Notre Dame burned yesterday. It’s a beautiful place, that I’ve only seen from the outside, but even if you’ve only seen pictures its beauty is impressive. The President of the United States responded with a tweet. A mind-numbingly dumb tweet.
In contrast, Pete Buttigieg (the democrat running for president) issued a statement in French (one of EIGHT languages he speaks: English, Norwegian, Spanish, Italian, Maltese, Arabic, Dari, and French).
First of all, French authorities didn’t waste much time before calling out the president’s stupidity…in a polite and civil manner.
But what caught my attention enough to make me put fingers to keyboard and write this was Laurence Tribe’s response:
Let’s think about that for a minute. Would somebody like Buttigieg really make most Americans proud? Haven’t we had presidents as articulate and thoughtful as Buttigedge seems to be? Didn’t we have one a few years ago? Were most Americans proud of Obama? It sure doesn’t seem that way. Lots of people were, and many of us would have voted for him again, but he was bitterly hated by many.
Actually, my guess is that it’s Trump who makes people feel a sense of pride and possibility. It’s helpful that he comes across as dumb. It’s helpful that he mangles the English language and says dumb stuff that a drunk uncle might say. It’s helpful because that drunk uncle can imagine being as successful as Trump. If Obama-level intelligence, if speaking eight languages, is what’s needed to rise to that level..well, the drunk uncle doesn’t have a shot. The drunk uncle is forced to accept that even if things had been different in his life path, he lacks some natural ability that could have allowed him to get there. He lacks something that would have allowed him to sit in that chair and make important decisions. Not that he thinks he ever would have to, but at the very least, it gives him the backing to criticize decisions by presidents. Present, past, and future. If Trump can do it, “regular” as he is (or pretends to be), so could they. If only they could have gone to an Ivy League school, they could have done well because Trump did well (maybe).
Like most things, it reminds me of a West Wing scene. The President is talking with the republican who is running against him (in the re-election, not his first election). In the lead-up, there’s been a lot of talk about his opponent, Governor Ritchie, being stupid. In an earlier episode, the President is caught (strategically, it turns out), calling him a “22-caliber mind in a 357 magnum world,” and then later, they meet. After some civil back and forth, and some discussion about some events, Ritchie’s gloves come off, “You’re what my friends call a superior sumbitch. You’re an academic elitist and a snob. You’re, uh, Hollywood, you’re weak, you’re liberal, and you can’t be trusted.”
I think that’s how lots of people in America feel about smart people. I wrote about this earlier with respect to Obama. When I heard Obama speak, I heard brilliance and a linguistic style that felt comfortable to me, an academic in an academic world. But family members, who don’t live in that world, only heard a calculated and phony man, who must have memorized a script that was written for him, or put on a teleprompter for him, because nobody could ever be that good with words. Trump, to them, feels more normal. More genuine. His unpolished speech isn’t a flaw, it’s humanity. Somebody like Buttigedge isn’t human. Somebody like Buttigedge can pull the wool over their eyes and make them do things they don’t want to do. Somebody like Buttidedge is dangerous. Somebody like Buttidedge is the smartest kid in the class, and nobody likes the smartest kid in the class.
Maybe I’m wrong. We’ll see. If I’m wrong, it means we’ve come a long way as a nation. That would make me very happy.