Friday, December 23, 2022

"Ex-President"



The old adage goes "even a stopped clock is right twice a day." For Rich Lowry of the National Review, it's more like twice a year but we'll take it- especially because it's something so many of the journalistic and pundit class get wrong.  Obversely, even a journalist such as David Frum exceedingly skilled in both traditional and social media can get something wrong, especially on a matter so common in the political class. Here he is, being overly impressed with an article by the overly-impressed Sahil Kapur (his correspondent's report, below).

I don't see it. I don't see references to the "former President" as either subtly undermining Donald Trump;s claim still to be president or only temporarily removed; nor to such disgust that McConnell "doesn't want Trump's name in his breath."  Disturbingly, Lowry has it right when he explains

The man who has spent a lifetime putting his name on everything can still keep it off the lips of people appalled by something he has said or done. It’s a GOP taboo that became so deeply ingrained during his presidency and the immediate aftermath that it will only lift slowly, if ever.

“The entire nation knows who is responsible for that day. Beyond that, I don’t have any immediate observations,” Mitch McConnell said in a statement after the Jan. 6 criminal referrals on Tuesday.

So, who exactly is responsible? Do we know anything about this person? Is there any description? Has he or she been seen since Jan. 6, 2021? In what direction did he or she flee afterward?

The Republican Jewish Coalition spoke out after the infamous dinner with Ye (better known as Kanye West): “We strongly condemn the virulent antisemitism of Kanye West and Nick Fuentes and call on all political leaders to reject their messages of hate and refuse to meet with them.”

Really? “Political leaders” — note the plural — have been penciling Nick Fuentes meetings onto their calendars? This statement would have been more accurate, if even more blatant in its evasion, if it had called on “a certain political leader” not to meet with notorious antisemites.

South Dakota GOP Sen. Mike Rounds responded after Trump suggested suspending the Constitution: “As elected officials, we take an oath to support and defend the Constitution. We should never dishonor that oath. No one is above the Constitution.”

He added, “Anyone who desires to lead our country must commit to protecting the Constitution. They should not threaten to terminate it.”

This sermonette was certainly welcome and unobjectionable, except for the fact that you’d have no idea who or what occasioned it. The senator could have been making observations to mark Constitution Day.

It’s as if, after Trump’s announcement hawking his trading card NFTs, a Republican entity or officeholder called on “all of us to do better at not trading on our names in tawdry and ridiculous ways, especially by promoting trading cards depicting us as superheroes.”

If Republicans were playing by these rules during Watergate, they would have distanced themselves from “anyone” authorizing a burglary of the opposition party’s political headquarters and strongly urged all “elected leaders” to preserve audio tapes of their conversations in their entirety.

How much does this matter? On the one hand, everyone knows who they’re talking about, especially Donald Trump. On the other, avoiding his name speaks to a continued increment of fear, a reflexive cringe before the political top dog who for years could make the lives of straying Republicans miserable with a tweet or a swipe during a press conference. When this reflex finally gives way, it’ll be a sign that Trump’s grip on the party really has loosened.

This parallels a tactic employed by some social justice activists. The “Say Their Names” hashtag was created by the African American Policy Forum in 2014 and supported by the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies (CISP) to increase awareness of police violence against black females. The movement gained strength after the murder of Breonna Taylor and became identified with the killing of both black men and women, though it has faded as the nation has veered rightward and turned its attention elsewhere.

Nonetheless, the phrase, sometimes modified to “Say Her Name,” is powerful when invoked because it acknowledges and celebrates the power of a victim’s name.  No longer is she nameless and faceless; she is a human being and cannot easily be ignored. 

And so it is with the reference by Mitch McConnell- and by countless journalists and others on CNN and MSNBC- of referring to Donald Trump as "the ex-president" or "the former president." Though intentional, it is employed by the Senate Minority Leader not to denigrate Republican hero Trump, but to soften the impact of his criticism.  McConnell is fully aware that center-left media realizes he is talking about Trump, and they approve his sentiment and applaud what it regards as courage.

Most of the MAGA crowd also realizes whom McConnell is talking about, although a few will not. Nonetheless, even among the majority which harbors no illusion, the Senator's reference to "ex-president" mitigates the harshness of the attack. There is no condemnation of "Donald Trump" or "Trump" or even "Mr. Trump" to rile up the base unnecessarily.

Let's be bold and avoid references to Donald Trump as merely "ex" or "former."  Say his name, and often.



No comments:

Respect

Give New York Times columnist Bret Stephens his due. Back before black lives matter was a thing, and criticism of that thing would get a pe...