Vail Daily column: Kill adversaries with kindness
Presidential contender Donald Trump is no Thomas Jefferson in political style. “The Donald” draws verbal swords to strike enemies. He’s a former reality show host whose sharp words bloody opponents.
Trump questioned whether Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam War POW, was a hero and blasted the Arizona senator for failing veterans with scant legislative action on their behalf.
Newt Gingrich, former GOP House Speaker who closed down the federal government during Bill Clinton’s presidency, sees Trump acting like a barker at P.T. Barnum’s circus. He knows how to hook a crowd.
“Trump’s very aggressive by nature and prepared to say anything,” admits Newt. “It’s like dealing with nitroglycerin.” Takes one to know one, doesn’t it? Gingrich and Trump never leave listeners guessing where they stand, hurling insults at adversaries.
In contrast, Jefferson appeared as a mild-mannered, courtly Virginia planter. His polished prose pricked opponents in their backs. They hardly felt any bleeding. Jefferson privately wrote scathing indictments against adversaries. In public, he let others smear reputations of those he didn’t like.
He advised, “Take things always by the smooth handle.” That is, don’t fight adversaries with contentious arguments. Rather, Jefferson used wry humor, quotable prose and stories that painted simple, compelling pictures to back up his convictions.
Trump attacks with frontal body blows. His disparaging blasts severe opponents’ mental arteries. In un-like Trump fashion, Jefferson used a pen-knife of sorts. He jabbed enemies in their backs, leaving trickles of blood that eventually weakened them.
Such stark fighting styles remind us of legendary bouts between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. In the ring, “Smokin’ Joe” charged like a grizzly bear. Head-down behind gloves covering his face, Frazier stalked opponents. That’s Trump’s fighting style, too.
Ali acted more like a cougar that circles its prey before pouncing. Up on his toes, Ali danced in half-circles, egging on an opponent to follow him. Then he’d paw the air before jabbing a stalking boxer. These blows to the head and gut took their toll. Floating around the ring, Ali “danced like a butterfly and stung like a bee.”
GOP strategist Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, believes Trump must learn how to work a crowd like Ronald Reagan did. The Great Communicator’s folksy jokes devastated adversaries far more effectively than Trump’s fire and brimstone bombast.
“Our nominee can’t have serrated edges,” warns Pete Wehner, GOP advisor to President George W. Bush. “Like it or not, any effort to create moral or social order will be seen as rigid and judgmental … . Grace and winsomeness are the ingredients for success in a world where cultural issues (like illegal immigration and same-sex marriage) are at the fore.”
Wehner echoes the Good Book’s advice that Reagan and Jefferson mastered. “Pleasant words are like honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body … . A worthless person plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire” (Proverbs 16:24-27).
Trump ignites pent-up rage in the GOP base. He calls the U.S. weak on immigration. Trump demands Uncle Sam push the illegal aliens back and anyone caught is a law-breaker that deserves punishment. Other views on immigration are “stupid,” says Trump. Angry Republicans like his stance: “take no prisoners.”
Such strong-arm tactics have been tried and found wanting in previous presidential campaigns. In 1992, Patrick Buchanan was a verbal flame-thrower like Trump. He ran against then-President George H. W. Bush and young Bill Clinton. Buchanan told Americans that homosexuals deserved AIDS (Autoimmune Deficiency Syndrome) which was dubbed the “gay plague.”
Trump-like, he never apologized for insinuating that God curses gays. Like a shooting star, such mean rhetoric fizzled. Buchanan sounded to most Americans like a lout who bullied adversaries.
In 2008, the Republican base listened to another Trump-like voice. Sarah Palin scripted an angry narrative. She said America’s grip on greatness had been lost. Social welfare gave minorities unfair advantages. Hard-working whites couldn’t catch a break in the 2008 Great Recession’s slow recovery, groused Palin. “Are you sick of that hopey, changey stuff yet?” she huffed, mocking candidate Obama’s campaign theme. The Wall Street Journal’s commentator Peggy Noonan criticized Palin because “she wasn’t thoughtful enough to know she wasn’t thoughtful enough.”
Same for Trump. Noonan calls him “a squid; poke him and get ink all over you.” Wise citizens vote for candidates who use measured words, speak deliberately, learn from their mistakes, and raise our spirits. They convince voters the sun shines behind politically rancorous clouds.
Mark Steyn, substitute for vacationing Rush Limbaugh, jokes about Trump’s main accomplishment if he wins the presidency. “A President Trump would have more ex-wives than the previous 44 presidents combined,” said Steyn with fake enthusiasm.
Tired of Trump’s know-it-all bullying, a majority of Americans will reject him at the ballot box.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.
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