Di­plo­macy rules

Don­ald Trump’s man in Welling­ton is a sports­man and bus user – once voted Amer­ica’s sex­i­est man – who finds fans of the Pres­i­dent ev­ery­where.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - by Michele He­wit­son

Don­ald Trump’s man in Welling­ton is a sports­man and bus user – once voted Amer­ica’s sex­i­est man – who finds fans of the Pres­i­dent ev­ery­where.

‘ Shall we get Trump out of the way?” I ask new US am­bas­sador Scott Brown. It’s tricky. You both know you will have as many ques­tions about his boss as you have about him. This could be galling, but there’s no sign of it. He says he’s not a cheer­leader for his boss, but he’s a Trump man through and through. He likes talk­ing about and talk­ing up the Don­ald. He says, “Fire away. It’s your in­ter­view.”

I may have mut­tered, ob­vi­ously not quite sotto voce enough: “A lot of peo­ple would like to get Trump out of the way.” He thinks that’s funny. He is good na­tured and doesn’t eas­ily take um­brage. Be­sides, be­ing madly com­pet­i­tive about every­thing, he re­gards a bit of ver­bal spar­ring as just another com­pet­i­tive sport.

He swims and runs and if he comes across peo­ple play­ing pé­tanque, say, he’ll give that a go. As hap­pened down by Welling­ton Har­bour. I don’t know whether he won, but he got one of his “Trump is a good guy” sto­ries out of it. He has a col­lec­tion of th­ese sto­ries, which go like this: “Peo­ple love Trump, they just don’t like to ad­mit it, pub­licly.” He says it’s those “av­er­age Amer­i­cans, okay? Not on the Left coast, not in DC, not part of the Es­tab­lish­ment …”

“When … as I was tak­ing the bus from Lower Hutt into Welling­ton …” Hang on. The am­bas­sador was tak­ing the bus? “Of course. And the bus driver says: ‘We don’t have any am­bas­sadors that usu­ally take the bus …’ And I said: ‘Well, you know, Uber’s $76 and the bus is six.’ … And he said: ‘You know what? I like Trump …

He’s talk­ing to peo­ple like me who are work­ing our rear ends off …’ You may not see it here, but peo­ple back home ap­pre­ci­ate that.”

Those pop­u­lar­ity rat­ings? “Who cares? He’s the Pres­i­dent re­gard­less of pop­u­lar­ity. I don’t think it mat­ters at all.” It might mat­ter come the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Brown might have to go home. “Yeah, so what? It’s pol­i­tics, you know.”

A sen­a­tor for three years, with a long ca­reer in Mass­a­chu­setts state pol­i­tics be­fore go­ing to Wash­ing­ton, Brown says he’s no longer a politi­cian. The main dif­fer­ence seems to be that he can no longer crit­i­cise the Pres­i­dent. This may be a re­lief.

A burn­ing ques­tion: What does he think of the Pres­i­dent’s taste in in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tion? “I don’t fol­low in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tion is­sues.”

Brown was one of the first to en­dorse Trump. You’d think he might have re­gret­ted this af­ter Trump lashed out at John McCain, one of Brown’s “dear­est friends”. Re­fer­ring to McCain, who spent al­most six years as a pris­oner of war in Viet­nam and is widely re­garded as a war hero, Trump said, “I like peo­ple who weren’t cap­tured.” When Brown was run­ning for the Se­nate in Mass­a­chu­setts, “the so-called Kennedy state”, McCain en­dorsed him when no­body else would.

Brown went to Wash­ing­ton and “no one would see me. No one. No sen­a­tors, no con­gress­men.” He was seen as a loser. “I was from Mass­a­chu­setts. I was 41 points down. The only per­son who would see me was Sen­a­tor McCain, and he saw me be­cause of my mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence. At that point, I had 30 years in the mil­i­tary and he has great re­spect for mil­i­tary peo­ple.” All of which ought to have made Trump’s shaft­ing of McCain’s mil­i­tary rep­u­ta­tion all the more un­palat­able. “I’m al­ready on the record about that. I said, ‘It’s in­ap­pro­pri­ate. I dis­agree. Sen­a­tor McCain is a na­tional hero. He de­serves re­spect.’”

But “pol­i­tics back home is a blood sport. I like them be­cause they’re in­de­pen­dent men and they can kick the shit out of each other … but at the end of the day, they’re go­ing to find some­thing to work on to­gether.”

Break­ing news – pre­sum­ably not fake: Trump For­bids Mil­i­tary Ser­vice by Trans­gen­der Peo­ple. Congress, McCain Crit­i­cise New Trans­gen­der Mil­i­tary Pol­icy.

This is the trou­ble with go­ing to see the US am­bas­sador. Ten min­utes af­ter you leave, there are 10 new Trump sto­ries (see side­bar).

Small won­der he’s over the moon about his New Zealand post­ing. It’s a long way from DC. He loves the peo­ple, the place, the sport. He’s mad about sport. He went moun­tain bik­ing for the first time. I don’t know whether he man­aged to find a Trump sup­porter up a moun­tain, but if any­one could, he’d be the guy.

Those pé­tanque play­ers. He says, “Seven out of 10 of them were Trump guys, men and women. And peo­ple go up to me and they go: ‘I love your guy. Don’t tell any­body. Shh.’ Just like it is back home.”

I say, a tri­fle sulk­ily: “We’ll see if it’s like that in three and a half years’ time.” He says, cheer­fully, “I’m fo­cused on to­day.”

He says, by the way, about the Trump with­drawal from the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship that “with re­spect, I don’t think it was a good deal for New Zealand … Quite frankly, I think we can get a bet­ter deal.” He’s work­ing hard on this, he says. What are the per­cent­age chances he will get us a bet­ter trade deal? “I don’t do per­cent­ages.”

He does triathlons. He was swim­ming in a pub­lic pool in Welling­ton the other day when “one of the coaches said, ‘Oh, you’re the new am­bas­sador, aren’t you? A lot of my [triathlon] stu­dents want to kick your ass.’ I said, ‘Okay, have them bring their wal­lets!’”

Does he shave his legs? “Ac­tu­ally,

I won a con­test in a triathlon for the hairi­est legs!” He’s even com­pet­i­tive about own­ing the hairi­est legs.

If you were to imag­ine the All-Amer­i­can reg­u­lar guy, here you go. He is the model of that guy and he was the model for that guy. Has he got a framed copy of his 1982 nude Cos­mopoli­tan cen­tre­fold pic­ture some­where? “No. But I have the orig­i­nal mag­a­zine some­where.” Does he take it out and look at it? “Every day! I take it out and look at it. Every sin­gle day! You’re right. You caught me!”

He was a 22-year-old law stu­dent back then, but he still looks in such good shape. How sex­ist of me to say so. Shall we talk about the Pres­i­dent and women? There can’t be a jour­nal­ist in the world who thought they would ever have to put the words “pussy grab­bing” and Pres­i­dent of the US in the same sen­tence. If it makes you feel a bit sick just read­ing it, imag­ine hav­ing to put it to a de­cent, ami­able US am­bas­sador over a nice lunch. Pre­dictably, you don’t get far. He wasn’t there. The Pres­i­dent paid for it. He apol­o­gised. Any­way, surely the am­bas­sador must

“I don’t think [the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship] was a good deal for New Zealand … we can get a bet­ter deal.”

con­cede the whole ghastly busi­ness was, at the very least, yucky. “It’s not some­thing I would have said.”

Would he have said to France’s first lady, Brigitte Macron: “You’re in such good shape”?

“I have said to many peo­ple that they clearly work out and they’re liv­ing a great life­style … I will con­tin­u­ously com­pli­ment peo­ple – man, woman or child – on var­i­ous char­ac­ter­is­tics and things that they’re do­ing.”

I may have shouted, just a bit: “That is not the same thing.”

“It is!” he says. Then I say, mock leer­ingly: “Hey, you’re in such good shape!” He is al­ready good at be­ing a diplo­mat, so he laughs and says, “I don’t think he ever said it like that. With the eye rais­ing!”

He is a funny sort of Repub­li­can. He is pro-choice – which he says is not quite as un­usual as I ob­vi­ously think for Repub­li­can politi­cians – but against “par­tial birth abor­tion” and against fed­eral fund­ing for abor­tion be­cause “it’s how it is in the United States. The fed­eral Gov­ern­ment doesn’t pro­vide fund­ing for abor­tions.”

Should it? “No, I don’t be­lieve so. It’s a per­sonal choice.” A per­sonal choice that only peo­ple with money can af­ford. “No, there’s plenty of op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple who are on as­sis­tance to get that help.”

He says, “I’m what they call a Scott Brown sort of Repub­li­can.” He’s what Scott Brown calls a Scott Brown sort of Repub­li­can. It’s his stock an­swer, but what does it mean? “I de­fine my­self. I don’t let other peo­ple try to de­fine me.”

The very na­ture of pol­i­tics is per­cep­tion and hence def­i­ni­tion, and por­trayal. “They try. But then they say, ‘What’s a Scott Brown Repub­li­can?’ And to me, a Scott Brown Repub­li­can is some­one who’s hard-work­ing, in­de­pen­dent … I can’t say I’ve ever been in­flu­enced by some­body say­ing, ‘You need to vote this way or else.’ I’m like, ‘Or else what? What are you go­ing to do to me?’”

He cam­paigned in his Chevy pickup, wear­ing work shirts and jeans, just a reg­u­lar guy. He was de­scribed by the Wash­ing­ton Post as “main­stream in a na­tion that de­fines it­self as mostly con­ser­va­tive”.

In other words and to quote that other All-Amer­i­can char­ac­ter, Pop­eye: “He yam what he yam and tha’s all what he yam.”

He is a bit hokey. He made a video to in­tro­duce him­self and his fam­ily – his wife of more than 30 years, jour­nal­ist Gail Huff, daugh­ters Ayla, a coun­try singer, and Ari­anna, a vet school stu­dent – and his dog, Gra­cie, to New Zealan­ders. How is Gra­cie? “She’s great, thank you. She is the most lov­ing lit­tle thing. She just looks up at me and goes: ‘I love you.’ She fol­lows me ev­ery­where.”

I don’t mean to be rude, but Gra­cie is a par­tic­u­larly girly sort of dog. She is a yorkie, and my cat is big­ger than his dog. “If you saw her, she’s an ath­lete … She’s fast. She’ll growl at you. What can I say? I like a girly dog.”

Gra­cie sleeps on the am­bas­sado­rial bed. “Yeah, she does. In-be­tween me and the am­bas­sado­rial wife.”

He made another video, for the Team US Squash squad who were re­cently in New Zealand.

“One of the girls is named Gra­cie and she’s from my daugh­ter’s high school, so I did a wel­come video …

Very se­ri­ous, you know, shirt and tie and then at the end I go: ‘And by the way, Gra­cie, Gra­cie says “hi!”.’

And [the dog Gra­cie] gave a lit­tle wave …”

Brown is not just a bit hokey. He is so hokey. “Hey, it’s who I am.” We know a bit about who he is from the in­tro­duc­tory video. His par­ents split up when he was a baby, both go­ing on to marry another three times apiece. His mother was on so­cial wel­fare ben­e­fits at times. He had a se­ries of step­fa­thers, some marginally bet­ter than the worst who beat his mother. When he was five, he heard his mother hav­ing “the crap beaten out of her … and I re­mem­ber grab­bing his leg and bit­ing into him and he was just pound­ing me and pound­ing me”. The neigh­bours called the po­lice, oth­er­wise “I be­lieve to this day that I wouldn’t be here”. His mother used to beat him with a piece of four by two. He was sex­u­ally abused at a camp.

He was the pawn in his par­ents’ bit­ter split. As a boy he would wait for hours for his fa­ther to come and pick him up, not know­ing that his mother had told him not to come. That is an aw­fully sad story: a lit­tle boy wait­ing and wait­ing. “I still have thoughts about … ex­cuse me,” he says and wipes his eyes.

At 12, he be­gan drink­ing, steal­ing his mother’s car and shoplift­ing. He has never had ther­apy. He was saved, he says, by a tough but mer­ci­ful judge, a cou­ple of good teach­ers and bas­ket­ball.

He even­tu­ally be­came friends with his fa­ther, who died a few years ago from Parkin­son’s dis­ease. Did he re­sent his mother’s bad choices? He says he did, and he was very an­gry, but he has for­given her. His mother has Alzheimer’s, and when he vis­its, she doesn’t re­mem­ber any­thing or any­one ex­cept him. “And it’s like: ‘I love you. I love you. I love you.’ And I say to my­self: ‘Okay. I re­mem­ber every­thing.’

But in the past two years, I’m at the point where I say, ‘Yeah. You know what? I love you, too.’”

He has writ­ten about this in his mem­oir, Against All Odds. He gave me a copy, prein­scribed: “Michele – Keep the faith!”

“It’s a real hon­est, hard-core, no BS type of book.” But why did he write such a

His mother used to beat him with a piece of four by two. He was the pawn in his par­ents’ bit­ter split.

book? “Be­cause I didn’t want peo­ple mis­in­ter­pret­ing or dis­tort­ing my life.” It was a way of tak­ing con­trol back? “Ab­so­lutely.”

An odd, but re­lated, ques­tion: Why is he a Repub­li­can? “No, no, it’s a great ques­tion. I think be­cause grow­ing up, I didn’t have any­thing, I didn’t have a penny. And you’d say: ‘Gosh, you should be a Demo­crat. Your mom was on wel­fare.’” But he be­lieves in the Ron­ald Rea­gan vi­sion of the Amer­i­can dream.

“If you work hard, two or three jobs … you can start a busi­ness … you can make money … [And] a lot of the folks I saw that were get­ting pub­lic as­sis­tance, they kinda weren’t as mo­ti­vated … I didn’t want to be de­pen­dent on any­body. I wanted to make my own money.”

On so­cial is­sues, he says he’s “al­most a lib­er­tar­ian”. He be­lieves in God but is not a big church­goer. He prays twice a day. He prays “to do well and not make mis­takes and not screw up”. Is that what God is for, to stop him screw­ing up? “Maybe! Ha. I’ll let you know.”

He has smoked dope a cou­ple of times but didn’t like it; it made him eat and “I eat enough”.

Does he re­ally be­lieve that wa­ter­board­ing is not tor­ture? “I had to look up where that came from. I love … all the great por­tray­als of me in the first ar­ti­cles: ‘In­sult: Trump Sends Us a Nude Model Who Be­lieves in Tor­ture.’ That was great! I’m like, ‘What are they talk­ing about?’ And what they’re re­fer­ring to was a de­bate ques­tion, 10 to 15 years ago, and the ques­tion was: ‘Do you sup­port Pres­i­dent Bush’s en­hanced in­ter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques?’ At that point I said, ‘Yes, it’s al­lowed. He’s au­tho­rised it. So I sup­port the Pres­i­dent.’

“Pres­i­dent Obama changed it. ‘Do you sup­port Pres­i­dent Obama chang­ing it?’ He’s the Pres­i­dent. He can do what­ever he wants. I’m a mil­i­tary at­tor­ney. I ad­vise joint chiefs of staffs as to what’s right and wrong in the mil­i­tary. So the short an­swer is: ‘No, of course I don’t be­lieve in tor­ture. Never have.”

Does he have any Rus­sian friends?

“The only thing I have Rus­sian is rus­sian dress­ing.”

But se­ri­ously? “I think it’s a waste of time. And if in fact there has been any­thing done in­ap­pro­pri­ately, then they should do a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

There should be a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion into our waiter. The waiter says: “Ex­cuse me, are you the new am­bas­sador?” I say, “He’s a big Trump guy.”

The waiter says, “Same!” The waiter and the am­bas­sador high-five. “Back­fired!” says Brown, tri­umphantly. He has planted the waiter. “I wish I did. I couldn’t have planted any bet­ter.” I may have said the F-word. He tells the plant that he’ll get him a cap. He al­ready has a cap. Okay, he says, “I’ll get you some­thing spe­cial.” He re­ally will. “Of course. We’ve got to take every con­vert we can.” Why can’t I have a cap? I ask. “I’ll get you some­thing,” says Brown, “but I’m afraid of what you’ll do with it.”

He’s a very as­tute fel­low, the new am­bas­sador.

US am­bas­sador Scott Brown: one of the first to en­dorse Don­ald Trump.

White House chief of staff Gen­eral John Kelly. Far left, scene of a car at­tack dur­ing protests in Char­lottesville.

Brown with his wife, jour­nal­ist Gail Huff, and their dog, Gra­cie.

Brown: a com­pet­i­tive sports­man.

Brown prac­tis­ing his gui­tar. Left, per­form­ing with gui­tarist Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick.

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