Donald Trump may waffle on issues, but his character is consistent — he speaks what he feels and his language is always candid. As the Duke of Albany proclaims at the end of Shakespeare's "King Lear," when the tragedy has played itself out, “The weight of this sad time we must obey/Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”
Sad times or not, politicians operate in the “ought to say” sphere.
The Washington insiders who ran for the Republican nomination, playing by the rules of decorum, spoke how they ought. They failed. Paul Ryan, whose pitiful stance against Trump faltered in less than a week, said Trump ought to act more Republican. Ryan failed.
Americans are tired of ought. It’s no coincidence that the two candidates who have stirred up the most enthusiasm speak from their guts — Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
But the lesson hasn’t been learned, certainly not by too many pundits, who are holding tight to the idea that our political leaders need to sound like politicians. One op-ed stands out for its desperation, a piece that serves as an emblem for so many pieces that have and will continue to attack Trump’s language.
In "Sex and the Singular Pol" (The New York Times, May 7, 2016), Frank Bruni condemns Donald Trump’s open, often politically-incorrect descriptions of an active sex life. Where others hid, Trump reveals (and revels).
I may not like the man, but I enjoy the candor. And Trump’s sexual candor is actually a sign of progress, the kind of progress usually hailed by liberals, the kind of progress that, for instance, made the climate ripe for rightly condemning North Carolina for its puritanical take on bathrooms.
Is Trump coarse? Yes. But he’s no prude. And our country is no longer prudish. Each year shows progress when it comes to sexuality, and Donald Trump is in step, at least in how cavalierly he talks about his exploits.
That Bruni finds Trump’s crude language distasteful is fine, de gustibus, concerning taste. But Bruni goes one step further and it’s a misguided step. In easy knee-jerk fashion, Bruni proclaims that Trump’s language is part of his white man’s privilege. Bruni writes, “For obvious starters, a woman would never get away with this or with anything in the remote vicinity of this . . . Neither, in a political context, would a black man.”
This statement is not just out of touch, it’s regressive in its assumption that times have not changed — especially in politics. If nothing else, Trump has decimated the ceiling of what’s politically impossible.
Let’s remember this: Trump is not a politician. He’s a businessman and a TV personality who is running for office. The oughts don’t apply.
Are there vulgar black businessmen and entertainers? Yes. Are there vulgar women in these realms? Yes. If super-successful producer Tyler Perry, whose films border on the irreverent, ran for president, he would garner attention from the media, he would come off as refreshingly non-political; and he’d get some serious votes.
The same with Amy Schumer, how invigorating it would be to see a supersmart woman with a trash-mouth and an interest in politics (which she has) speak without filter. She’d get my vote and many, many others.
Perhaps it’s a leap to say crude language equals integrity, but it’s not a leap to say a sense of humor equals intelligence and often puts life in perspective. Crude humor certainly makes us human. Had Ben Carson cracked a sexual joke or two, he would have seemed less out of place on that debate stage, more in touch with the world.
If Hillary Clinton decides to use some salty language to deflect Trump’s criticisms of her husband’s philandering (Bill displayed no candor there), if she puts away her careful, canned manner and speaks from a more-feeling place, she’ll have a chance at beating Trump at his own game while making herself appear, well, more human.
At the end of his op-ed, Frank Bruni is most laughable. He joins forces with regressive Ted Cruz, of all people, and criticizes Trump’s remark that venereal disease was Trump’s own personal Vietnam. How easy, how humorless, how sickeningly politically correct to call a man out for making a hyperbolic statement, meant as a joke, on the Howard Stern show. Yes, the Howard Stern show. Consider the audience, Mr. Bruni. Then loosen up.
I’m a Bernie Sanders fan. But ought-to politicians like Hillary Clinton and foolishly-indignant critics like Frank Bruni keep pushing me to Donald Trump’s vulgar side.
Adam Berlin is the author of "Both Members of the Club" (winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize), "The Number of Missing,” "Belmondo Style" (winner of The Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award), and “Headlock." He teaches writing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and co-edits "J Journal: New Writing on Justice" (AdamBerlin.com). For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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