The Corner

Politics & Policy

Umpin’

In response to Chris Matthews, Btw,

The fabled golf teacher Bill Strausbaugh Jr. used to say, “I may bore you, but I hope never to confuse you.” In other words, he may have repeated himself, but he always wanted to be clear. (And he was.)

Once more into this “balls and strikes” business, the scorecard approach to Trump (Gorsuch nomination good, Carrier deal bad).

In addition, I think of Beckmesser, the “marker” in Wagner’s Meistersinger. He scratches on his chalkboard, noting violations. He’s the ultimate ball-and-striker in opera. I also think of Santa Claus, with his naughty-or-nice list.

Obviously, we all keep lists, after a fashion. My Impromptus column sometimes looks like a literal list. We praise and condemn different aspects of Trump and his presidency. This is only natural. But a scorecard approach — Beckmesser, Santa, the Good Umpire — can only get you so far. It can’t measure all that is important, and it probably can’t measure that which is most important.

I know a longtime conservative. When you say something about Trump she doesn’t want to hear — something truthful — she says, “Fake news.” Where did she get that? From whom did she learn it?

I know another longtime conservative. He says “globalist,” when he doesn’t like someone. He never said it before. Where did he get it? What does it mean? I doubt he knows, frankly.

One more longtime conservative — a sterling, Christian man. He reported to me with joy in his eyes that Trump had not mocked that handicapped reporter on the campaign trail. At least not specifically.

“Jay, he always does that, when he wants to ridicule someone! You can go to YouTube and see it. That’s his move. When he wants to ridicule someone, he flails around and acts stupid.”

So, according to my friend, Trump was off the hook. As Ann Coulter puts it in her latest book, In Trump We Trust, the candidate was merely “doing a standard retard.” (Ann, by the way, cares about issues — especially immigration — and she is occasionally quite critical of Trump.)

How does a scorecard measure that? Is it a ball or a strike? Is the Trump effect capturable by umpiring?

What about the president’s tweet yesterday concerning General Pershing? A little outside? A wild pitch? How would Beckmesser mark it?

Trump says things that are hard not to call lies. Some of these are big, some are small. Did the head of the Boy Scouts tell him that he had delivered the greatest speech ever made to the Boy Scouts? I can mark this “naughty,” or whatever. But that seems inadequate.

How about the issue of name-calling? Not the worst thing in the world, but not great, either. “Sleepy Eyes Todd.” “Flake Jeff Flake.” (What an easy one. A cheap one. Flake has no doubt heard it since he was two.) “Low I.Q. Crazy Mika.” (Vile.) A president sets an example in the country, like it or not, and he sets a tone in the country, like it or not. Again, I’m not sure this is capturable by routine umpiring.

I also believe that Trump will have an effect on the reputation of conservatism, and has already. Think about Trump’s response to that Nazi-Klan rally in Charlottesville. Will people coming of age today associate that with the Republican party and conservatism? Will they associate belligerence, ignorance, and crudeness with conservatism? Can they be blamed?

I don’t think that a mere scorecard can measure these things. I fear that Trump may undo in a season what took Bill Buckley decades to accomplish.

Like my man Ramesh, and like us types in general, I will call balls and strikes. I will keep score. I will note what is good about Trump and what is bad (by my lights). I’ll do my Beckmesser act. And Ramesh is right, of course (when is he not?): When you comment on the daily, you have ample opportunity to comment on the bigger picture.

But here’s the thing: I want to be careful not to be analyzing the positions of the deck chairs as the ship is going down, or otherwise in peril.

P.S. If you like baseball, treat yourself to a Ron Luciano memoir: The Fall of the Roman Umpire.

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