This is a public service: Please read “What Pete Buttigieg Understood,” in The Atlantic by Peter Wehner, a self-described conservative who offers an intelligent and objective perspective on political morality and Mayor Pete’s eloquent and hopefully transcendent impact on political discourse and campaigning.
“I think the better to fight fire with water, and in the case of Donald Trump, the way to unsettle him and to ultimately defeat him and his imitators is by being tough, unintimidated, and unflinching,” Wehner advises, “to name what he does and how he does it, including with wit and humor (two of the most underrated but effective arrows in a politician’s quiver) — while also acting in a way that is dignified and calm, informed and reassuring, that prizes reasoned discourse over abusive discourse.”
The article quotes a Buttigieg speech on the purpose of politics: “… politics matter, because leaders can call out either what is best in us or what is worst in us, can draw us either to our better or to our worst selves. Politics at its worst is ugly, but at its best politics can lift us up. It is not just policy making; it is moral. It is soul craft.”
“Here’s my hunch,” Wehner concludes, “Most Americans are bone-weary of Trump’s antics and aggression, his nonstop assault on reality and truth, his dishonoring of the office of the presidency, and his disordering behavior.” What Buttigieg understood, according to Wehner, is that best defense against Trumpism is to offer serious, graceful, equanimous alternatives to his contrasting traits.
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- WORDSMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON
For months now, we’ve been subjected to President Trump’s unscripted, messy communication – the sort that leads to misunderstandings and creates unnecessary consternation. Or worse, emboldens a volatile foreign leader, such as when he taunted Kim Jong-un by tweeting this schoolyard-like response, “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!” (@realDonaldTrump, 1-2-17).
(LEAVE) WORDS TO THE WISE
Trump will do well to expand his innermost circle with a handful of professional wordsmiths. Lead by a veteran print journalist, for objectivity and credibility, the team should be complemented with the following members:
- Historian — to reference previous presidents’ successes for authority and context; and to ensure this administration neither forgets nor repeats past failures
- Editor – ostensibly to cleanup language, to add semi-colons and periods to run-on sentences; but more importantly to attempt to modify those questionable thoughts and messages
- Fact-checker – the busiest staffer, whose primary vetting role is to constantly remind the president of Daniel Moynihan’s classic declaration: “You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts.”
- Devil’s advocate – prerequisite: confidence to question things, and to say “No,” “stop” and “please put that down, Sir”(a position as perilous as the rear gunner on a WWII bomber, but, if successful, equally as heroic)
At minimum, these artful communicators, working together around-the-clock, could prevent more indefensible misfires like:
- “I do actually have much more humility than a lot of people would think.” (“Face the Nation” during the campaign)
- “Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest – and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure, it’s not your fault (@realDonaldTrump, 5-8-13)
With the stamina and resolve required of a babysitter of a precocious, spoiled child, these wordsmiths will have their work cut out for them. No less than the administration and America’s reputation are on the line.
THE BEST DEFENSE IS … NECESSARY
Author Douglas Adams famously warned, “Words used carelessly, as if they did not matter in any serious way, often allowed otherwise well-guarded truths to seep through.” For the certain times President Trump’s “pathological self-regard” betrays commonsense, this clandestine team of defenders should be on-call 24/7:
- Comedy writer — to use humor, satire and self-effacing humility to disarm detractors and deflate pompous pundits
- Interpreter – to sand down splintery edges with nuance and substance; or once more blame the media
- Apologist – to act as designated “walk-backer” when actions simply cannot be justified
Of course none of this may matter if, as it appears, journalists and the public simply get fed up with and disregard Trump’s showy ramblings. “The menu is not the meal,” observed British philosopher Alan W. Watts. After it’s all said and done, words are noisy, but actions speak louder.