The period of mourning for George Herbert Walker Bush is over. The mourners at his funeral produced some wonderfully poignant and heart-warming eulogies that touched the heart and challenged the intellect. I was particularly struck by the appeal for a kinder and gentler America. In a way this couldn't have been surprising, after all, that combination of qualities was the hallmark of the late President's rhetorical arsenal. But I couldn't help but think that, in spite of the genuine sincerity of the appeal, the prospects for a kinder, gentler America are, at best, a matter of wishful thinking.
It's not that I don't believe the American people want a friendlier domestic political atmosphere. On the contrary, we have almost a desperate desire for a return to the good old days when political campaigns were more genteel and refined, a time when politicians exchanged policy ideas rather than pointed barbs. Or at least that's what we tell ourselves. It's what we say when we're questioned by a political reporter or a pollster. But isn't it time for us to be brutally honest with ourselves?
Much of the nostalgia for a nice, polite political atmosphere has been triggered by the rhetorical excesses of one Donald John Trump. President Trump has made harsh insults and vitriolic diatribes a major component of the way we now see political campaigns. It's not that the President invented meanness in politics, it's just that he has raised the mean-spirited insult to an art form, an art form that has proven to be very effective thus far. And what is the appeal of such an approach to political speech? It connotes that the speaker is tough. And, if we're being honest with ourselves, we not only admire toughness but we have come to demand it of our candidates for high political office. What we generally fail to understand, however, is that all too often this kind of toughness is nothing but a sham, a false image of a character trait that the speaker may aspire to but which he or she seldom actually possesses. All too often we mistake tough talk for toughness and that can prove to be a bad mistake.
Take the late President Bush for instance. By and large he wasn't one for sharp insults and gut-wrenching vitriol and this helped to contribute to his reputation as kind of a softie, a bit of a wimp. But think of it. When the game of life was on the line George Herbert Walker Bush was hard as nails. He flew combat missions in the Pacific when he just as easily could have hidden on the ivy-covered walls of the campus of Yale University until most, if not all, the serious combat was over. But he didn't. He enlisted right after high school and spent a part of his youth putting his life on the line in mortal combat. Now THAT'S tough! Contrast that with the faux toughness of Donald Trump who hid behind a doctor's diagnosis of bone spurs to avoid combat in Viet Nam. Talk about your wimps.
The point is that we Americans spend way too much time fooling ourselves. We buy into false images and even falser promises from shysters and grifters who delight in pulling the wool over our eyes. And, truth be told, we LOVE being treated like fools. We revel in being thoroughly bamboozled. Worse, we don't have the intellectual capacity to admit to ourselves that we're just natural born suckers. Let's face it, Donald Trump sold us a bill of goods. He put across two fundamental lies to the American people. The first was that he was a great business leader. Nobody who bails out of disastrous business decisions four times the way our esteemed leader did can be called a successful businessman. The second lie he put across was that he was more than tough enough to face up to the challenges that arise against every President of the United States. This is a man who can't even fire an incompetent employee face-to-face. This is a man who folded under the glaring eyes of one Vladimir Putin. How can anyone say he's tough?
What we Americans have to face is that when it comes to politics, all too often we buy the sizzle rather than the steak. We bought the bullshit Donald Trump sold us in 2016 and if we're not careful we may make the same mistake all over again in 2020. We have to face up to the fact that Donald Trump didn't elect himself President, WE did!! We took the word of a cheap New York City grifter as gospel. We bought into his carefully constructed image of toughness and we put that "image" in the White House. More to the point, if we're not careful, we may just do it all over again two years from now!
Filed under: Politics