A few weeks ago, in a letter to the New York Times, the writer was critical of those who support Donald Trump based on their economic circumstances. He wrote, “Hard times is no excuse for ignorance.” In a similar vein, the theme of Thomas Frank’s book “What’s the Matter With Kansas” was that election after election working- and middleclass Kansans vote against their self-interests, supporting Republicans who promise them the moon but deliver only Earthly hardship.
Monday, October 17, 2016
Thursday, October 6, 2016
It began with the televised debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. For the first time in history we were able to see the candidates up close, not just hear their voices. The arguments each one made were vital, of course, in helping the viewing public decide which candidate they preferred. But what historians speak of most when referring to that debate was the way the two looked: Kennedy, relaxed and handsome; Nixon, sweaty and nervous.
Perception played no small role in deciding which of the two came across as more likable, and, therefore, more “presidential.” So it has been ever since.
The first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump started out as a minor slugfest, dealing mostly with the issue of trade, but became a rout when Clinton began reciting Trump's many insults and refusal to release his tax returns, and he couldn't hold back his anger. His many interruptions — including his outrageous reaction that he was “smart” to avoid paying taxes — came across as childish and revelatory of the very unpresidential Donald J. Trump. He lost that debate handily not solely on the issues, but also on the perception of him as a playground bully.
Unfortunately, I felt that in the vice-presidential debate Tim Kaine did not do his solid presentation of the issues any service by his intemperate interruptions of Mike Pence, whose demeanor — like JFK's in that first TV debate — was relatively relaxed and respectful. Pence's transgressions — if we can them that — were lots of headshaking during the split screen coverage of Kaine's presentations.
Fair or not, in our days of expansive social media and extensive TV coverage, perception counts.
I remember a monologue by the comedian Don Adams before he became Maxwell Smart in the TV series “Get Smart.” He posed as a defense attorney addressing the jury during a murder case. His client was a beautiful woman. Thrusting his arm out in her direction, he urged the jury to look at her legs. “Are these the legs of a homicidal maniac?” he asked.
I don't know whether it worked, but don't sell perception short.
Monday, October 3, 2016
(With apologies to Shakespeare)
Scene: The roof of Trump Tower. 3 a.m. The door opens and Donald Trump walks out.
Donald: Twas here upon their nightly watch my guards did see a form so like a man they drew their guns, at which the form did vanish as if swallowed by a breeze. Upon their strange report I bade them stay outside my rooms this night and I alone would venture here to test the air for such a thing.
(An apparition of Fred Trump appears and draws closer to Donald.)
O God, upon my soul it is in form and like my dear departed father!
Fred: Aye, my son, tis I, a wretched insubstantial shape who was your father, doomed to walk the nights till all my sins are burnt and purged away.
Donald: Sins, father, what sins?
Fred: Sins most foul as in the best they are.
Donald: What say you of sins? I know of no sins in your exemplary life.
Fred: In my time upon the Earth I learned as a child upon my father’s knee that one must be strong to survive the whips and scorns of competition. And so I persevered, gaining wealth and fame without regard to honor and civility. Too well I passed to you this creed of greed, which you ignobly advanced.
Donald: Not I, father, not I. Only sound business practices do I perform as you conveyed them.
Fred: Sound as to wealth, yes, but unsound to commonwealth. It pains my spectral form to hear you speak so. Even in death I grieve that you so callously disregard the plight of those you’ve cheated through the years, and in your quest for high office you hurl insults and ridicule to those in opposition .
Donald: I shudder at your pronouncements. My means and methods have followed the course you taught me, a course of success beyond your wildest dreams — success to the point where now I stand at the threshold of the greatest success the world has ever known: the presidency of the United States!
Fred: O my son, my faithful but misguided son. That is the reason I come to you now to urge that you repent before you make the greatest mistake for yourself, your family, your country and for the world. But hark, I sense the morning air, and I must depart. But ere my spectral form fades this night I beseech you to reflect and reform your ways. The hours of your greatest aspiration are winding down. So hear me, Donald, my beloved son. Hear me before it is too late. Reform, reform… (He starts to fade.) and remember me, remember meeee… (Disappears)
Donald: (alone in the dawn) Aye, remember you, dear father, I will, I will. And as I remember you and choose my path ahead, I will not shrink as chooser. I’ll remember you in life as a winner, but in death as a loser.