National Security & Defense

Trump as leader, &c.

Donald Trump in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, September 22, 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
On leading and not leading, Larry King and RT, San Francisco and Napa Valley, and more

I saw a headline and had a thought. The thought was, “Leadership matters.” Pretty simple, I know. The headline was, “Amid Trump’s rise, GOP voters turn sharply away from free trade.”

Donald Trump is a leader. I think he leads in bad directions, but lead he does. Others in politics: They follow the mob. They stick their finger in the air and, whichever way the wind is blowing, there they go.

Who in the Republican party is speaking up for trade? They are cowed. They are not leaders.

Trump, the leader, has led away from trade and toward protectionism. Also, he has led away from NATO and toward the Kremlin. (I will soon be discussing this at length.)

People have followed him. Not just ordinary voters, but people such as Mike Pence, his running mate. He is saying things about the Russian dictatorship that he has never said before — positive things.

All of a sudden, Vladimir Putin is an admirable servant of his people’s interests. As though their interests were dictatorship, poverty, and lawlessness.

Did you hear what Newt Gingrich said about the Baltics? Gingrich, that former champion of NATO and its eastward expansion? Now he says that NATO may not be worth it — because we would be tangling with Russia.

That’s the Trump effect. That’s how Trump leads. And others follow, where’er he goes.

Every knee is bowing, every tongue is swearing. It’s Trump time. And you caught the title of Ann Coulter’s new book, I bet: “In Trump We Trust.” Remember whose name used to be there?

‐With some regularity, pro-Trump conservatives make an accusation against anti-Trump conservatives: that we oppose him on grounds of style. We are snobs and elitists. We don’t like Trump’s outer-borough accent.

Actually, I rather like his accent. It’s one of my favorite things about him.

What I object to is — well, his view of NATO and Russia. His view of trade. His view of our alliances with Japan and South Korea. His view of Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush. His threat to bend American corporations to his will. And so on.

It is true that I don’t like Trump’s style — if “style” includes the mockery of a physically handicapped person, for the enjoyment of an audience. But that’s not snobbery. More like — what, humanity?

One more thing: Trump is a trust-fund New Yorker who lives in something called “Trump Tower.” His life is gold-plated. And those of us who scribble our criticisms of him — we’re the elitists?


‐In Latvia, someone asked me why Larry King does RT — why he has a show on the Kremlin propaganda network. He can’t possibly need it, can he, at this late date in his wonderfully successful career?

This was my answer: Once you’ve been on television, it’s unbearable to be off. It is a kind of death. Being on TV means you’re alive; being off TV is the opposite.

I remember something that Professor Jeffrey Hart taught me: that, for an athlete, retirement is a first death — a prelude to the later, physical death.

Huge-time broadcasters such as Larry King and Dan Rather — they would rather be on a local cable outlet than off the air entirely, I think. Because being on television is what they do. It’s also who they are. Most of their lives, people have said to them, “Saw you on television last night.”

Give that up? Excruciating.

‐I was in San Francisco, walking along the waterfront. Someone handed me a flier, which said — shouted! — “Sharks of Alcatraz.” There was a picture of an open-mouthed shark.

What smart advertising, I thought: The words “sharks” and “Alcatraz” are two of the most enticing in the American language. Plus, they have those “k” sounds: “sharks” and “Alcatraz.”

I’m sure I have no idea what I’m talking about, but I always thought I could maybe make a go of it in advertising — being in love with words and other sounds.

‐A vagrant held a sign: Very Bad Advice, $1. I smiled.

‐San Francisco, of course, is loaded with vagrants and beggars — very aggressive. I have written about this a number of times.

A family I know — father, mother, daughter — was bothered by a vagrant and beggar. This was at a street corner, where the family was trying to deal with something: The daughter was having a moment.

Singletons can just move on, fast, past the vagrants and beggars (although sometimes the singletons are accosted at street corners). Families cannot move so fast, and are therefore extra-vulnerable. Which is maddening.

“Not many children in San Francisco,” someone commented. True, I suppose.

‐I had a lovely encounter at a street corner — I really did. (And no, this will not be dirty.) (Sorry to say.)

This vagrant and beggar was rather cleaned up, with a benign countenance. “How are you?” he said. “Fine,” I said. “How are you?” “I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “I’m so glad,” I answered. He said, “I look at faces all day long, and I can tell I’m doing better than most of them.”

“What a wonderful attitude,” I said. “I will remember that and take it to heart.” “I’ve always been this way,” he said. “I’ve always been happy.”

‐Up we went, some of us, to Napa Valley. You know what my previous experience with Napa Valley was? I was an ardent — weekly — watcher of Falcon Crest, the nighttime soap. It ran through the ’80s. It starred the ex-wife of the president. (I’m talking about Jane Wyman, who left Ronald Reagan. There’s no accounting for taste.)

Interesting stuff.

‐Back in San Francisco, I was riding in a cab, past a protest march. They were marching against poachers in Africa, I believe. They had a chant: “1, 2, 3, 4, ivory’s not worth dying for! 5, 6, 7, 8 . . .”

But at that point, the cab was too far away. I don’t know what they were going to rhyme with “8.” (“5, 6, 7, 8, old pianos, not so great”?)

(I don’t mean to make fun of them. I’m sure I think their cause is just.)

‐Earlier, I mentioned advertising. And I just loved a billboard on the way to the airport — which advertised “videoconferencing that doesn’t suck.”

‐In Riverside Park, New York, a man shouted after his little daughter, or someone’s little daughter: “Cornelia! Cornelia!”

I thought, “Are you kidding me? ‘Cornelia’? I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone named Cornelia. Names never go out of style. They just hibernate, sometimes for a very long time, and then come back.”

‐Let’s have a little music. A few days ago, a famous music scholar e-mailed me a simple question: “Do you like Ives?” I jotted a quick and frank response — which I offer for your contemplation:

Joe, you ask a very, very interesting question. The truth is, I have always liked the IDEA of Ives better than Ives himself. I like American music. I like marches and hymns and folk songs and all that stuff. Ives ought to be right up my alley. And I love him in theory. But in practice . . .?

I admire the General Booth piece. I admire the Concord Sonata, and the Central Park thing, and many, many other works of Ives. “The Unanswered Question,” of course. Some chamber music. Blah, blah, blah. But . . .

I am always left RESPECTING Ives more than liking him.

One question I have always had about his songs: How come the rhythm and phrasing don’t follow the words? The speech?

Anyway, you have asked a VERY interesting and provocative question, Joe! Thx much, and all best from an airport . . .

His response was quite detailed, born of deep experience. I may return to this subject at some point.

‐A friendly correspondent sent me a notice from the Kansas City paper (or the Internet equivalent of): “Phil ‘Rusty’ Greathouse, 67, Prairie Village, passed away while watching the KC Chiefs lose their game Sunday, September 18, 2016. It was a hard day for all of us.”

May you have a better day, Kansas Citians and non-Kansas Citians alike.


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