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July 16, 2003

Absolute power trivializes absolutely. “I am at the top and people like me hate people like you.” A Senate intern in an unguarded moment. Remember, just because you’re on their side… [11:52 PM]
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Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Absolute power trivializes absolutely.:

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 01:24 AM:

She was well, well rid of him, that's for sure. A pettier, more mean-spirited tirade would be hard to find. Anyone who could write that missive, even in an absolute rage, is too childish to be involved in any sort of relationship. It's full of the things grade six girls say to each other: nobody likes you; people who say they like you really hate you and trash you behind your back; I'm better than you, nyah, nyah, nyah, so there.

If he ever grows up (which is theoretically possible, since, after all, he's only 20), he will be excruciatingly embarrassed to have written this.

Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 05:43 AM:

I've received several such letters from certain individuals in years past. I treasure such things, of course. The guy who wrote it is still obviously in complete denial about what happened. He does say he was "in a complete rage," but he desn't seem to have any conception about how messed up he has to be to get in such a state (which I would bet he does pretty regularly). He's also blind to the emotion he has, or had, invested in his girlfriend.

Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 08:34 AM:

And, though working in the office of a US senator, he can't spell "hypocrite".

tavella ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 08:45 AM:

And notice that he landed safely in another House internship. Can't have rich baby Repugs having to deal with any consequences!

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 10:39 AM:

He says he was in a blind rage. I believe he was; but I also believe that what it led him to do was tell the truth as he saw it. It wasn't meant to be self-revelation. He just wanted to hurt her, and I think it's very likely that he succeeded. But in the process, he created an appallingly unflattering snapshot of his soul.

If any of my students are reading this: See how much character exposition you can get out of a single gesture?

julia ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 11:54 AM:

The really amazing part of this, to me, is that this kid can't string a coherent sentence together. He's a congressional intern at 20, preening about his house in Aspen and how People Like HIm rule the world, and he can't string together a coherent sentence. (I suppose it would be unfair to expect someone under extreme emotional duress to use spellcheck).

It made me wonder, in that probing the place where the tooth used to be way, if he thinks he's above such things or if he even knows.

People like him rule the world. Mean rich otherly-verbal adolescents from Texas getting daddy to cover the checks their mouths write that they can't cash.

What a dispiriting thought.

Simon ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 12:32 PM:

Does this remind anyone else of the famous "CHUNG is KING of his domain here in Seoul....." e-mail? Supreme arrogance followed quickly by a fall is so amusing to watch.

Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 01:02 PM:

Julia, I'm really not sure about this. Even under extreme emotional stress I can string a coherent sentence or two together, if you put a keyboard in my hands. (There have been times when I've wished otherwise, believe me.) And I would suspect that you're the same way, and probably so are most of the literary types who hang out here.

But for a lot of people, writing down a coherent sentence is something that requires concentration and thought - something that this bloke was clearly severely lacking in.

This e-mail is going to be embarrassing material for his friends to tease him about for years to come. At a distance, if he usually reacts in that screaming way.

Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 03:26 PM:

Hmm funny, it reminds me a bit of Dylan singing "Positively 4th Street", with the obvious caveat that Tripplehorn (can that really be somebody's name?) is no Dylan.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 05:32 PM:

Hmm funny, it reminds me a bit of Dylan singing "Positively 4th Street", with the obvious caveat that Tripplehorn (can that really be somebody's name?) is no Dylan.

That is so unfair to one of my least favorite Dylan songs. As far as it goes, Dylan's describing this nasty little prick, not his dramatically ex-girlfriend.

I wonder if his ex is lucky or unlucky that he doesn't suffer from my own problem with expressing rage. My version of a killing rage is to discourse at great length, in carefully constructed sentences, the precise and exact failings of the person who has caused my rage, never failing to explore exactly the most tender spots in his ego, all the while maintaining a far higher standard of grammar and diction than I can manage in my normal conversation. My English skills are never so good as when I am furious beyond reason. (I have a rule of thumb. If I'm not breathing, I shouldn't be talking. When I'm that mad, I don't need to breathe.)

MadJayhawk ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2003, 12:53 AM:

It is sad that a letter like this piece of trash is out there for all of us to look at and comment on. I feel like I am pawing through someone's garbage when I read it.

I feel sorry for the young man, his family, and the young lady. Obviously the Senator's staff made a poor hiring decision. This guy is a jerk.

My daughter was an intern in Senator Dole's office in 1992. She was selected for a paid position based on samples of her writing and the 3 or 4 solid recommendations she submitted. Working in the Majority Leader's office was an invaluable experience for her. The experience has really helped her career in the corporate and political world. She will be a Senator or Governor someday. **a father talking**

We visited her in Washington and were amazed at how many people in the Senate, Senators and staff, knew her even though she was just a lowly intern. She had a lot friends from college in the White House too. There were a lot of things that amazed me about that day with her. It was a political junkie's dream. If you have kids that like politics, history, etc., push them into applying for an intern position.

Elric ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2003, 08:03 AM:

The worst aspect of his letter is, of course, the threat that his exalted position will let him destroy her and all her dreams and aspirations. (He didn't go quite so far as to say "And your little dog, too!" but you can imagine that lurking in the background.)

We will always have childish weasels among us. Let's hope we will also have responsible adults around to give them a boot where it's most needed. It was nice to see that this repugnant child was booted from his internship. Let us all hope and pray that no one actually took him into a new position in which he will be allowed to develop such delusions of godhood again.

julia ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2003, 08:55 AM:

Delusions, particularly delusions of importance, don't seem to need too much encouragement.

Just money and a brush or two with fame.

Why people pay money to get their picture taken with politicians, I guess.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2003, 03:04 PM:

Here's the part I don't understand: how did it get out into the public Internet? If she forwarded it around my sympathy for her goes down somewhat.

He's still a jerk, though.

Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2003, 06:06 PM:

He says he was in a blind rage. I believe he was; but I also believe that what it led him to do was tell the truth as he saw it.

I don't agree--the man himself says that he was just saying whatever he could to hurt her. And either he's suffering delusions of grandeur, or else (more likely) he's clearly bluffing when he says he can destroy her with one phone call. I feel like I know this guy. He's more than likely a candidate for a good dose of lithium...but I don't think this was an honest outpouring of emotion. An h. o. of e. would not have consisted of "you are [this, that, and the other thing]" and "people hate you"; it would have been "I hate you; I felt [loathing, disgust, whatever] when you did/said [whatever]"

Anne ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2003, 02:05 PM:

Update: According to today's Houston Chronicle, the young man in question has already lost his replacement job. I don't have it in front of me, but I think he might have lasted a week. The young woman apparently forwarded it to people she knew in Washington, and that's how it got to the reporters. (Speaking as one who's been dumped almost as spectacularly, I don't blame her a bit for telling her friends.)

Paul Riddell ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2003, 03:07 PM:

In a strange way, he's lucky that Kay Bailey Hutchison only fired him: she could have beaten the shit out of him with a three-ring binder the way she did to one of her assistants when she was Texas State Treasurer a decade ago. That assistant only screwed up a personal situation: this being public, I imagine that his last thought on the job was what most of Hutchison's constituents think when meeting her in person: "Where the hell are Sigourney Weaver and a forklift when you need 'em?"

FranW ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2003, 11:41 PM:

"I don't even have to tell you why because in my very accurate analysis that most everyone else agrees with, if you were to agree with my analyis about your character than my whole entire analysis would be wrong."

Priceless. Why, oh why can't =I= write lines like that?

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2003, 11:54 PM:

Someone could get a Master’s thesis in semantics out of that, if not an actual dissertation. “This speech act will self-destruct in twenty seconds...”

Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2003, 11:28 AM:

I suppose the e-mail did get into wider circulation after the recipient shared it with her friends and contacts, as usually happens, but there are other ways e-mails intended to be private get into broader circulation. At one time my company provided access to an e-mail system to all of our customers, and, as it happens, some were using it to pass personal messages. You selected your recipient by picking their name from a list...or, you could inadvertently select all the recipients that came up on that screen's worth of names. That is how I and my co-workers whose last names started with B-R-A received an e-mail from a woman at one of our client companies who was apparently having a clandestine extramarital relationship with a co-worker. (For what it's worth, she all but used the exact phrase "I will not be ignored!")

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2003, 03:56 PM:

How did the letter get out? The recipient had no reason to protect the guy, and every reason to make the letter public. I don't blame her. The guy's out to hurt her. He's making threats. Going public is an act of self-defense.

You can feel sorry for him if you want, David, but he's a nasty little piece of work, and I don't feel sorry for him at all. (And by the way: There's no question that Tripplehorn can be someone's last name.)

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2003, 04:15 PM:

Hmm. We don't know, since it hasn't been published, what she may have sent to him prior to the one we did see. He's a prize asshat, to be sure, and I'm not saying we should feel sorry for him, but she may have sent him something at a similar level, or 100 of them a day for two weeks, for all we know.

And he didn't publish his emails from her, even after she did it to him and got him fired.

Just playing devil's advocate here.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2003, 05:07 PM:

Oh, I agree with your analysis completely, Teresa. Madjayhawk was feeling sorry for him, not I. (Or is Madjayhawk also named David?)

And, Xopher, whatever she may or may not have sent him, I can’t imagine an email that would justify descending to that level.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2003, 05:16 PM:

True, David. But could you imagine an email like the one he sent either?

I've sometimes been victimized by someone quoting me at the end of a long exchange, without the context that made what I said or wrote justified or even innoccuous. I don't think that's what's happening here. But it's why I thought of asking the question.

Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2003, 03:24 AM:

Xopher, if she had sent him anything like the e-mail he sent her, do you really think that he'd have refrained from distributing it?

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 04:33 AM:

My personal thought is that neither of them are great prizes. Yes, he wrote a stupid letter, but some of the items have the ring of truth.

I'm also wondering what we're doing reading the letters of an angry college student. Were this correspondence dug up from when Bush was twenty, I'd see the relevance, but honestly, this kid Tripplehorn isn't any sort of public figure to be subjected to this scrutiny.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 11:23 AM:

I think what made it interesting originally was the class angle.

Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 11:31 AM:

Kevin, I don't think we're looking at the letter to draw conclusions about Tripplehorn (at least, I'm not), but as a sort of archetype or case study.

One of the questions it raises is "how can someone supposedly so promising be so un-self-aware?" I can't imagine a rage so strong that it could suppress my embarrassment at that message long enough to hit "send". But then, maybe my self-doubt explains why I was never that "promising".

p3h ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 11:55 AM:


thanks to google, this guys is going to be explaining this one for the rest of his life.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 12:37 PM:

Kevin, the thing I found interesting about the email was the threat to ruin his ex's prospects. He was very casual about such an abuse of power. I don't know if he was basing his claim to such power on his wealth or his position as an intern. Either way, it is a disturbing thing to see, and it makes me wonder how prevalent such an attitude is on Capitol Hill. Did this idiot come to his position with such arrogance in place, did he find it condoned by the atmosphere of the Beltway, or did he learn it on the job? I'm not suggesting that it is possible to answer the question, but I do think it is striking to see it so very nakedly.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 02:01 PM:

Well, the class angle is interesting, but seems no different than the "I know people in the mob" or "I know voodoo" type of comments you get in other letters. I think Tripplehorn also realized that calls to his parents rich college board friends would have resulted in peals of laughter and so was just left with the lame threat.

I think that the interest this has generated speaks more to the conspiracy theories about the way the ultra-rich operate than the way they actually do.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 02:56 PM:

Okay, but if a Senate intern was threatening someone with voodoo or with the Mob, wouldn’t that be interesting, too?

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 02:59 PM:

Okay, that was a stupid question — trying to turn a subjective quality into an objective one. it would interest me, but that doesn’t really mean anything.

Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 03:22 PM:

Kevin, what I find interesting is that someone who is "ultra-rich" (or at least, someone who has moved through the corridors of power) seems to have bought into the conspiracy theories, or at least relies on a shared understanding of them on which to base his threats.

It tells us that people like Tripplehorn (and his ex) are familiar with the same conspiracy theories we are, though he should be in a better position to evaluate their truthfulness than most of us.

But as you say, his threats make me less inclined to believe the conspiracy theories. If he really had such power, I assume he would have spent more time using it, and less time composing the email.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 05:02 PM:

"Ultra-rich," same as anything, comes in gradations, and class in America is incredibly relative.

One trouble is something that Tripplehorn touched on: Just using your stuff can get you accused of flaunting your wealth. If the obligatory family 4th of July celebration is at your parent's house in Aspen, then you're going to Aspen, whether you like it or not.

In college, I remember talking with an English friend, who mentioned he was going to Greece for the summer, and was not looking forward to it since it was the same place his family went every year. Which he described as like Santa Cruz (where we were) but much more boring.

It's a matter of glamour as opposed to reality. On the glamorous class-status end, I've been to Europe--twice! In reality? My mom's from Germany and I went to visit grandma.

The conspiracy theories, as with everything, are so much hooey around a grain of truth. Tripplehorn appears to have gotten his internship on the basis of having parents who were likely major campaign contributors and personal friends of the senator. Yes, that's nepotism, but it's also a safe bet the senator had met him on more than one occasion before and would rather tap him to refill the copy machines and fetch coffee than take a pig in a poke, who might have any number of problems and moreover wouldn't come with daddy's phone number attached in case of trouble.

What I'd really like to read a transcript of is the senator's conversation with daddy.

Tripplehorn was apprenticed to learn politics, and he learned one of the most basic lessons: Don't put anything in print that you wouldn't be willing to have published in the newspaper.

Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 05:49 PM:

I saw a bit of dishonesty in a Thomas Sowell column today, where he confidently asserted that "the liberals" regard anyone as the evil rich who makes a hundred grand a year. By lowering the bar dramatically, I guess he figures on making those who are merely prosperous into allies or footsoldiers in the class war. The top 2% is nowhere near so tacky and poor as a mere hundred thousand per annum. That's chump change.

Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 09:11 PM:

If my obligatory "see the parents" was at someplace that got me looked at as snobbish or flaunting, I'd find a way to talk around it. You don't have to say you're going to Aspen--you can be visiting your family or even "stuck visiting my family instead of at Joe-Bob's cool barbecue."

This guy is in college--he's got to be able to figure out that you don't have to say "Aspen" if it's not the image you want to project.

And, of course, those of us whose stuck-visiting-parents-for-holidays was Queens couldn't dress it up as a fancy resort without an actual lie. (The difference between actual lies and playing with emphasis is that it's a lot harder to get caught in the latter: he really was at his parents' house, and I really wasn't in Aspen.)

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 01:06 AM:


I think you hit the nail on the head about college being a place to learn what image to project, but part of the trouble is that consciously trying to project an image is akin to lying, and it should be possible to be yourself without continually soft-pedaling your background.

I've had people go off on me about my "fancy educatin'" and trying to make them feel stupid because I dared to use the word "antimacassar" in a sentence, nevermind the fact that I learned the word when I was five. Plus there's the fact that I'd feel stupid and embarrassed to be saying "Victorian headrest doily thingy" and suchlike, rather than the actual words.

Perhaps I'm feeling more empathy for Tripplehorn than I should be, but I'm continually going to Tahoe because that's where my mom's house is, and yes, skiing is often involved. She works for a resort and can get me a pass, which puts the sport into my price range. Which I suppose makes me guilty of receiving the favors of nepotism, but oh well.

From what I've seen, a bunch of drunk ski instructors at a fashionable resort after hours look an awful lot like a bunch of drunk working guys in a backyard in unfashionable Oakland.

Karl Meek ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2003, 03:06 PM:

Paul's parents must be extremely proud of their son at the moment. He's obviously the product of excellent upbringing, expensive private schools and a superior social class. I wish him all the luck in the future - he's going to need it to live down this well documented episode of his life.

Dave Lopez ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2003, 04:23 AM:

To Kevin Andrew Murphy -

I understand, although many extremely well-educated people don't have others "go off on" them for it. If this is happening to you, it's more likely due to something in the way you present yourself than your level of education.

Don't feel "stupid and embarrassed" not using the "actual" word for a Victorian headrest doily thing. If you know the word, that's great, but you already know that using it in conversation isn't likely to facilitate anyone's understanding, right? It may alert them to your formidable vocabulary, but it won't get the idea across, which should be your primary reason for talking in the first place, right? RIGHT?

And I gotta say, using all three names when refering to yourself is like a sign around your neck that says "insecure". It subtley implies a higher importance, a presumed degree of celebrity. Not a classy thing to project.

You sound like a good guy--you don't need "antimacassar" or three names to be liked.


Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2003, 10:02 AM:

Don't feel "stupid and embarrassed" not using the "actual" word for a Victorian headrest doily thing. If you know the word, that's great, but you already know that using it in conversation isn't likely to facilitate anyone's understanding, right?

Where I grew up, antimacassar was a common term, and all the chairs had them. It does make one feel stupid and embarrassed to use a perfectly normal word such as antimacassar and be mocked for it.

A good friend of mine was recently told, "It's ok if you're smart, but couldn't you be smart without saying anything?" It's a question that left him agog. What do you say to that? Sure, I'll play dumb just for you? I don't mind pretending that I've never read a book or kept up on current events while we're talking? I'll just parrot all your opinions and not share anything new or different with you?

Besides, just exactly how important a conversation could it have been, if it involved the word antimacassar? Mocking someone's knowledge is no nicer than mocking someone's ignorance.

Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2003, 12:10 PM:

Lydia, I agree completely about antimacassar, and the absurdity (and rudeness) of mocking people for being intelligent. On the other hand, if you are always talking over someone's head, you're not communicating very effectively; or at least, only communicating "I'm smarter than you, nyah nyah." Some people are to ready to accuse others of being snobs, and some people _are_ snobs.

Likewise, I think Kevin's insecurity about going to Tahoe to visit his mother and Tripplehorn's about going to Aspen may have something to do with how they present themselves. Maybe I only associate with wonderful, mature people, but I can't imagine saying to someone "I'm going to place X for Christmas" and getting a negative reaction. If the person you're talking to is so insecure that merely mentioning the name of a resort makes them think you're a snob, then there's not much you can do. On the other hand, if you find every possible excuse to work the name of said resort into the conversation, maybe you should think about why it's so important to you that everyone know exactly where you're going.

There's a big difference between "I'm going to Aspen to see my family" and "I'm going to Aspen, I'm going to stay at my family's multi-million dollar mansion, let me list the celebrities who are going to drop by, and let me tell you about all the incredible gifts we're going to give each other, and how much they each cost." Based on Tripplehorn's letter, I'd guess his approach was closer to the latter version.