A few words on trash-talking the president.
Said words are occasioned by emails from a large number of readers who have noted an increased propensity toward that practice in this space. Many found that rather ironic in light of an admonition that appears in the auto response received by any person who sends me an email. It warns that the reader who engages in name-calling will not receive a personal reply.
How, these readers demand to know, can I square that delicate concern for decorum with the fact that yours truly has repeatedly name-called the present tenant of the white mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? I plead guilty as charged, having dubbed him the “so-called president,” the “boy president” and “President Dumpster Fire,” among other choice epithets.
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“Amazing,” wrote one person. “So it’s OK for you to name-call the president of the USA and then exclaim that you don’t respond to name-calling?”
The short answer is yes. The longer answer goes like this:
As a general rule, I’ve always tried to avoid excessive name-calling in this space, particularly of the chief executive. The one big exception was back during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, when I dubbed Bill Clinton a “human oil slick,” “manipulative slime,” “Gomer,” and “President Hefner.”
There is a simple reason – beyond decorum, I mean – for not going to that level too often. You see, two things happen when you call someone names.
The first is that you signal your lack of respect. The second is that you foreclose any possibility of engaging that person in a substantive manner on whatever the point of contention might be. The woman you call a stupid so-and-so is unlikely to then sit and have a calm discussion with you about police brutality.
So the reader who is affronted by my views on police brutality or any other topic has every right to call me names, but no reasonable expectation of any response beyond a tap of the delete button. Similarly, when I call the present president a human dumpster fire, it signals that I do not expect to engage with him or any of that shrinking minority of Americans who think he’s doing a bang-up job.
It is a tacit surrender, an admission that I don’t believe I can persuade him or them. That is, trust me, a bitter pill for someone who has spent more than 40 years as a professional persuader. But it says less about me than about the fact that many of us now live beyond the reach of reason and logic.
I won’t subject you here to another listing of the president’s many extraordinary shortcomings and acts of incompetence. I’ll just say that anyone for whom those things are not manifestly clear by now is unlikely to see them, ever – unless it be by the light of a nuclear explosion, which he is even now working to bring about.
The rest of us are in a fight for the life of our country. The memory and promise of America is our last redoubt. It is our Alamo against those who ask us to accept and normalize this madness.
I, for one, will not.
My preference is always to persuade. But when you cannot persuade, you can still protest. And yes, I know someone will advise me to respect the office, if not the man. My answer: I will if he will.
Until then, conscience requires me to treat this president, this singular existential threat, as I’ve never treated any president – liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican – before him. Meaning with utter contempt. I understand that some people will find that offensive. But our country is at stake here.
And I think subtlety would be the greater sin.
Leonard Pitts Jr.’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.