacrifice is zero
Lewis marched with Dr. King
Helped us all hear freedom ring.
Took the blows for civil rights
Wore the blood of freedom’s fights
Kept on marching through the years
In the face of taunts and fears.
So he says I’m not legit?
I will rise above my snit
Demonstrate what is essential—
Show that I am presidential.
Did I say he’s talk not action?
Did I spark a bad reaction?
Did I say his district’s awful?
Horrid, poor and so unlawful?
Yes, I did and I regret it
Please forgive if not forget it
Let him help me look ahead—
This is what I should have said.
I mention the potential of a collection, a book, and Schmich wonders, “Who’s going to read that book?” If this verse of hers works at all “it works because it’s immediate and short,” and Facebook is where “it gets a lot of reaction. People don’t like to click on things. They want it right in their face, and that’s the beauty of Facebook.”
Posterity gets what it deserves whenever she publishes some of her Trump rhymes in the Tribune.
“I get vitriolic e-mails,” Schmich says. Not only that, she doesn’t think her bosses are all on board. “One or two of them like it,” she says. “I suspect others roll their eyes.”
When I wrote about Schmich’s Pulitzer, I discovered that there was a lot of discussion among the judges about the Richard M. Daley poem she entered. They didn’t all like it. It was, after all, a poem.
Or verse. Or simply doggerel—which might’ve been the judges’ view as well as the columnist’s. Maybe some thought it didn’t belong in a newspaper. But the boundaries of the business have stretched since then and naysayers should think twice. Schmich is writing exquisite commentary.