Speaking only for myself of course, a couple of posts back, I rejected Robert Reich’s suggestion that we all ignore the Trump inauguration, especially his inaugural address, for fear that if we paid attention to it we would be committing the sin of “normalizing” Trumpiness. I stand by my first reaction. I’ll watch the speech, and I will try to scribble out an honest take on it. My goal will definitely not be to “normalize,” nor, I suppose to “abnormalize,” although based on my recent conduct, I’m more likely to err on that side of the equation.
But, as the days go by, I understand the Reichian impulse to turn one’s head. I recognize the dangers that we scribblers of the ink-stained generation face that we will indeed get sucked into “normalize” conduct that should be condemned. My plan is not to get so sucked in.
Trump is not the first political figure to lie or to make offensive racist, sexist remarks. But he’s the biggest liar we’ve ever seen at this level and the first one in a long time to refuse to retract or apologize for offensive outbursts such as, for example, mocking the disabled, about which more below. Mocking people with disabilities should probably be disqualifying for a presidential candidate but, apparently, it isn’t because the guy who did it will soon be president and we have to keep trying to figure out how that came about.
The ‘L’ word issue
We older scribblers are not set up for this. Some from the old school are arguing against calling Trump’s lies “lies,” because (according to some of them) we can’t be sure enough that he’s doing it on purpose. He may just be mistaken. Call them errors, correct the errors, but don’t pretend to know that he knows they are false when he says them, say these old-schoolers who (like me) came up in the age of so-called “objectivity.”
I remember when I used to see the wisdom in this approach. I used to avoid the “L” word (Liar). And part of the reason was the powerfully felt need, in days of “objectivity,” to want to shield oneself from allegations of partisan bias, more specifically “liberal” bias, which especially applied when one was criticizing the statements of a conservative or a Republican. Since reporters are mostly liberals (the critique went, and it was true as far as that assertion) we were all under suspicion of being too inclined to call fouls faster on conservatives.
But we’ve never faced a Trumpian liar at this level during my professional lifetime. And it isn’t strictly about lies; it’s also about willfully offensive false judgments about individuals or whole groups.
So, in that spirit, and fully expecting that Trump admirers will assume that I am just expressing my “bias,” I am not going to engage in an affirmative action program to try to say more nice things about about Trump, nor shy away from calling fouls. The man commits a lot of fouls, and he should not get away with three quarters of them uncalled, just so the refs won’t be accused of being biased. Luckily for him, as opposed to a basketball player, there is apparently no number of fouls that will get him thrown out of the game.
The three-tweet storm against Streep
Which brings me to Trump’s ridiculous three-tweet storm against Meryl Streep, certainly one of the greatest film actors of her generation, who used her on-camera moment at the Golden Globes ceremony Sunday to criticize Trump for mocking a disabled reporter. Watch video of Trump’s despicable imitation of prize-winning reporter Serge Kovaleski, now of the New York Times, who suffers from arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that reduces his ability to control his arms and legs. You can’t watch it without knowing that it is mockery (even though in the same clip he calls Kovaleski a “nice” guy and “the poor guy.”) If you watch the video and think it is inaccurate to call his impression of Kovaleski “mockery,” you have simply lost touch with reality. Trump’s grudge against Kovaleski was the journalist’s role in covering a story unflattering to Trump.
So, of all the things Streep might have done with her few minutes at center stage to receive an award, she chose to criticize Trump, without mentioning his name, for his cruel mockery of Kovaleski.
So Trump could have gone any one of three ways: Ignore Streep’s remarks; acknowledge the remarks and apologize for his despicable mockery of Kovaleski (I’ll provide a draft of the apology below); or attack Streep as an over-rated actress and continue to deny that his cruel mockery was mockery or cruel.
He went with Way Three, in a tweetstorm that ran over the 140-character limit so he had to string it across three tweet, thus:
Tweet 1, which got 34,219 retweets and 104,374 “likes,” as of this writing:
Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked last night at the Golden Globes. She is a…..
Tweet 2, 104,801 likes
…Hillary flunky who lost big. For the 100th time, I never “mocked” a disabled reporter (would never do that) but simply showed him…….
Tweet 3, only 57,906 likes
“groveling” when he totally changed a 16 year old story that he had written in order to make me look bad. Just more very dishonest media!
The “dishonest” story that caused Trump to go after Kovaleski, if you care to know, was about Trump’s false claim that he had witnessed “thousands and thousands” of Muslims cheering as the World Trade Center towers came down on 9/11/2001.
So, to be clear, there is no evidence that the cheering Muslims thing ever occurred and Trump has had ample opportunity to produce any, but he has never retracted his anti-Muslim lie. He did mock Kovaleski. And Meryl Streep is one of the greatest film actors of her generation and perhaps any generation. (I guess you could put that last “fact” down as an opinion, but a very widely held opinion, and Trump never expressed a contrary opinion until Streep — without mentioning Trump’s name — had the audacity to criticize him.
So, to loop back to my diatribe at the top, if this happens — and reporters, or even this particular scribbler, decides to downplay it because they have already been so mean to Trump that their objectivity halo is starting to lose its luster — what are we and how can we help but “normalize” this kind of conduct by the president-elect soon to be commander in chief?
How he might have behaved
Trump doesn’t know I exist and he will not take advice on his manners or his humanity from me, but, as I promised above, here is what he might have said, if he’d felt he had to acknowledge the Streep statement and if he’d had any interest in behaving like something other than a cruel, thin-skinned egomaniac:
“It has come to my attention that at the Golden Globes ceremony, Meryl Streep criticized me for mocking a disabled reporter. Ms. Streep is a great actress whose work has entertained and inspired millions of viewers of her films and I respect her work. At the ceremony, she took me to task for my behavior on an occasion last year when I did an impression of a disabled reporter, Serge Kovaleski. Of course, I shouldn’t have done that hurtful, mocking impression and I apologize to Mr. Kovaleski and anyone else who suffers from a condition like his. To overcome a handicap like that and have the career in journalism he has had should be an inspiration to us all and especially to those with handicaps.
“I said and did a lot of things in the heat of the campaign that I regret and wish I could take back. Maybe I got carried away with a tough-guy need to always be on the attack. Anyway, I will soon be president of all Americans and I know I need to mend some fences with some among you whom I have offended.
“I hope that some of you, who believe that I cannot be a proper president of all Americans, will open your minds to the possibility that I can do better now that the campaign is over to unify the country for the benefit of us all. I pledge now to try to earn your trust and respect for the task ahead of trying to make our country as great as it can be for as many of its people as possible.”
Have a lovely Tuesday.