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The Importance of Tradition
Watching, or trying to watch, Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign launch on Wednesday, my thoughts turned to the late Paul Garrity, who was Boston’s first Housing Court judge in the 1970s. Garrity wanted his to be a people’s court, where tenants stood on equal footing as landlords. He wanted it to feel different, to be more accessible. So he decided not to wear a robe. That didn’t last long: the tenants hated it. They wanted him to look like a real judge, a figure of authority and tradition. So he wore a black robe over his jeans.
What’s this got to do with DeSantis? Well, there are some things you just don’t mess with. If you are going to announce your candidacy for President of the United States, you don’t want to “meet cute.” You want to do it solemnly and with dignity. (As Charlie Sykes described DeSantis’s plan yesterday, “What could possibly go wrong?”) You try to reach all of the American people, not just those who might be most amenable to your message via a toady interviewer on Fox. You want to show respect. You want to show a greatness of spirit—the one quality that has united all our successful presidents—not a puerile resentment toward the media.
You can be informal. Informality is the American ideology. But tradition is important, too, especially in a democracy that seems to be fraying—one that lacks a common ethnicity, religion, or symbolic leader with an old ermine robe. We need constant reminders of our national unity and purpose. And by unity, I don’t mean mere bipartisanship but something deeper: the common belief in our national legacies of freedom, the rule of law and equal rights. Those who don’t believe in these basic principles—and I’m looking at you Mr. Trump and your election-denying thugs—are not patriots. They exist outside the big tent. They are barely “my fellow Americans,” a wonderful phrase I first heard John F Kennedy use. All who aren’t in jail already for crimes committed on January 6, are on Sanity-probation for acting against America with criminal intent.
I am a wet sappy fuddy-duddy when it comes to the symbols and traditions of our democracy—the playing of “Hail to the Chief,” the cry of “Mr Speaker!” at the State of the Union and standing reflexively for the national anthem (though it is, in musical terms, a second rate ditty). I love bunting; I fly the flag. I remember being thrilled, much to my surprise, during Jesse Jackson’s presidential run in 1984, hearing him introduced at his rallies, in traditional fashion, as “The Next President of the United States.” He wasn’t going to be, but that talismanic phrase was an acknowledgement—he was acknowledging—that he wanted to be part of a sacred process in a secular democracy. Jesse, the wildest and coolest and most dangerous of Martin Luther King’s disciples, kept one foot in the rebel camp but he never left the big tent. He claimed America as his own. The Trumpers are too bitter and stupid to understand what they’re rejecting.
The Trumpers. The supporters of Donald Trump. Donald Trump. The elephant in the elephant room. A name that was not even mentioned in Trey Gowdy’s oleaginous “interview” of Ron DeSantis on launch night. How can that be? The State of the Traitor should be the threshold challenge for any prospective Republican candidate. Question #1: Was the 2020 election stolen? (Insist on a yes or no answer.) Question #2: What does it say to you about Donald Trump that he insists it was stolen? Anyone who complains about CNN’s handling of Trump, as I have, should be appalled by Fox’s handling of DeSantis. Gowdy, who made a fool of himself in the Benghazi hearings, could not summon the moxie to ask DeSantis one question that rose above the consistency of, well, pudding. This does DeSantis no favors—once again, Richard Nixon insisted on hostile questions in his town meetings. There is a serious debate to be had on cultural issues. DeSantis has styled himself as the guy who wants to have it—or, maybe, he’s just the guy who wants to exploit the lame tendency of the Left to play silly buggers.
The utter foolishness of the launch may be an omen, but it’s not a death sentence. DeSantis has a resume and, as a never-populist, I think that might count for something. Intelligence is a nice quality in a leader, but it’s hardly dispositive. He also has shown he can govern effectively. But he hasn’t demonstrated the emotional band-width or courage to be President. He remains an animatronic cipher with what may be a fatal tendency to be techno-cute, and cruel (that plane full of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard) and elusive.
Pamela Paul Does It Again
By the way, anyone who wants to see how a serious cultural issue—affirmative action—should be handled has to read Pamela Paul’s column in The New York Times. I recently wrote about Paul’s willingness to take down political correctness in the scientific community. She’s relatively new at columniating, but—speaking of courage—she’s got it.
Here’s more on scientific cowardice from the Wall Street Journal: the Scientific American, of all publications, is trying to convince us that there is gender fluidity among birds—four genders of swallows! Oh, please…
Finally, I bow to no one in my total revulsion when it comes to Glenn Greenwald’s vomitations. He lives on the far side of Conspiracyland and is a fervent anti-American scoundrel. Here he is, eliding the facts:
Majorities of Americans say it's *false* that Trump colluded with Russia. The Steele Dossier is also "false." In other words, they view the story the US media aggressively centered for 3 years as a hoax and a fraud, yet NBC and CNN won't even air this view.
There is, unusually for Glenn, some truth to this. No, Trump didn’t collude. He didn’t have to. The Russians were supporting him in brazen and nefarious ways. That was the scandal. They interfered in our election process. It should have been the big story of the Mueller Report, but neither Mueller nor the media latched on to it…Indeed, Greenwald is right about another thing: the media blew this, especially in the years before the Mueller Report was released, especially Rachel Maddow. (I fear the cognoscenti are doing it again in anticipation of the Jack Smith investigation.) But there is a huge question that remains unanswered: Why the Putin-Trump bromance? What was in it for them, aside from the narcissistic joy of symbiotic back-scratching? We don’t yet know…and Greenwald isn’t at all curious. What a jerk.