In “Retweeting Donald Trump” The Moustache of Wisdom asks us to imagine the benefits to the country if the president-elect’s messages were nice, not nasty. Yeah, Tommy… And if wishes were horses beggars would ride, and if my aunt had wheels she’d be a bus. I don’t usually put up comments to Friedman’s stuff, but this time “Bruce Rozenblit” from Kansas City, MO has something important to tell The Moustache of Wisdom. Mr. Cohen, in “Israel as the Lights Go Out,” says in America, there is always a domestic political reason for not doing the right thing on Israel-Palestine. Mr. Bruni asks “This Year #OscarsSoBlack?” and says against a backdrop of tense race relations, three widely praised movies should bring needed diversity to this year’s Academy Award nominations. Here’s TMOW:
When Donald Trump was elected president, it felt to me like the most reckless thing our country had done in my lifetime. But like many Americans, I hoped for the best: He’ll grow into the job. He’ll surround himself with good people. The country could use a jolt of fresh thinking. He’ll back off some of his most extreme views.
But now that Trump is about to put his hand on the Bible and be sworn in, I’ve never been more worried for my country. It’s for many reasons, but most of all because of the impulsive, petty and juvenile tweeting the president-elect has engaged in during his transition.
It suggests an immaturity, a lack of respect for the office he’s about to hold, a person easily distracted by shiny objects, and a lack of basic decency that could roil his government and divide the country. I fear that we’re about to stress our unity and institutions in ways not seen since the Vietnam War.
As a leader, you only have one chance to make a second impression. And it is troubling how badly Trump wasted his. A recent Gallup poll found that only 44 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of his transition — compared with 83 percent for President Obama’s and 61 percent for George W. Bush’s.
Yes, I know, in his Inaugural Address Trump will again summon us to “bind the wounds of division.” But given all his impulsive digital ax wielding, those words will ring hollow. He’s already emptied them of all emotional force with his venomous tweets and refusal to bring even one Democrat into his cabinet.
Trump is hardly the first person elected president to have his legitimacy attacked. Indeed, he led the onslaught on President Obama’s legitimacy. But more than any president since Richard Nixon, Trump has shown himself incapable of turning the other cheek and converting doubters into allies. In an age that demands giant leadership, he’s behaved utterly small.
What if, after Meryl Streep used her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes to decry Trump’s cruel impersonation of a handicapped reporter, Trump — instead of ridiculously calling her “one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood” — had tweeted: “Meryl Streep, greatest actress ever, ever, ever. Stuff happens in campaigns, Meryl. Even I have regrets. But watch, I’ll make you proud of my presidency!!!!”
What if, after John Lewis, the congressman and civil rights hero, questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s election, Trump hadn’t sneered that Lewis was “all talk, talk, talk” and “should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape.” What if Trump instead tweeted: “John Lewis, a great American, let’s walk together through your district and develop a plan to improve people’s lives there. Obama was all talk. I’m all action. Call me Friday after 1 p.m. 202-456-1414. I’ll show you how legit I am.”
What if on New Year’s Trump — instead of tweeting “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies” who “lost so badly they just don’t know what to do” — had tweeted: “Happy New Year to every American — especially to Hillary Clinton and her supporters who fought a tough campaign — very tough. Let’s together make 2017 amazing (!!!!!!) for every American. Love!”
What if, after a cast member of the musical “Hamilton” appealed to Vice President-elect Mike Pence to “uphold our American values” and “work on behalf of all of us,” Trump — instead of denouncing the actor as being “very rude and insulting” and claiming he “couldn’t even memorize lines” — had instead tweeted: “To the cast of Hamilton: Appreciate your sincere concern for our country. When I am in the room where it happens, good stuff will happen. I will not throw away my shot to work on behalf of all of us!!!”
What if Trump — instead of calling Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer “head clown” — had tweeted: “Chuck, you are THE MAN!!! Top Democrat now that Obama’s gone!!! You love to deal. Send me your best health care experts and we’ll fix this thing together in 24 hours, so every American gets better, cheaper care. We’ll both be heroes (well, me just a little bit more). Call me!!!”
That is the sound of magnanimity. It would have generated a flood of good will that would make solving every big problem easier. And it would have cost Trump nothing.
I’ve noted before that one of my favorite movies is “Invictus,” which tells how Nelson Mandela, when he became South Africa’s president, built trust with the white community. Shortly after Mandela took power, his sports advisers wanted to change the name and colors of the country’s famed rugby team — the almost all-white “Springboks” — to something more reflective of black African identity.
Mandela refused. He told his black aides that the key to making whites feel at home in a black-led South Africa was not uprooting all of their cherished symbols. “We have to surprise them with restraint and generosity,” said Mandela.
Most Americans are good-hearted people who are actually starved to feel united again. Many who voted against Trump would have given him a second look had he surprised them with generosity and grace. He did just the opposite. Sad.
And now here’s “Bruce Rozenblit” in response:
“Mr. Friedman is getting close to the root of the problem with Trump. He accurately outlines Trump’s character flaws, demonstrating that he is unfit to be president. He dances around the root issue. Mr. Friedman, like most of the world is still clinging to their denial about Trump.
Trump is unfit to lead because his mind is unfit. Trump can’t lead because his mental defects corral his decisions into either adulation or attack. Everyone around him is trying to manage him. Just today, The Times is running an article stating that Reince Priebus is Trump’s tamer. To make such a statement is to conclude that Trump is unfit to lead. The president isn’t supposed to be tamed. He should do the taming.
Just Sunday, The Times ran an article about women who voted for Trump. The theme was they looked past the bad in hopes of the good. More denial. They created hopes of good when faced with disqualifying bad. Horrible bad.
When my uncle was dying, he refused to accept that the end was near. The doctors were wrong he said. That is when I learned about extreme denial. He clung to life until he finally accepted his fate and then quickly past. He let go.
We have yet to let go of our denial about Trump. We have yet to accept our fate. The truth is too difficult to bear. We continue to reject it.
The truth is that we have elected an incompetent, mentally unstable, man child to the White House. Words do matter. Start listening.”
And next up we have Mr. Cohen, writing from Washington:
The bizarre burst of diplomatic activity on Israel–Palestine in the waning days of the Obama administration has been tantamount to an admission that, on this subject, things only get said too late and when they no longer mean anything. The rest of the time political cowardice in the form of silence prevails.
In a matter of weeks we have had a United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Israel to “immediately cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory;” a long speech by Secretary of State John Kerry setting out the Obama administration’s parameters for a two-state peace agreement and defending the American abstention that allowed the U.N. resolution to pass; and a Paris peace conference that urged Israelis and Palestinians, neither of them present, to take concrete steps to get the two-state idea off life support.
None of this piety will change anything on the ground, where settlements continue to grow, the daily humiliations that constitute Palestinian life continue to accumulate, and the occupation that will mark its 50th anniversary this year continues to entrench itself. The only possible change will come with President-elect Donald Trump, whose dalliance with moving the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem amounts to pyromania, and whose choice of ambassador, his sometime lawyer David Friedman, suggests hard-line American support for Israeli settlements.
Trump’s thirst for the “ultimate deal” in the Holy Land could not be more far-fetched, however much his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, hones his skills with Henry Kissinger. There’s nobody and nothing to work with after a half-century of moral corrosion and progressive estrangement.
Speaking of Kushner, I was told he refused to meet with a senior French diplomat after a demand from Trump Tower that the Paris conference be canceled was ignored. Get used to my-way-or-the-highway diplomacy with team Trump.
U.N. resolution 2334 infuriated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who called it “shameful.” He seemed surprised that ignoring Obama’s veto of an earlier settlements resolution in 2011 would have consequences. Obama ran out of patience because, despite his forbearance, Israel went right on planning housing for tens of thousands more settlers while absorbing “more than one half of our entire global foreign military financing,” in Kerry’s words. Gratitude is not Netanyahu’s forte.
There was little new in the resolution, given America’s consistent opposition to settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, over several decades. In fact, the twinning of criticism of Israel with condemnation under international law of “incitement” — a reference to persistent Palestinian practice — was among the fresher elements. Still, the language was sharp. The resolution called on states to distinguish “in their relevant dealings” between Israel and “the territories occupied since 1967”; and it declared that “The cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-state solution.”
I doubt that solution remains viable. But let’s be clear on the settlements. They may or may not constitute a primary cause of the conflict, but they do demonstrate Israel’s decades-long commitment to building in a way that makes a viable Palestinian state impossible. You cannot be a Palestinian in the West Bank watching the steady growth of Israeli settlements, outposts and barriers without concluding that Israel’s occasional murmurings about a two-state peace are mere camouflage for a project whose objective is to control all the land in perpetuity without annexing it. Annexation would be awkward; some 2.75 million Palestinians would demand the vote. Better to play games and let millions of strangers squirm.
Kerry’s speech was almost three years in the making. He should have made it in April 2014, when his diplomacy collapsed. Obama said no. There were the midterms, then there was the Iran deal to negotiate, so better not to anger Israel further, and finally there was the U.S. election in November. In America there is always a domestic political reason for not doing the right thing on Israel-Palestine.
It’s ugly, but then ugliness is having its day.
Kerry finally set out the terms of a two-state peace: secure borders based on the 1967 lines with agreed land swaps; a state for the Jewish people and a state for the Palestinian people where the rights of all citizens (Arabs in Israel, Jews in an eventual Palestine) are upheld; a just solution for Palestinian refugees including compensation and acknowledgment of suffering but without changing “the fundamental character of Israel” — so only very limited return to Israel proper; Jerusalem as “the capital of the two states;” a demilitarized Palestinian state, a full end to the occupation after an agreed transition, and elaborate Israeli security guarantees; an end to the conflict and all outstanding claims along with broader peace for Israel with all its Arab neighbors and a regional security partnership.
Why was this unremarkable formula unsayable for so long? Because cowardice inhabits Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah: This little diplomatic flurry has been obscene. Kerry was honorable; Obama lacked courage. Netanyahu dismissed the “last twitches of yesterday’s world.” It is a measure of where we are that tomorrow’s may well be worse.
And last but not least we come to Mr. Bruni:
On the bright side, at least Jenna Bush Hager didn’t say “Hidden Fences in the Moonlight,” mashing together all three of the critically acclaimed movies about African-Americans that are in theaters right now.
I’m referring to that cringe-worthy moment at the Golden Globes when Hager, a correspondent for NBC’s “Today” show, mistakenly referred to “Hidden Figures” as “Hidden Fences,” something that the actor Michael Keaton also did later that same night. “Fences” is its own production, and it, “Hidden Figures” and “Moonlight” are all in the hunt for Oscar nominations, to be announced next Tuesday.
They tell unrelated stories in unrelated styles. And they’re not equally accomplished, not to my eye. “Moonlight” has a daring, a visual poetry and a jolting intimacy that lift it well above the other two.
But they are indeed linked, because together they represent a real chance, after the #OscarsSoWhite outcry, for a bit of an #OscarsSoBlack correction, or at least an #OscarsMoreDiverse one. The number of nominations that these three movies do or don’t receive will be one of the main lenses through which the 2017 Academy Awards are analyzed, especially in light of this tense juncture for race relations.
The president-elect feuds in an unnecessary, undignified fashion with a hero of the civil rights movement. (Then again, the president-elect feuds in that fashion with a sprawling cast.) He built a political base partly on the lie that our first black president was born outside the country. Because of that and much more, many black members of Congress, among other Democrats, won’t attend his inauguration.
Race has already been a significant part of Oscar talk, with disputes about why Casey Affleck, the white star of “Manchester by the Sea,” is teed up for a best actor nomination (and, possibly, a win) when Nate Parker, the star and director of “The Birth of a Nation,” is almost certain to be passed over. Parker has been dogged by a long-ago rape accusation; Affleck has confronted more recent sexual harassment suits. Is it the difference in the allegations, in the quality of their movies or in the color of their skin that explains their divergent fates?
After there were no black nominees in the acting and directing categories for the last two years, the Academy instituted plans to diversify its membership. No matter how this year’s voting goes, I expect complaints: that the pendulum swung too far or not far enough; that merit is being inflated or denied.
And so I’d like to dwell, beforehand, on the happy, hopeful fact of these three movies themselves. Along with other examinations of race on screens big and small, they have a grace and an insight missing in so much of our public debate. Better still, they’re finding appreciative audiences.
That was one takeaway from the Globes, where “Moonlight” and the television comedies “Atlanta” and “black-ish” won big. It’s also evident in the triumph of “Hidden Figures” as the top-grossing movie in America each of the last two weekends.
“Hidden Figures” tells the fact-based story of three black women who were unheralded heroes at NASA in the 1960s. It has a vital message, affectingly rendered: Prejudice not only strangles individual dreams but stupidly bleeds a society of the talents it needs to reach its fullest potential.
“Fences,” adapted from August Wilson’s play, concentrates on one black family in the 1950s, in particular one black man, played by Denzel Washington, who also directed the movie. It shows how insidiously an awareness of unjustly imposed limits eats away at a person.
Although “Moonlight” comes at the wages of racism less bluntly, its depiction of a tormented boy’s journey to manhood asks big, haunting questions about the social and cultural forces that doom too many young, disadvantaged African-Americans today. Its director, Barry Jenkins, sees a hurt that you can’t turn away from and a hope that you can’t ignore where so many news stories and politicians see only statistics. Maybe that’s because he’s black. Or maybe it’s because he’s brilliant.
I don’t mean to hold up the movies as some uniquely enlightened antidote to the ugliness elsewhere. Meryl Streep’s Hollywood-flattering speech at the Globes conveniently overlooked the industry’s habit of pairing male stars with female ones half their age, thwarting female directors, stereotyping minorities, glamorizing reprobates and putting money above morality time and again.
Movies give us some of our worst ideas about ourselves. But then, like great fiction, they’re our bridges to insufficiently understood lives, our compasses to inadequately learned truths. That’s the case with the three films I just described.
They may yield a best supporting actress nominee apiece and thus an Oscar first: three black contenders in one acting category. That would hardly make up for all the oversights past. But it would be cause for celebration nonetheless.
And a small personal housekeeping matter — Welcome to Savannah, Jay! I left you a reply to your comment.