This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
The Insult Wars in Washington
How They Blind Us to Our Troubles
By Tom Engelhardt
I don't tweet, but I do have a brief message for our president: Will you please get the hell out of the way for a few minutes? You and your antics are blocking our view of the damn world and it's a world we should be focusing on!
Maybe it was the moment, more than a week ago, when I found myself reading Donald Trump's double tweet aimed at MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski who, on Morning Joe, had suggested that the president might be "possibly unfit mentally."
"I heard," the president tweeted, "poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came... to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!"
In response to Trump's eerie fascination with women's blood, Brzezinski tweeted a shot of the back of a Cheerios box that had the phrase "Made for Little Hands" on it. And so it all began, days of it, including the anti-cyber-bullying First Lady's rush (however indirectly) to her husband's side via her communications director who said, "As the First Lady has stated publicly in the past, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder."
But one tweet truly caught my attention, even if it was at the very beginning of a donnybrook that, with twists and turns, including claims of attempted White House blackmail over a National Enquirer article (and Trumpian rejoinders of every kind), would monopolize the headlines and fill the yak-o-sphere of cable TV for days. That tweet came from conservative idol Bill Kristol, editor at large for the Weekly Standard. It said: "Dear @realDonaldTrump, You are a pig. Sincerely, Bill Kristol."
Blinded to Our Planet and Its Troubles
Strange but at that moment another moment -- so distant it might as well have been from a different planet or, as indeed was the case, another century -- came to my mind. Donald Trump was still finishing his high school years at a military academy and I was a freshman at Yale. It would have been a weekend in the late spring of 1963. One of my roommates was a working-class kid from Detroit, more of a rarity at that elite all-male school than this New York Jew (in the years when Yale was just removing its Jewish quotas). And here was another rarity: we had a double date with two young women from a local New Haven Catholic college.
That night, out of pure ignorance, we violated Yale's parietal hours -- a reality from another century that no one even knows about anymore. Those young women stayed in our rooms beyond the time the school considered... well, in that world of WASPs, kosher might not be the perfect word, but you get what I mean. Let me hasten to add that, in those forbidden minutes, I don't believe I even exchanged a kiss with my date.
Note to readers: Be patient. Think of this as my version of a shaggy dog (or perhaps an over-combed Donald) tale. But rest assured that I haven't forgotten our Tweeter-in-Chief, not for a second. How could I?
Anyway, the four of us left our room just as a campus cop was letting another student, who had locked himself out, back into his room opposite ours. When he saw us, he promptly demanded our names and recorded them in his notebook for violating parietal hours (which meant we were in genuine trouble). As he walked down the stairs, my roommate, probably a little drunk, leaned over the bannister and began shouting at him. More than half a century later, I have no memory of what exactly he yelled -- with the exception of a single word. As Bill Kristol did the other day with our president, he called that cop a "pig."
Now, I wasn't a working-class kid. In the worst of times for my parents, the "golden" 1950s when my father was in debt and often out of work, I was already being groomed to move up the American class ladder. I was in spirit upper middle class in the fashion of that moment. I was polite to a T. I was a genuine good boy of that era. And good boys didn't imagine that, in real life, even with a couple of beers under your belt, anyone would ever call the campus version of a policeman, a "pig." I had never in my life heard such a thing. It simply wasn't the way you talked to the police then, or (until last week) the way you spoke to or of American presidents. Not even Donald Trump.
In other words, when Kristol of all people did that, it shocked me. Which means, to my everlasting shame, that I must still be a good boy, even if now of a distinctly antediluvian sort. Mind you, within years of that incident, it had become a commonplace for activists of the left (though, I must admit, never me) to call the police -- the ones out in the streets hassling antiwar protesters, black activists, and others -- "pigs." Or rather "the pigs."
So here's a question I'm now asking myself. If Kristol can do it with impunity, then why not Tom Engelhardt, 54 years later? Why not me all these years after American presidents green-lighted secret prisons and torture, invaded and occupied countries around the world; ordered death and mayhem without surcease; sent robotic assassins across the planet to execute, on their say-so alone, those they identified as terrorists or enemies (and anyone else in the vicinity, children included); helped uproot populations in numbers not seen since World War II; oversaw the creation of a global and domestic surveillance state the likes of which would have stunned the totalitarian rulers of the twentieth century; and pumped more money into the U.S. military budget than the next eight major states spent combined, which of course is just to start down a long list?
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