You might think, “Wow, that Brad Warthen sure is slow on the uptake, just getting to the first night of the Republican National Convention now…”
Except… I wrote and wrote and wrote about it — 25 Tweets or so, plus side interactions here and there — in real time. And when I gave up on it at about 11, staying up to write a blog post saying all that stuff again just didn’t seem sensible to me. A guy can stand only much fun, you know.
But there needs to be a place for us to discuss it on the blog, so here…
Let’s start with this:
Huckleberry Finn coined the perfect phrase to describe this convention: “Tears and flapdoodle.” King & the Duke would be at home. #RNCinCLE
— Brad Warthen (@BradWarthen) July 19, 2016
That phrase came from the chapter in which the low-rent professional frauds Huck knows as the King and the Duke have assumed the identities of the long-lost brothers of a man who has just died, leaving an estate that they hope to get their hands on. An excerpt:
Well, by and by the king he gets up and comes forward a little, and works himself up and slobbers out a speech, all full of tears and flapdoodle about its being a sore trial for him and his poor brother to lose the diseased, and to miss seeing diseased alive after the long journey of four thousand mile, but it’s a trial that’s sweetened and sanctified to us by this dear sympathy and these holy tears, and so he thanks them out of his heart and out of his brother’s heart, because out of their mouths they can’t, words being too weak and cold, and all that kind of rot and slush, till it was just sickening; and then he blubbers out a pious goody-goody Amen, and turns himself loose and goes to crying fit to bust….
Now here’s where you tell me how heartless I am for dismissing the grief of people who got up before the convention and poured out their hearts before the assemblage. But I’m not. I feel for them. I’m just asking, as I tend to do under such circumstances, what that has to do with public policy.
Take, if you will, the woman whose son died at Benghazi, who blames Hillary Clinton for it even though numerous exhaustive investigations have in no way supported such an accusation.
I’m going to digress now…
I was reminded of a panel I was once asked to participate in, the subject being the Iraq War. This was maybe a dozen years ago. I knew I’d be in a roomful of people who disagreed with me 100 percent, but that comes with the territory. I did NOT know that the organizers had arranged to ambush me with the mother of a soldier who had died in Iraq.
Which, although I was totally polite about it, ticked me off. These folks seemed to think that they had trumped everything I might say by having this poor lady stand up and speak of her grief. I don’t know what they expected me to do in response — toss my notes in the air and cry, I had no idea! Oh my God, obviously, I was wrong all along?
I’m not trying to have another debate about Iraq here. My point is this: If her son had died playing a critical role in a conflict everyone agreed was necessary — say, if he’d been the first guy to set foot on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 — then he’d still be dead, and she would still be, quite understandably, inconsolable. She would be every bit as deserving of our sympathy. On the other hand, let’s assume that Bud, Doug, Phillip and Brett Bursey were all right about Iraq and I was completely wrong — that would be still true even if her son had come home alive and whole and was thriving today. Her grief therefore was not proof of anything; it did not constitute an argument. It was just what it was, a horrible, excruciating void.
Back to last night… The terrible pain experienced by that woman, and by the man who said his son was killed by illegal immigrants (he was one of three, I believe), is a real and true thing that we must respect and stand in awe of — and to the extent we can ease their pain, we should do that.
But that pain should not be the basis for making policy decisions. Or deciding for whom to vote. Because the fact that this lady, in her grief, blames Hillary Clinton does not negate the fact that there’s no reason to think she’s right, despite the fervid efforts of Republicans to find such reasons. And the fact that at least one illegal immigrant — or three — was a killer in no way demonstrates that the rest are, or that a wall needs to be built. It seems silly to have to point these things out.
And yet those are the positions that these grieving people’s testimony was there to support. Their testimony was intended to prove the rightness of what Donald Trump says — something that works with people who only think with their emotions.
And that sort of exploitation of honest grief is obscene. It’s deeply wrong to use those people so, and it’s even worse to use such tawdry means to seize supreme executive power in the world’s greatest nation.
Oh, by the way, in case you’re confused — those honest, grieving people are not Huck’s “king” in my comparison. They are the Wilks girls, crying honest tears at the loss of their father. Trump is the “king.” And as Huck says of the scene, “I never see anything so disgusting.”
See, this is why I wasn’t up to elaborating on my Tweets last night. It took me almost 900 words to explain that one.
But let’s touch on some other highlights and lowlights from last night, before we go:
- Rudy Giuliani was the highlight — an actual Made Man in the GOP, passionately singing Trump’s praises. That did Trump more good than anything, although how a Man of Respect could say such things about such a huckster left me amazed. Of course, as the official Establishment speaker of the night (OK, there was Sessions, too, but he was less impressive), he helped illustrate how far the Establishment has moved in my adult lifetime. Remember him tearing into the media for saying bad things about his boy Donald? Once, that sort of thing would have been left to an outlier like Spiro Agnew, nattering about the nabobs of negativity. Now, it’s mainstream.
- Poor Melania Trump was so nervous that he had my sympathy, and I was relieved with her when it was over. She had had such a buildup — Corey Lewandowski had told us ahead of time that she was a really intelligent, capable person. After all, he said with a straight face, she had “had a career… as a model.” Others were less sympathetic. You know how those awful media people just ruin everything by citing facts? Nicholas Kristof noted that the assertion that Donald Trump “is intensely loyal… he will never let you down” came from, ahem, his third wife… I’m not even going to go into the plagiarism thing; I’ll leave that to y’all.
- I missed what had to be the nadir of the night — the soap opera actor/underwear model who shared his expert opinions with the nation. And who later said he’s “absolutely sure” Barack Obama is a Muslim. Of course he is — why else would he be there?
That’s enough. There’s another whole night of this tonight. Tune in on Twitter…