Politics & Policy

What Trump calls Schumer, &c.

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)
On presidential tone, the art of the apology, Bob Dylan, Elf, and more

One great lesson I learned from conservatives — it’s common sense, really — is that the character of the president matters. His behavior matters. The example he sets matters. The president sets a tone in the country (whether this ought to be or not).

We often made this point during the Clinton years. He was “coarsening the culture,” we said. That was one of our great buzzphrases: “coarsening the culture.” I must have said it a hundred times (a week?). We said that we couldn’t even have our children watch the nightly news with us, thanks to him.

At the end of his presidency, he gave an interview in which he said he had “demystified” the presidency. The president had always been on a pedestal, he said, and a president doesn’t belong there. He’s a human being, just like us.

Okay. But that shouldn’t give a president license to … you know …

Our incoming president is a name-caller, as he has well established: “Lyin’ Ted,” “Little Marco,” “Crooked Hillary.” I noticed that this trickled down to his staff. On Twitter, his spokesman would refer to the Democratic nominee as “Crooked.” That was her name: “Crooked.”

You usually don’t see staffers do that. Then again, you usually don’t see nominees, or other candidates, do it.

Recently, Trump referred to Charles Schumer, the minority leader in the Senate, as the “head clown.”

I don’t mean to be stuffy. “Politics ain’t beanbag,” blah blah blah. I like plainspokenness. I don’t want a prissy political culture. But “head clown”? Should the president, or president-elect, be calling a political opponent that? Or should that sort of thing be left to spouters-off like me?

I think the conservatives, and the common-sensers, were right all along: The president’s character and behavior and example — all of that matters (whether it should or not). That is true whether it’s a Dem presidency or a Repub.

‐Around Christmastime, I had occasion to tweet a little tweet about Cuba. I noted that Fidel Castro had actually banned Christmas from 1969 to 1998. Immediately, a tweeter of the Left said, “The pilgrims also banned it, by the way.”

Yes, it’s true: The Puritans’ view of Christianity did not include the celebration of Christmas. They considered it a pagan and corrupting rite.

Were the Puritans, who were Christians, like Fidel Castro and his Communist party in Cuba? When was the last time the Puritans interfered with the celebration of Christmas?

In 2015, I wrote an essay called “The Even-Steven Temptation: Adventures in moral equivalence.” You will find it — promo alert! — in my new collection, Digging In. The gist is this: In some, the temptation to cite a fault, or alleged fault, of the liberal-democratic world whenever someone faults the undemocratic world is overwhelming. Absolutely overwhelming.

I thought that that little Christmas tweet was an example of it — a short ’n’ sweet example.

‐Trump staffers are demanding that CNN apologize — apologize for the allegedly rude behavior of its correspondent, Jim Acosta. (Incidentally, I know Acosta for one thing, basically: He’s the guy who had the nerve to ask Raúl Castro, to his face, about political prisoners.) Demands from TrumpWorld for an apology are interesting.

Why? Because Trump himself is a famous non-apologizer! During the campaign, he counseled Howie Carr not to apologize. Howie had mocked Senator Elizabeth Warren, the self-identified Cherokee representing Massachusetts, with a war whoop.

According to Carr himself, Trump said, “Whatever you do, don’t apologize. You never hear me apologize, do you? That’s what killed Jimmy the Greek, way back. Remember? He was doing okay till he said he was sorry.”

For the benefit of the young: Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder was a sports commentator who was fired by CBS after making a remark about black athletes. He said that they were better than white athletes because they were “bred” that way during slavery.

Speaking of apologies, I noticed that Sarah Palin apologized, straight out, to Julian Assange. She had before blasted him as a menace to humanity, and America in particular. The 2016 presidential campaign made her change her tune, however.

I think she was right the first time.

‐One of the country’s foremost experts on the Electoral College is Tara Ross — a friend of mine. (As is her husband Adam, a prince — a prince of Texas.) For a look at Tara’s website, go here. Before Election Day, she came out with a book for children: We Elect a President: The Story of Our Electoral College. What timing. What marvelous timing.

Not only children but their parents as well can benefit from the lesson.

‐Ed Koch wrote a book called “Giuliani: Nasty Man.” I asked him about this once. Let me do some paraphrasing, please.

“What’s your beef with Giuliani?” I said. “Whaddayou mean?” he said. “I voted for him!” I said, “Well, what about ‘Nasty Man’?”

Then he explained: “When you’re mayor of the City of New York, you don’t have to try to be the biggest person in the room. You are the biggest person in the room, just by entering it. By virtue of your position. You don’t have to try to be. That was Giuliani’s problem.”

Donald Trump can’t stop bragging, and bragging, and bragging. When you’re president — cripe, you’re the Big Kahuna anyway. You know?

‐So, Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Go figure. As deserving as Dario Fo? Less so, more so? I couldn’t judge.

I do quote Dylan in my history of the Nobel Peace Prize. It comes in a section on peace, kind of a standalone essay: What is peace? Here is the relevant swatch:

Bob Dylan has a song called “Man of Peace” — a rather tart and cynical, but not unreasonable, song. “He got a sweet gift of gab, he got a harmonious tongue, / He knows every song of love that ever has been sung. … He’s a great humanitarian, he’s a great philanthropist … You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.” That is the song’s refrain: “You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.” And if Dylan’s not your bag, you might consider a line from Psalms — the 28th Psalm — which talks of “the workers of iniquity, which speak peace to their neighbours, but mischief is in their hearts.”

‐I believe I’m the last American — the last person? — to have seen the movie Elf. And the last person to have seen the original Star Wars film. Both of those viewings occurred over Christmas.

A word about Elf: It is directed by Jon Favreau. Same name — same spelling — as the Obama speechwriter. What are the odds? What would Vegas give?

Amazing.

‐I don’t know if you know this, but it’s true: There are people in this world who resent seeing words, names, references, or allusions that they are unfamiliar with. They call National Review to complain. Honestly, they do.

That is one of the ways we learn things, I think: by seeing words, etc., and looking them up. I learned a lot of things that way, when I was growing up. And that was before the Internet. Now it’s easy as pie. Almost cheating.

A few weeks ago, I got a letter from a friend who doubles as a famous writer. I had told him I was going to send him something. He said he had acquired it already. “Too late the phalarope,” he said.

I had no idea what a phalarope was. So I looked it up — Googled it: a bird. And that led to the title of a novel by Alan Paton. Cry, the Beloved Country, I knew. But not Too Late the Phalarope.

So now I know. Which is nice, right? Later!

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