A great man once said that, “history is replete with turning points,” and that we must have faith that the universe will unfold as it should. It is also factual to say that history is replete with repetition. We can only wonder why that is the case; the cruel joke of a God that seeks amusement? Or one that uses our ire as an attempt to teach a lesson? If it’s the latter, is it among the same lessons that we stubbornly refuse to learn? Perhaps it’s not a refusal and we just can’t learn.
In the national news, pundits look at the year 1968 for historical context. Everyone looks at the current White House and thinks back to that year in which Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States – and the year that would begin a tumultuous relationship between a sitting president and his constituents that would see a presidency end in disgrace.
It’s easy to say that Donald Trump more closely resembles President Nixon than any other president in the modern era, -- really, he doesn’t even resemble Nixon all that much. Nixon was intelligent.
Yes, a historical context is the path being taken here, and yes, it’s also from 1968. Though, he was not a political figure.
On the night of December 20, 1968, this infamous figure would make his flirtation with public life in his own evil way – the man who would address himself to the San Francisco Bay Area as the Zodiac Killer, terrorized Northern California with a string of murders that predominantly targeted young men and women at lover’s lanes and frequent communications with the press.
Mr. Trump is clearly not a serial killer – a serial killer maintains a somewhat organized and methodical mind; there are times when he or she is often not able to control their impulsive desire to lash out. He is, however, a self-coined media darling, a trait overwhelmingly shared by Zodiac and Mr. Trump.
Zodiac regularly wrote letters to the San Francisco Chronicle, often making demands that they print his letter and an attached cipher puzzle on the front page of the newspaper, threatening to continue killing if they didn’t comply with his demands. Mr. Trump’s choice of communication has a far greater reach, he regularly tweets, his newspaper of primary focus is the New York Times. Much like the president, Zodiac appeared to have an almost symbiotic relationship with a great metropolitan newspaper – a mammoth of influence that drew both the delighted eyeballs and ire of two men who possess a malignant narcissism that fueled irrational, and at times childish behavior that saw many questioning the mental stability of both men. Of course, let us not forget, that... Yes, one of these men is a murderer.
Mr. Trump is incapable of not responding to unfavorable media coverage, he’ll respond in a way contrary to the reporting at hand, often referring in a tweet to the Times as “failing.” Zodiac was called out by the Chronicle’s crime reporter Paul Avery in a piece that draws attention to the fact that the male victims often survived an attack from the killer, suggesting that he often got so caught up with shooting or stabbing his female victims and that he was a “latent homosexual.” Zodiac’s response to the reporter was a Halloween card reading, “Peek-a-boo u r doomed!” Accompanying the card, was a torn piece of a bloody shirt from one of his victims. By this point, a Zodiac letter became common place news. San Franciscans, in typical fashion, responded to the Halloween card threatening Avery by wearing buttons that read “I am Not Avery.” It would appear that both Zodiac and Mr. Trump seem to have a fixation with women in a way that borders on hatred, as well as with their blood – Zodiac being a killer that saves pieces of bloody shirts, and Mr. Trump, a president who frequently comments about women bleeding profusely.
National news began reporting on Zodiac’s reign of terror when he wrote a letter to the Chronicle threatening to “blow out the tires of a school bus some morning” and “pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out.” Much of the following year saw law enforcement throughout Northern California communities patrolling school buses on their routes to and from school. Had this happened today, there would be a national discussion, mainly in newspaper editorials that would be questioning whether or not Zodiac would be considered a terrorist.
Zodiac’s narcissistic need to be the focus of attention is what propelled his constant communication with the Chronicle, the belief that all press is good press, and the thought that his antics were what fueled the newspaper’s circulation numbers by inciting fear and causing widespread panic over a large region of California, many towns had curfews as a result of his presence. It’s truly hard to say whether the killing and the letters had to be a package deal, after a while all Zodiac did was write, although he promised that he continued to kill. Authorities believed he was lying as he failed to provide detailed facts about crimes he committed as he was known for doing. It became obvious that Zodiac was only in it for the press.
Mr. Trump, as leader of the free world, has a narcissism that does not appear to see a point of reaching exhaustion – rather it exhausts everyone and everything else everywhere, and ever by sucking all of the oxygen from the entire nation’s news cycle. More dangerous is to what lengths he appears to be willing to go to in order to be the focal point of the news. Mr. Trump uses his showmanship to sell his voters a bill of goods and they gladly buy whatever he is selling. His tweets incite fear and panic on a regular basis; a common authoritarian method for exuding control over a large body of people much easier.
If Zodiac’s frequent communications alone to the press before the age of social media, regularly inciting fear and panic qualified him to be a domestic terrorist – then shouldn’t that be the case for the president as well? There is of course the difference in the fact that one of these men had the expressed intent of murder; however, what is murder? It’s defined as the act of killing another person without justification or excuse. There is no mention of method in the definition. We know that Zodiac actually killed 5 people, although he claimed in his last communication that his victims reached a total of 37, though there was never any evidence to support this – notwithstanding that we still have not discovered the true identity of Zodiac. Mr. Trump’s policies, federal emergency response, or lack thereof has costed the lives of hundreds of men, women and children in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico – he admits only less than two dozen deaths, and boastfully. Mr. Trump bragged about a healthcare plan that in actuality threatens the lives of the elderly and anyone with a pre-existing condition. This is nothing to speak of, the new tax legislation not only will make it harder for people to live, for some crime might suddenly seem like an easier path to survival. Zodiac taunted local law enforcement, referring to them as “blue pigs.” Mr. Trump risks our national security by taunting a foreign dictator armed with nuclear projectiles that can significantly cripple, if not destroy much of the United States and who feels he has nothing to lose in doing that. The president works to dismantle elements of our government that are usually tasked with combating threats from individuals like Kim Jong Un. Political history has frequently shown us that policies have the ability to inflict as much damage as a blade or bullet can.
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, a new Zodiac letter sucked up much of the news cycle. Just as Mr. Trump’s unhinged early morning tweets do today. It is widely accepted as fact that many of these tweets don’t actually have any substance or purpose other than to distract from a narrative he finds undesirable. For people like Zodiac and Mr. Trump, self-proclaimed media darlings, there is no such thing as bad press as long as they themselves are not just a part of the conversation, they are the focal point.
What did the intrepid reports of the San Francisco Chronicle do? Their backs were against the wall, so there wasn’t much they could do – their perpetrator had no face, he only existed as a personality with writings that served the purpose to confuse and distract. The New York Times and The Washington Post have a face to their person of interest, he not only confuses and distracts – he happens to be the most powerful man in the world.
What is the lesson that we are supposed to learn from this?
For the Chronicle, it was a decision that bore a striking resemblance to one throwing some things at the wall to see what sticks – they simply decided to stop reporting on new Zodiac communications. Will the press be able to do the same thing with Mr. Trump’s tweets? Likely not, whatever the president of the United States says, however and from whatever platform he chooses, is still very important – at least to those who reside in this country, for now.
No one knows who, where or even if Zodiac is still alive – however, one thing is certain, where ever he is now, he’s watching all of this transpire and has only one thing to say; “This is the Zodiac speaking, you stole my bit, Mr. President.”