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Covfefe and Kerfuffles

The news slowed enough on Wednesday that the talking heads were reduced to talking about a minor celebrity’s bad taste in propaganda and the latest bizarre presidential “tweet.” Neither story was very consequential, especially compared to what else has been going lately, but they provided something to talk about.
The minor celebrity is Kathy Griffin, an unfunny comedian we’re usually happy to ignore, but there was no ignoring the outrage that resulted when she published a picture of herself holding an effigy of President Donald Trump’s bloody severed head. As a joke it was unfunny even by Griffin’s usual standards, as a political statement it was completely pointless, and as an effort to undermine Trump it proved counterproductive. Trump and his supporters could rightly point to it as an example of how mean spirited and meaningless so much of the criticism of his administration has been, while Trump’s more respectable and reasonable critics also condemned it lest their more substantive arguments be tarred by association. Eventually the Cable News Network wound up canceling Griffin’s annual gig co-hosting a New Year’s Eve show, the usually unapologetic comic was profusely apologizing across the internet, and as we scanned the news nobody seemed to be coming to her defense.
That lack of solidarity on the left took a lot of the fun out of it for those on the right who wanted to talk about how appalled all the liberals would have been if anyone had said or done anything similarly disrespectful about President Barack Obama. Some of them talked about it anyway, so some people on the left talked about all the times the numerous times people on the right did do and say similarly disrespectful about Obama, including that time when heavy metal guitarist and recent White House guest Ted Nugent regaled a concert crowd with some between-song patter about beheading Obama and various other Democrats, and as all usual the various charges of hypocrisy from both sides carried some truth. Such pop cultural outrages are by now so common they’ve become banal, to the point they don’t warrant mention except on slow news days or higher-profile celebrities, and the angle almost everyone seemed to miss is that both sides of the political divide our degraded our civil discourse to such a sordid state.
The other big topic of water cooler conversation was Trump’s early-morning “Tweet” declaring “Despite the constant negative press convfefe.” That cryptic sentence and its baffling neologism lingered on the internet for six hours or so before being deleted, but by then a lot of Trump critics far wittier than Griffin were having great fun poking at Trump’s characteristic unintelligibility without resorting to gruesome decapitation gags. There were plenty of “memes” and “gifs” and other internet hilarity, too, and even the right wing talk radio hosts were trying to get in on the joke. One wag “tweeted” that Covfefe is New York’s hottest nightclub, adding that “It has everything: Russian entanglements, spray tans, creepy handshakes, surprise trade wars.” Another predicted that White House Sean Spicer would once again say “The ‘tweet’ speaks for itself.”
Spicer seemed unamused during a press conference where new rules were introduced to limit the press corps’ recording rights, which might have been a story on an even slower news day, growling that “I think the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.” This cryptic statement led one of the callers on a right wing talk radio show we heard while driving around town to speculate that “covfefe” was a code signal to a cadre of Trump co-conspirators, much as “Jean has a long mustache” tipped off the French Resistance that the invasion was starting in “The Longest Day,” but even the host wasn’t buying that.
Most people on both sides of the debate figured that Trump had started to write something about negative press coverage before either falling asleep or being distracted by some pressing crisis or nearby shiny object, or otherwise losing his bullet train of thought, and it was just one of those things that happens to people in the internet age. This “tweet” didn’t accuse a former president of wire-tapping and being either sick or bad, and it didn’t threat any trade relations with longstanding allies, and Trump himself  with a more-lighthearted-than-Spicer and more-clever-than-Griffin “tweet” that “”Who can figure out the true meaning of ‘covfefe??? Enjoy!” That’s not at all reassuring, though, and despite the undeniable humor it was still yet another daily grim reminder of how very degraded our civil discourse has become.
It was nonetheless a welcome relief from the daily screaming matches about all the latest scandals and attempts at censorship by sides and the hypocrisy about it that so rife there’s plenty spread around. On the next slow news day it would be nice if the president didn’t “tweet” and his fellow celebrities somehow refrained from attention-grabbing outrage, and the talking heads are forced to calmly talk about whatever became of that health care bill and the similarly forgotten tax reform bill and America’s role in a global economy and the rest of the boring stuff that people used to talk about before the discourse became so degraded.

— Bud Norman

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