Presidents have lied to us before — Democrats and Republicans about the war in Vietnam, a Republican about the war in Iraq, a Democrat about sex with a White House intern — but none ever looked so shallow, so hollow, so unmasked as a fraud as Donald Trump on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019 in his short address to nation about the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. Trump is a prolific liar and exaggerator, of course. But, this time, he did not utter a single lie. This time, Trump was the lie. In this circumstance — speaking to the nation about a hate-fueled gun massacre of immigrants in Texas — Trump had no credibility. He has spent so much time vilifying immigrants, suggesting that even those who seek refuge or asylum here are criminals, that there is no way around his complicity in such a hate crime. He’s not just a radio talk show host. He’s not simply a talking head on TV. He’s not simply the Manhattan loudmouth we’ve known since the 1980s. He’s the president of the United States, and extremists hear in his snarky, mocking, nasty words at rallies, and in his taunting tweets, a signal that, at a minimum, it’s officially OK to see “the other” as a threat to American life. And the most demented of the right-wing extremists are capable of committing the atrocities that occurred last weekend in Texas and Ohio. The FBI has been talking about the threat of domestic terrorists for more than a decade now. It’s not hard to imagine Trump as the trigger for any of them, given that his presidential campaign was founded on an anti-immigrant message, and that he made clear throughout his unfortunate presidency and in recent weeks that racism was part of his campaign strategy for 2020. The late Robert Timberg, a friend, colleague and widely respected journalist, wrote an excellent book years ago, “The Nightingale’s Song,” about Naval Academy graduates who had served in Vietnam and who later became prominent figures during the Reagan years in the 1980s. The title of the book referenced an ornithological fact: A young nightingale won’t burst into its amazing song-making until it first hears another nightingale sing. The men profiled in Bob’s book heard a president, Ronald Reagan, call out to Vietnam veterans: “You served proudly. You weren’t allowed to win the war. You deserve the nation’s thanks and respect.” That was the nightingale’s song. The men heard their president ask them to stand up, to not be ashamed of their service, and to serve their country again. As Timberg noted in his 2014 memoir: “They responded with a vigor and enthusiasm that resulted in several notable achievements, perhaps Iran-Contra as well.” Timberg chose a great metaphor. I pick it up carefully today for application during the ongoing Trump trauma. The difference, in 2019 — and it’s a huge difference — is the president’s nightingale song is neither rehabilitative nor patriotic. Trump’s song is nasty and divisive. It does not inspire men to serve their country, it triggers them to harm it. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s