The Dreaded “They”

Merriam-Webster has announced its annual word of the year, and this time around it’s “they.” The much-referred-to dictionary’s staff has given permission to all the English-speaking writers and editors of the world to use it as a substitute for the genderless pronoun “he,” even when a singular rather than plural pronoun is called for, and even though it has the same effect on our ears as fingernails scraping along a chalk board.
The change has been coming for years, as writers and editors have increasingly tried to avoid giving offense to women by using the old-fashioned and sexist “he.” Some have tried to reconfigure sentences rather than using the pronoun, often quite awkwardly, while others have gone the quickly tiresome “he or she” route, and more and more have chosen to offend the rules of the English language rather than women by using “they.” By now this use of “they” is so common that Merriam-Webster has come to accept it.
The English language continues to evolve, of course, and the Anglosphere has wisely shed some archaic constructions and streamlined its usage while coming up with words for all sorts of newfangled gizmos and modern concepts. The language has also devolved a lot lately, with all sorts of cacophonous neologisms gaining entry into polite company, and such words as “impact” and “anxious” and “cheap” are so often misused that nobody notices.
Lexicographers and English professors and high-brow copy desks and other guardians of the language have traditionally resisted such changes, but for a while now they’ve been giving their blessings to a lowering of standards, perhaps out of fear of being considered fuddy-duddies, and it makes us nauseated. Notice we say “nauseated” rather than “nauseous,” even though official English has given up on that crucial distinction. Fuddy-duddies though we admittedly are, we don’t want to be thought “nauseous” in its original sense of “nausea-inducing,” and we wonder what word to use when that’s the meaning we want to convey.
This might strike you as the supercilious rant of a hide-bound language snob uncomfortable with a changing world, which is fair enough, but there are real world results. A dumbed-down language results in a dumbed-down civilization and a dumbed-down discourse about everything that matters in life. A brilliantly satirical movie called “Idiocracy” envisioned an America five hundred years hence where the language had so degenerated that a visitor of average intelligence from today is thought to sound “faggy,” and the President of the United States is a former pro wrestler and porn star who tells the “House of Representin'” in his State of the Union that “I know everybody’s shit is all emotional right now.”
We’re not there yet, but we do have a President of the United States who has performed in pro wrestling events and soft-core porn videos, routinely uses profanity in front of roaring rally crowds of self-proclaimed Christians, and his “tweets” wouldn’t have earned a passing grade in our fourth grade English class. He calls it “modern presidential,” and the fans find it “authentic” and “politically incorrect,” but we can recall a time when both Republican and Democratic presidents alike were more punctilious about proper English, and for the most part they also did everything else more properly.
The whole “they” thing reminds us of our late and great dear friend Jake Euker, a very talented writer who discussed the issue with us when it first came up many years ago, and agreed that using a plural pronoun where a singular one was clearly called for sounded horrible. He was a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union — he literally had it in his wallet at all times — and he was a Democrat and a homosexual and had some opinions about the filmography of Robert Altman and the meaning of Graham Greene’s novels that we heatedly debated, but when it came to the English language  he was downright Burkean in his conservatism. He was fully on board with changes to our civilization’s economic systems and sexual mores and golden era standards of cinema, but he drew the line at using “they” when “he” would be correct, which he thought would lead to inevitable chaos. We can only guess what he’d make of the current president’s “tweets.”
The venerable word “they” is abused enough already. Every conspiracy theory tells of how “they’re” out to get you, the president insists “they’re” saying he’s doing a great job, and in too many cases when a person says “they” we don’t know who the hell he’s talking about. We don’t mean to give any offense to any woman with that last sentence, but our mother tongue also deserves respect.

— Bud Norman

On Profanity and Politics

Michigan’s newly sworn-in Rep. Rashida Tlaib got a lot of attention over the weekend after she was inadvertently taped telling a group of liberal activists that she hoped to impeach President Donald Trump, It wasn’t her use of the so-called “I Word” that drew notice, however, but rather that she called Trump a very vulgar term that implies he has Oedipal tendencies.
Trump responded that Tlaib had “disgraced herself” with such language, and of course there was also much tsk-tsking about it on the right, but they’re all hypocrites for doing so. Trump himself has used the alluded-to term in front of a large crowd knowing that the microphones were on and the cameras were rolling and it would live forever on YouTube, and he has done as much as anyone to drag America’s political discourse into the rhetorical gutter. Such Trumpian language as “schlonged” and “son of a bitch” and the use of “pussy” in a certain sense were once dutifully bowdlerized by such respectable publications as this, but these days all those asterisks seem unnecessary for even such a respectable readership as ours..
Which is a gosh-darned shame, as far as we’re concerned.
The coarsening of the American language has long been a project of the left, starting with the vastly overrated nightclub comedian Lenny Bruce and all those foul-mouthed hippy-dippy protestors and Hollywood movies of the ’60s and ’70s. President Bill Clinton’s administration also prematurely introduced the kiddos to all sorts of adult subjects on the evening news, and it’s still mostly Democrats cussing in from the children. Leftist publications and podcasts are also more prone to profanity than those on the right, too, and their audiences are clearly comfortable with except when Trump says it, as they’re also all a bunch of hypocrites.
There’s always been plenty of cussing on the right, to be sure, but for the most part it’s been saved for discreet occasions. President Richard Nixon infamously had to have numerous expletives deleted from the transcripts of the White House tapes, but at the time he thought he was only talking to his co-conspirators and didn’t guess that posterity was also listening in. Subsequent Republican presidents have surely used salty language as well, but they saved it for the appropriate occasions and took care not to do so in mixed company or with any microphones around. The erstwhile “party of family values” seemed to appreciate the effort, and fought a revanchist culture war for a more polite bygone era of popular culture and political discourse.
By the time Trump started running for president, however, much of the Republican party was in no effin’ mood for such niceties. They were convinced that they’d only to that $#@^%* President Barack Obama because their candidates had been too genteel in their attacks, and focused to much on policy disagreements rather than Obama’s African heritage and other perceived personal shortcomings, and they could clearly see Trump wasn’t going to repeat that mistake. Trump’s die-hard defenders found his frequent vulgarity “authentic,” the same meaningless word the left had always used to defend its foul-mouthed heroes, and some even misconstrued it as honesty.
Since taking office has at least been presidential enough to lay off the “f-bombs,” but he sat silently the rap star and obvious nutcase Kanye West filled the Oval Office with them, and he’s often used slightly less salty language himself, and his administration has also prematurely introduced a new generation of kiddos to some very adult subjects on the evening news.
Go ahead and call us old-fashioned, but it really does seem a dad-blamed shame. On occasion we’ll resort to profanity, but only on special occasion. There are a few jokes we like to tell which require them, but we save those for our more disreputable sort of friends, and we try not to make a habit of it lest we blurt something out in a job interview or when meeting an attractive woman’s parents or children. Besides, we’re old enough remember a time when the popular culture and political discourse were more polite, and we recall it was one of the things that made America great back then.

— Bud Norman

Arrivederci, Scaramucci

President Donald Trump started the work week on Monday with a “tweet” assuring the public “No WH chaos!,” but after that things got pretty chaotic around the White House. By lunch time the communications director was on his way out, after less than two weeks on the job and a full two weeks before he was to be officially installed, which was just the latest and surely not the last in a remarkable number of personnel changes for a still-young administration.
Anthony Scaramucci’s appointment had led to the resignations of the White House’s press secretary and chief of staff, both of whom preferred to quit rather than work with him, and his resignation set off lots of speculation about what comes next. His predecessor’s tenure had also been brief by historical standards, and his predecessor’s shorter yet, so at this point the office is starting to look like being a drummer for Spinal Tap, and so far we haven’t heard any names being floated for who’s next.
The chief of staff that Scaramucci scared away has already been replaced by former four-star Marine General John Kelly, who moves over from his post as Homeland Security secretary, so some people are speculating that the Attorney General that Trump has lately been trying to harangue into resignation will be moved over there, and that he will be replaced by someone free to fire the special counsel who was appointed to investigate Russia’s role in the past election after Trump fired the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
All of which sounds pretty chaotic to us, but still-new-on-the-job press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders assures us that “If you want to see chaos, come to my house with three pre-schoolers.” That’s not a very reassuring comparison to a White House, though, and we hope that none of Sanders’ pre-schoolers are as troublesome as that Scaramucci fellow.
“The Mooch” made a fortune on Wall Street, and although he was an outspoken critic of Trump until the future president wrapped up the Republican nomination, he was complimentary to an almost homo-erotic degree afterwards. He had no experience in politics or media, but Trump admires people who have made a fortune and likes over-the-top flattery, so Scaramucci arrived in the White House with a pair of blue aviator shades and a Trump-like tough-guy persona and plenty of hair gel and swagger. He also arrived with a $200 million dollar sale to a Chinese conglomerate of the SkyBridge Capital  firm that he has a 44 percent stake in still pending before a regulatory review board, conveniently comprised of Trump appointees. That was reportedly one of the main reasons the previous chief of staff was so adamantly opposed to bringing him on board, and the official reason Scaramucci wasn’t officially on the job for another two weeks of consideration of the deal, but Trump doesn’t seem to have any problem with that sort of thing.
Scaramucci’s tough-guy shtick probably would have carried through him such picky-picky ethical controversies, but he somehow managed to take it too far even by Trump standards. When Politico broke the story about his holdings in SkyBridge, Scaramucci immediately “tweeted” what sure seemed to be a threat to have the FBI investigate the chief of staff for leaking the story, only to have the reporter “tweet” back that her source was the public disclosure form he’d filled out for a time-holding job at the Export-Import Bank. After that a New Yorker reporter “tweeted” that Trump and Scaramucci had dined with radio host and Fox News personality Sean Hannity, which is a rather embarrassing but hardly as earth-shaking scoop, Scaramucci responded with a profanity-laden and downright-crazy rant that wound up a few minutes later at the web site of one of America’s most venerable magazines.
The rant was probably the most widely-read piece in the history of the New Yorker, far surpassing anything Dorothy Parker or James Thurber or John Updike ever wrote for the rag, and we have to admit it does make for damned interesting reading. Scaramucci once again alleged that the White House chief of staff was a a possible felon and very certain sort of “paranoid schizophrenic,” described the White House chief strategist performing an extremely difficult sex act upon himself, and threatened to either fire or kill countless other administration officials. That might not have bothered such a tough guy as Trump much, either, but in one of those ironic twists from Greek drama and the Trump administration the chief of staff that Scaramucci forced out was replaced by a former four-star Marine general who is famous for not suffering fools and idiots lightly.
This scaramouche’s exit from this commedia dell’arte was foretold in our posting of yesterday, but even with our powers of prophecy we didn’t see it coming quite so fast. Nor could our literary imaginations have ever imagined such a colorful character or such a cruel fate for him. Shortly after he signed on with the Trump administration his wife filed for divorce during her ninth month of pregnancy, reportedly in part because she can’t stand Trump, and we doubt she felt any differently when he wound up missing the birth of their child because he preferred to accompany Trump to a Boy Scout jamboree, where the president gave a speech that the Boy Scouts later apologized for. The president he showed such loyalty to accepted his resignation a few days later, the press secretary and chief of staff he forced out and all the administration officials he’d threatened to fire or kill were no doubt having a hearty laugh about it, and that genuinely tough new chief of staff might yet have something to say about that $90 million payday he was counting on.
The quick exit and the genuinely tough guy who did the bouncing are hopeful signs for the administration, at least, and we’re wishing Kelly the best. There are a still an awful lot of fools and idiots left that he’ll have to suffer, though, and it’s beyond even his formidable powers to get rid of all of them.

— Bud Norman

How “The Mooch” Screwed the Pooch, If You’ll Kindly Pardon the Expression

The administration of President Donald Trump was already the most compelling show on television, with enough back-stabbing palace intrigue and occasional nudity to make “Game of Thrones” look like a “Romper Room” re-run, but the addition of new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci will surely drive the ratings through the roof. Although he’s not yet been on the job for even a full week, on Thursday Scaramucci managed to grab all the headlines and the top of the news hour.
How he got the job in the job in the first place was already an interesting enough story, but on Thursday Scaramucci made it all the more intriguing with his “tweeted” threats of criminal action against a Politico reporter and his profanity-laden and tape-recorded tirade to a reporter from The New Yorker, along with all the disparagements of the rest of the Trump administration he made along the away. All in all, it was a pretty weird end to a first week of the job.
Scaramucci had gained a famously fabulous fortune on Wall Street, and been an outspoken critic of Trump right up until the point when Trump clinched the Republican nomination, but after that Scaramucci became an unabashed apologist for the eventual president. He even divested himself of a lucrative investment fund in apparent hopes of winning an administration post, but he found himself frozen out. Trump had campaigned in the Republican primaries on promise to destroy the Republican party’s establishment, but after he won the nomination he accepted the embrace of Republican National Committee chairman Rience Priebus, and after Trump’s unexpected electoral victory former Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer was installed as White House communications director and press secretary, and Scaramucci was left on the outside looking in.
Spicer did his best to bully the press into favorable coverage and defend Trump’s most indefensible claims, but his feeble efforts were effectively ridiculed on all the late night comedy shows, and Trump cut the cameras off his press conferences a few weeks ago and gave the audio-only spotlight to deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, so it was no surprise when he was eventually forced to resign. Despite having no relevant experience in politics or media relations other than his own life-long self-promotion Scaramucci thus wound up with the gig, which brings us to that manic-even-by-Trump-standards Thursday about the presumed leaker.
He responded to Politico’s scoop with a “tweet” that threatened to sic the Justice Department on whatever cad had leaked the now-confirmed information, and the reporter “tweeted” back that her only source was Scaramucci’s own public disclosure forms. Being new to the strange ways of the Washington cesspool, the Wall Street shark Scaramucci apparently didn’t understand that what he’d disclosed on his public disclosure forms would eventually be publicly disclosed, so we’d have to say he wound up losing round one in his war against “fake news.”
Scaramucci responded to The New Yorker “tweet” by calling up its intrepid reporter Ryan Lizza to demand the anonymous source, and at that point it really gets good. Perhaps it’s because he’s new to the strange ways of the Washington cesspool and didn’t realize that intrepid reporters don’t divulge their anonymous administrations sources and tape all their uninvited calls from identifiable administration officials, and that a president’s lunch with a media sycophant isn’t a state secret or really any big deal, but he wound up on a epic rant that has to be read to believed. As Eagle Scouts and evangelical Christians and old-fashioned establishment Kansas Republicans we have long maintained an editorial policy against profanity, and always added asterisks when the news of the day required it, but by now even such a genteel publication as The New Yorker can’t avoid it, and the age of “grab ’em by the pussy” Trump has already “schlonged” the standards of public discourse, so we’ll go right ahead and let Scaramucci speak for himself.
“Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoic,” Scaramucci said, mocking Priebus’ voice as he added “Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block these people the same way I cock-blocked Scaramucci.” At that point The New Yorker politely and parenthetically noted that Priebus had declined to comment on the comment. If you’re following all the subplots closely you’ll have noted Scaramucci doesn’t have to report to the White House chief staff, as White House communications directors usually do, so he also promised that “I’m going to start ‘tweeting’ some shit to make this this guy crazy,” which was shortly followed by a “tweet” threatening to sic the Justice Department on the White House chief of staff.
“The Mooch” also opined on tape that “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock. I’m not trying to build my own brand off the strength of the fucking president. I’m here to serve the country.” Which is weird enough even before you realize that Bannon represents the anti-Republican-establishment half of Trump’s team of rivals, and that Scaramucci had laid down a profanity-laden assault  to every part of the Trump administration except himself and Trump.
That’s your new White House communications director, however, and we’ll leave it to Sean Hannity and the Boy Scouts and evangelical Christians and establishment Republican types who are still on board the Trump train to defend it. He’s already got a lot communicating about “Russia” and the the the apparent failure of Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare to do, as well as all those administration jobs Trump hasn’t yet found anyone to fill, and from our Eagle Scout and evangelical Christian and old-fashioned Kansas Republican perspective he’s off to a bad start.

— Bud Norman

The Cussed State of Civil Discourse

Two of the late night comics who lampoon the newsmakers have lately found themselves in the news, and neither comes off any looking any better than their targets. Such is the sorry state of both politics and political satire.
One of the two is Stephen Colbert, host of the Columbia Broadcast System’s “Late Night” program, is being widely criticized on both the left and right for a particularly vulgar joke he told about President Donald Trump. Pretty much the entirety of every episode is devoted to Trump jokes, so far as we can tell, except for when the guests are plugging their project, but this one involved Vladimir Putin and fellatio and a word that was censored even late at night, and that was a punchline too far. There were outraged editorials in the most respectable publications of the left, partly because they like their anti-Trump jokes more acerbic and partly because they thought the gag seemed slightly anti-homosexual. On the right they denounced Colbert for all the usual reasons, and there’s even a “hashtag” going around to boycott his advertisers and force his firing. Most folks in the middle probably found the joke tasteless, and not at all funny.
So far Colbert is unapologetic, though, and has every reason to expect that he’ll emerge from the controversy only slightly scathed and far more famous. He’s getting some unexpected support from several of the right-wing talk radio hosts, who of course deplore the joke but have reasons of their find advertiser boycotts and mob censorship even more deplorable. All the pundits on the left seem content with some mild scolding, and will no doubt be back to praising Colbert’s more clever Trump-bashing soon enough. By now most folks in the middle are probably wondering what all the fuss is about. Such vulgarity as Colbert used is almost ubiquitous by now, showing up on t-shirts and bumper stickers and shock jock radio shows all those endless cable channels, and it long ago invaded the political realm.
Even before the Colbert incident people were noticing the Democratic National Committee chairman’s very public penchant for barnyard epithets, and how commonly profanities are used in all sorts of leftist venues, and how vicious it has become. The right must grudgingly concede that the Republican president also has a habit of cursing in front of the kids, and revels in an ad hominem slur as much as any of his late night tormentors, and that some of cause’s allies of convenience can get pretty vicious themselves.
Both sides of the street will probably continue to slide into the gutter. There’s an assumption among too many people that cursing and trash-talking signals some of sort of proletarian authenticity and honest, and we’re often tempted to sell them some ocean-front property in *$%*@ Arizona. All of the fuss about Colbert should be focused on this general decline in political discourse, but everyone would probably just shout about it.
The other comic in the news is the eponymous host of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” on the American Broadcasting Company, who more quietly stepped into a controversy. In a recent monologue he took a break from his usual smart-aleck comedy to speak softly and tearfully about the recent birth of his son, who was found to have serious congenital heart defects, and spoke passionately against some of changes that Republicans have proposed making to the nation’s health care laws. The speech was respectful and reasonable, and we were heartened to see that so were most of the rebuttals. A few writers chided him for using the story for political purposes, and of course the comments sections were filled with the usual bile, but the response from the sorts of conservatives we read and even from the White House was also respectful and reasonable, and dealt only with the facts and the logic of the broader issue at hand.
We’re inclined to agree with those who have expressed their polite disagreement with Kimmel, but we’ll be willing to listen to what he has to say in response, and we thank him for furthering the discussion on such civil terms, and we’ll hope and pray that son of his lives a long and happy life. That’s the way politics is supposed is to work.

— Bud Norman

Trumping “The Book of Mormon”

The past week provided us with two glaring examples of how very rude, vulgar, and indifferent to any standards of civility of America has become. One happened in what used to be known as the legitimate theater, the other happened on the presidential campaign trail, and between the two they left us with little hope for the future.
The first affront to our old-fashioned sensibilities was a production of “The Book of Mormon,” which in case you’ve haven’t already heard is the most profitable and lavishly praised Broadway musical comedy of recent years. After nine Tony Awards and countless rave reviews, “The Book of Mormon” is still playing to sold-out audiences for every performance on Broadway four years after its opening, doing the same standing-room-only business after two years on London’s West End, and has spawned three sanctioned road shows filling halls throughout the hinterlands. One of those road shows passed through Wichita’s Century II theater, filling the sizable venue for each performance of a five-nights-plus-matinee sstand, and we were left wondering what all the fuss was about.
Except for a somewhat erratic sound system we couldn’t fault the production, which featured all the high-tech stagecraft that audiences have come to expect for their high-priced ticket purchases, as well as a talented cast of earnest of young professionals, so our problems were with the show itself. It wasn’t so much the immediately forgettable score, or good-but-not-great choreography, or even the relentless profanity and blasphemy and obviously intentional offensiveness, but rather the utter lack of anything remotely amusing. We’d had high hopes for the show, given all those Tony Awards and rave reviews and sold-out performances, not the mention the authorial involvement of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, whose sharply satirical “South Park” cartoon series and “Team America” movie are profane and blasphemous and intentionally offensive but frequently hilarious, so it’s not as if we’re the easily offended types, but we do expect some laughs to leaven the offense.
A predictable plot about two dangerously naive and unfashionably wholesome Mormon missionaries in a Ugandan village ravaged by AIDS, warfare, and stultifying superstitions might seem to have some comic potential, but the resulting jokes about raping infants and the forced genital mutilation of women and religious texts being forced into anal cavities never quite came off for us. At one point a character sings “I’ve got maggots in my scrotum,” which somehow got a huge laugh, and then two more times when it was it re-used and once again during an ensemble encore number. We were treated to the high-priced ticket by our Pop, who is old enough to remember when “Oklahoma!” was playing its first run on Broadway, and he was having such trouble with the aforementioned faulty sound system that he couldn’t quite make out the line — he thought it might be, “I’ve got magnets that I’m toting”– so we were forced to break the bad news that no, he had somehow reached a point in the evolution of American popular culture when the big bring-down-the-house laugh line in the most profitable and lavishly praised Broadway musical in years is “I’ve got maggots in my scrotum.”
The good news is that Pop couldn’t make out most of the rest of the lyrics or dialogue, which included a chorus line of natives happily singing about sodomizing God, Jesus uttering expletives, and a big musical number likening Baptism to sexual intercourse. Much of the material was about the admittedly unusual beliefs of the Mormons, which might have seemed funnier to us if we had anything against Mormons and other unfashionably wholesome types, but we couldn’t help noticing an insinuation that any sort of religious system except perhaps unmentioned and unmentionable Islam warrants similar ridicule. There’s a tacked-on bit at the end about how even ahistorical myths can provide helpful wisdom, which all those raving critics have seized on to explain that the show is not insulting people of faith, but to us it seemed a crassly commercial cop-out to the hinterland road show audiences and hardly enough to balance the preceding two hours of unabashed blasphemy.
At least those oh-so-sophisticated raving critics will probably share our indignation about that other glaring example of rudeness, vulgarity, and indifference to any standard of civility. We’re talking about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s performance at one of the sold-out halls on his highly successful road show, where the big bring-down-the-house laugh line involved mocking the physical handicap of a particular reporter. If you haven’t already seen the viral video, suffice to say that it surpasses an average “South Park” episode for offensiveness but not for laughs.
Following the countless negative reviews Trump insists that he was mocking the press in general and not a particular reporter, but it’s clearly a crassly commercial cop-out to the Back East sophisticates he’ll once again be forced to rub elbows with after his show finally folds. He opens his act by referring to a specific article written by a particular but unnamed reporter, then says “you ought to see this guy,” then perfectly mimicks the way that particular but unnamed reporter’s congenital joint disease has frozen his hand. Trump says this is mere coincidence, as he has never met that particular reporter, but that particular reporter can prove by previously uncontested stories that he had interviewed Trump dozens of times during his career, including lengthy interviews in Trump’s apartment and yacht. Although the particular reporter was almost certainly a memorable annoyance to Trump over the past many years, and although Trump claims to have “one of the all-time great memories,” he contends he has no recollection of ever meeting that particular reporter. So far every Trump supporter we’ve encountered has lauded his courage and honesty, so we’ll dare to be blunt enough to say that Trump is telling the same sort of cowardly lie that all schoolyard bullies tell when they’re finally called to account.
Trump’s defenders can still claim that he’s making a valid point, no matter how rude and vulgar and indifferent to any standards of civility, and at least there’s more to it than the claims being made for “The Book of Mormon.” What got Trump into this mess was his earlier statement that “thousands” of Arab-Americans in New Jersey cheered the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the immediate effort by the press to disprove it. Pretty much all of the big media concurred that there was no basis to it, with The Washington Post’s “fact-checker” saying there were no contemporaneous media accounts of it ever happening, even though that the very paper had reported it and numerous radio stations had as well, and although Trump’s “thousands” might well be an overstatement he had every right to criticize the critics. There surely were some Arab-American celebrants in New Jersey on that day, and if “thousands” is an exaggeration it’s not such a dangerous one as Hillary Clinton’s assertion that all Muslims are “tolerant and peaceful people,” which goes mostly unchallenged by the press. That particular reporter who wrote that story for The Washington Post is now at The New York Times and suspiciously equivocating about the accuracy of his report, so Trump was also entitled to take a shot at him specifically, but there’s no justifying ridiculing the entirely-beside-the-point disease that has frozen the reporter’s hands.
The good point that Trump was making was lost in the rudeness, vulgarity, and indifference to any standard of civility, as so often happens in his ongoing reality show. Sen. John McCain is such an annoying old political squish that Trump was right to call him out about it, but in doing so he chose to impugn not only McCain’s honorable military service but everyone who has ever endured wartime captivity for the country by saying “I like a guy who didn’t get captured.” There are legitimate reasons to question if Carly Fiorina should be president, but Trump chose to say “Look at that face,” which isn’t one of those reasons, and then the brave truth-teller had to meekly say that he didn’t say what he’d said. Sen. Rand Paul’s isolationist foreign policy and criminal justice policies deserve criticism, but Trump would rather make a joke about his looks during a presidential debate. Much honest and even blunt talk is clearly required to deal with the overwhelming problem of illegal immigration, and Trump must be credited with providing that, but even on his signature issue he can’t resist helping the opposition with the most outrageous overstatements. The shtick plays well at at those sold-venues on his thus-far successful road show, but in this multi-channel age even the biggest hits sometimes have only a niche audience.
Fans of both “The Book of Mormon” and Donald Trump like to boast how they’ve struck a blow against political correctness and thus expanded the boundaries of public discourse, but we have our doubts in both cases. Mormons have always been fair game, only those who make obscure YouTube videos critical of Islam risk going to jail, curse words have been ubiquitous ever since the martyrdom of St. Lenny Bruce, and at this point even jokes about raping infants and having maggots in one’s scrotum don’t seem all that daring. All of the Republican candidates have been jabbing back at the press ever since Newt Gingrich showed how in his failed but notable run in ’08, and most have been doing without resort to jokes about a reporter’s physical appearance, and most have been talking just as tough about illegal immigration but without the generalizations and with more plausible solutions, and so far as we can tell the only boundaries that Trump has broken are the ones of politeness, respectably, and standards of civility.
It’s more than doubly depressing when you put them together, as the rudeness and vulgarity and indifference to standards are occurring at both the high and low ends of the American culture. We long ago stopped expecting anything of cultural value from from such highfalutin venues Broadway, and as far back as the good old days of Cole Porter he was lamenting how “good authors who once knew better words now only use four-letter words,” but to find the same phenomenon way down the cultural scale in a Republican primary is most dispiriting. Out in the hinterlands among the hicks there used to be some civilized standards.

— Bud Norman

On Presidential Profanity

President Barack Obama reportedly spewed a “profanity-laced tirade” against the press recently, and we would have loved to have heard it. Partly because we always enjoy hearing the news media getting a good cussing, and partly because it would have been interesting to hear what complaints he might have against such a compliant lot of scribes, but mostly because we’d like know how adept he is with salty language.
One might easily surmise that the president is nostalgic for the more hagiographic sort of coverage he got back in the halcyon days of ’08, when his every utterance was treated as prophetic and the photographers always took care to add that eerie halo effect, so it’s not surprising that he would resent the relatively frank accounts of how things are going that he now occasionally endures. One still wonders what specific gripes he might have offered among the obscenities, however, and whether any recent Republican presidents would sympathize.
Of far greater interest would be the president’s proficiency with profanity. Although liberals are fond of foul language, an affinity they have indulged gratuitously at least since the days of Lenny Bruce’s martyrdom, we have noticed they are rarely any good at it. Most liberals simply pepper their speech with the gerund form of a familiar term for sexual intercourse, a habit which by now is far more monotonous than transgressive, with an occasional accusation of Oedipal tendencies leveled against conservatives. They infrequently employ the harsher terms deriving from female genitalia, perhaps for fear of offending the feminists they hope to bed, and they rarely invoke a common expression for those engage in fellatio, lest they be considered homophobic, which would also diminish their chances with the feminists they hope to bed, and their vocabulary of vulgarisms is conspicuously limited. Almost never do they achieve the staccato rhythms and poetic alliteration that make swearing truly swing. This is most likely because so few of them have served in the military or worked at blue collar trades, the professions that have elevated obscenity to an art form, but it might also be the same lack of imagination that characterizes the rest of liberal rhetoric.
Having watched the embarrassing spectacle of Obama attempting to throw a ceremonial first pitch at a baseball game, and having seen the sissy helmet he wears when pedaling his sissy bike around Martha’s Vineyard, we suspect he is especially ill-suited to such a masculine pursuit as profanity. The hesitant and halting speeches he sputters when speaking impromptu further indicate he has no talent for the free-flowing torrents of verbal vile necessary to make cussing successful. Even if the writers of that famously foul-mouthed “Deadwood” series that ran on HBO were to provide the script for his teleprompter, we doubt that his usual haughty chin-up delivery would be equal to the task.
Which is not to say that a president can’t cuss, of course. Lyndon Johnson was famously vulgar when coercing congressmen into supporting his disastrous agenda, which we are thankful is another talent that Obama has not yet demonstrated, and the transcripts of Richard Nixon’s tape-recorded White House conversations once made “expletive deleted” a household phrase. Johnson was from Texas, though, and Nixon was a Navy man, so both had some education in the art. That fancy Hawaiian prep school and Columbia University and Harvard’s law school probably did not provide Obama a similar tutelage. Should the president’s poll numbers continue their recent slide, however, he might get the knack of it yet.

— Bud Norman

The Great #%@& Emancipator

That Abe Lincoln fellow was one foul-mouthed son of a gun. This is one of the surprising historical tidbits to be found in the new motion picture “Lincoln,” Steven Spielberg’s much-ballyhooed biopic about the late president.

Or so we’re told by The Hollywood Reporter, at any rate. We haven’t actually seen the movie, partly because we’re among the tiny minority of Americans who are not enamored of Spielberg’s work and partly because Netflix isn’t yet able to mail it to our front porch, but the report seems plausible enough. It seems to be a rare flick these days that doesn’t have plentiful cussing, and there’s no reason that a supposedly serious tribute to one of the few remaining revered figures in American history should be an exception to that rule.

The Hollywood Reporter’s reporter found some disagreement among Lincoln biographers about the historical accuracy of the language in the movie. Doris Kearns Goodwin, the hottest Lincoln scholar ever since her “Team of Rivals” hit the best-seller list a few years ago, said she had no problem with it and that she even encouraged the screenwriter to include one of the president’s favorite ribald jokes. James McPherson, whose Lincoln scholarship includes a well-reviewed book about the president’s “Strategy of Unconditional Surrender,” said it was unlikely that The Great Emancipator was prone to such frequent outbursts of profanity.

Such disputes cannot be definitively settled, of course, because until recent times writers rarely resorted to impolite words. People have always cussed, and it’s likely that a backwoods rail-splitter such as Lincoln would occasionally let loose with some saltiness, but his contemporaries would not have recorded it for prosperity. Our guess is that someone in Lincoln’s more rigidly moral times would have made note of it if he had made a habit of cursing in respectable circles, and we also note that Lincoln was a man of such legendary eloquence that he probably saved his cursing for only the most appropriate moments, but one never knows for sure.

There’s also no certainty that whatever cussing Lincoln did was comparable to what’s in the movie. Just as the rest of the English language has evolved over the past many years, for better and worse, cussing has also likely changed. The etymology of curse words is difficult to trace because of the lack of written citations, but we suppose that someone of Lincoln’s rural background was more prone to scatological rather than sexual language.

Although we have no objection to cussing in the movies whenever it is necessary for verisimilitude, such as in the fine “Patton” biopic of the famously salty general, it hardly seems necessary in a movie about Lincoln. The intention was probably to make Lincoln seem more human to modern audiences, but surely there were ways to do so that would haven’t provoked historical debates or kept younger children away from the movie. Spielberg has generally kept clean in previous movies, which may be one reason for his extraordinary popular success, and it’s hard to figure why he would deviate from that habit for a Lincoln flick.

Critics have been mixed about “Lincoln,” and the ones we trust most have panned it, but apparently the movie doesn’t try to portray the first Republican president as a 21st Century lefty of the spread-the-wealth variety. That’s a welcome relief, given that Hollywood routinely does sanitizes even the likes of Queen Victoria in biopics and that liberals have been trying to claim Lincoln as one of their since at least the days when the Lincoln Brigade went off to fight for the commies in the Spanish Civil War. If “Lincoln” had turned out to be another bit of Tinseltown agitprop, we’d have been cussing up a storm.

— Bud Norman