Alan Levy on Perception, Reality and the Presidency

One of my heroes passed away on the 21st of June.

Dr. Charles Krauthammer was his name, and over the years, he and I agreed on many things. But the theme he repeatedly stated and I often pondered centered on his moral indignation at the “liberal monopoly” in reporting the news in this nation.

According to a Business Insider article written in March of this year, of the fifteen news media sites mentioned, only Fox News was considered “conservative” in nature. Yahoo News seemed to assume a remarkable position of neutrality in that report, and in a different article altogether, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page was declared conservative in substance. So that’s roughly thirteen or fourteen to two. In these daily and endless wars of words, should this be a prelude to some pre-medieval battle of Carthaginians against the mighty Roman Empire, Carthage would field scarcely four legions while Rome, in all her decadent glory, could easily field twenty-eight. In layman’s terms, that’s barely twenty thousand against seven times that number. In the year 202 B.C. during the Second Punic War, the Carthaginian General Hannibal, upon realizing how greatly outnumbered his forces were by vast Roman legions led by Scipio Africanus, probably knew all was lost. During the ensuing and pivotal battle, Rome emerged as victorious and the predictable result showed how clearly time and circumstance were Hannibal’s enemies, in addition to the mighty Roman legions encamped on the plains before him. And as always, history tends to repeat herself, again and again and again.

I would hope you can nod your head in instant or begrudgingly reluctant agreement with the late Dr. Krauthammer and the statement that the body of liberally leaning journalists in this nation far outweighs their conservative associates, and that the sheer number of articles they can pen, either legitimate or not, is vastly greater than the capabilities of their conservative colleagues. It’s Rome against Carthage, once again. We have become a divided nation insofar as what we feel, what we sense, and what we fear. We disagree, as is our right to do so in a free society, but the truth remains that we have experts in both camps who attempt each day to manipulate our thoughts, opinions, and votes. And the moment that honest and concise depiction of events becomes biased or misleading, by either liberal or conservative members of the press, we are done a grievous injustice. “Fake News” (aka biased reporting) and its blind acceptance is a great challenge to a democracy. A leader or revolutionary figure may stimulate the masses, play upon our fears and weaknesses, promise us hope and perhaps redemption, and worst of all, give us a unifying target to despise. “Following” along and throwing reason to the winds is an incurable disease, as occurred in 1932 in Germany. With only thirty-seven percent of the vote in the election that year in his favor, Adolph Hitler nonetheless rose to power.

No, I do not believe that permitting Fake News to permeate our daily lives is a prelude to this nation becoming a fascist state. It’s blindly believing Fake News that may lead us down that destructive path. And while the foundation of this nation is being tarnished and may be somewhat crumbling beneath us, I am reminded that Roman Emperor Nero purportedly was consumed with playing his violin while Rome burned before him. Opinion: perhaps it is time for our president to take up the violin. He can easily afford a rare Stradivarius, and that preoccupation would be refreshingly better and more dignified than sophomorically issuing streams of boyish tweets during the wee hours of the night.

Math Quiz: If it’s true that members of the liberal press outnumber their conservative adversaries at a scale of seven-or-so to one and Dr. Krauthammer was correct in decrying a “liberal monopoly” in news reporting, then what is the ratio when it comes to the development and deployment of Fake News?

Answer: We simply haven’t a clue. Truth, if there remains such a concept, is so intertwined with twisted leanings to the left or the right that I, for one, find it difficult to discern sincere journalistic prose from attempts at mass manipulation. It’s at this point that I must disagree with Dr. Krauthammer, but with the utmost respect for his memory. He may have been correct in assailing the liberal monopoly within the press, but if we are above manipulation, if we remain firm in our ancestral belief that the measure of all things must be their constitutionality, then who or how many might be of the left or the right simply no longer matters.

Ardent supporters of our president would have us believe that Fake News is an evil child of the left, a relentless program of guerilla warfare designed to humiliate and incapacitate the current incumbent. But while the vast, liberal legions of Rome have surrounded and are laying siege to the castle, the outnumbered Carthaginians of the right aren’t wearing white, unblemished uniforms in this feature film, by any means. There was a certain honesty and glory when they decided to square off and go toe to toe against those Roman legions more than two thousand years ago. Battle lines were drawn, and men stood firmly, each believing that justice and immortality was his for the taking. It was, to say the least, a far simpler time. Today, we fight wars where innocents and combatants cannot be distinguished from one another, and the wars for our hearts and minds are fought with key strokes. There are no longer lines in the sand, and the concepts of clarity and victory are all but lost.

Allow me to explore the modern-day version of Roman Legion domination of Carthage’s meager forces, or in the words of Dr. Krauthammer, the enormous liberal monopoly in the press engaging against the beleaguered right. The subject matter here is one lone missive, a “Hail Mary” desperate attempt to strike back at the Roman forces engaged with the Carthaginian King. And while you may remember Doug Flutie’s remarkable moment on behalf of Boston College many years ago, the Hail Mary offered here was a pathetic and fizzling dud.

The other day, I was emailed an article, supposedly recent, but not, about Donald Trump’s many acts of kindness over the years. The article is actually a rerun of something entitled “Trump Does the Unthinkable” by entertainment columnist Liz Crokin. Written on July 10th, 2016, it was a lukewarm attempt to absolve Mr. Trump of his transgressions by tipping the scales of justice with a litany of his better and most generous moments. By posting the article once again as newsworthy, it was nothing short of an insult to us all.

Perception … be kind and generous on occasion, or even often, and your general persona can be overlooked or ignored.

And that’s what I’d like to explore with you, today … perception versus reality.

One particularly good deed, as Ms. Crokin described, began on the day Donald Trump’s limousine suddenly developed a flat tire in 1995. A motorist stopped and assisted, and Mr. Trump asked how he might reward the Good Samaritan. The man simply asked that flowers be sent to his wife. A short time passed, the flowers arrived accompanied by a brief note that stated, “We’ve paid off your mortgage.”

“Wow, what a guy,” you might contend. And that would have been, without question, a truly magnanimous gesture by Mr. and Mrs. Trump, had it occurred. Ms. Crokin’s list goes on, a description of many acts of kindness throughout the years with a golden checkbook as the centerpiece of those truly generous moments. But according to the fact-checking website Snopes, the change-a-tire-and-we-pay-off-your-mortgage story is purely fiction. This same or similar stories over decades have featured Perry Como, Mrs. Nat King Cole, Mrs. Leon Spinks, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, according to Snopes, and was even the basis of a short story entitled, “A Model Millionaire” in 1891 by Oscar Wilde. The team at Snopes also mentions that Mr. Trump’s staff members in 1997 were actively denying the truth of this story. Fake news, in all its glory, but a story that most assuredly has captured the hearts of so many who fail to seek verification of what’s in print.

Now, a word or two about donations. According to a Forbes analysis of IRS documents, The Donald J. Trump Foundation provided charitable contributions totaling $10.9 million from 2001 to 2014. In that same time period, but ending in 2015, Bill and Hillary Clinton have itemized similar contributions of 23.1 million dollars on their tax returns, a matter of public record according to the Washington Post. I do realize that Mr. Trump and the Clintons didn’t have to engage in any of those random acts of kindness, but I also hope that each of us realizes that periodic deeds and generosity have little bearing on the reality we, as citizens of this nation, must now face.

Maimonides wrote in the “Eight Levels of Charity” that anonymous giving is a good deed performed solely for its own sake, and it may very well be that paying off a stranger’s mortgage, if that were true, is an excellent example of that philosophy. But what Maimonides was attempting to teach is that giving anonymously is a truly special and godly form of philanthropy, while a person who gives in order to boast is in danger of losing all the merit of his gift. How apropos at this moment in time, even though this Jewish philosopher wrote those words more than nine hundred years ago. Leaping now from the Talmud to the New Testament, we have this … Luke 21:1-4, The Widow’s Offering … “As Jesus was sitting opposite the treasury, He watched the crowd placing money into it. And many rich people put in large amounts. Then one poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amounted to a small fraction of a denarius. Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more than all the others into the treasury. For they all contributed out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.'”

Can anyone dare to trivialize Mr. Trump’s contributions to strangers and to charities over the years? Tough to be the guy to do just that, but honesty remains my best policy. I simply cannot drink this man’s Kool Aid, when everything he says and does is self-aggrandizing in so very many ways. I guess I could accept showmanship and ego in a Vaudeville act, or in a Vegas lounge show, or even emanating from a repugnantly loud table in an elegant restaurant, because each of those experiences is extremely short-lived. We’ve all been subjected to the loudmouth at a nearby table who thinks his voice must carry for all to hear, with his bulbous ego replacing grace and good manners. In the privacy and solitude of our car on the way home, perhaps my wife and I might muse about how our dinner’s ambiance was disintegrated by the obnoxious fellow we’d encountered. In a moment of subtlety, I might even murmur, “Thank you, God.” And naturally, my wife, always the straight man in our duet, would say, “For what?” I then would reply, “That he’s not my brother-in-law.” Two hours of exposure to someone who is obnoxious in a restaurant is difficult, but moderately bearable. Four years of this sort of behavior is not.

Can you imagine having Mr. Trump as your brother-in-law, by the way? And I don’t mean President Trump, I just mean plain ol’ every day Donald when he was married to Marla Maples. Because you’re afraid of heights, flying to New York City and going to Trump Tower is not an option. So every Thanksgiving and every Christmas, he and his entire family come to your home, instead. In rural Georgia. The first thing you might notice upon the Donald’s arrival is that he gazes just a few seconds too long at your seventeen-year-old daughter, Pauline. This is a man who said of his own daughter, Ivanka, “If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” There aren’t words to express how despicable that comment was about his daughter, and that comment goes hand-in-hand with Mr. Trump’s consistently undignified demeanor.

Reality time … This is not a Blue State or Red State question, nor should your answer be based upon being a liberal or a conservative. Dig deep. President Trump does as he pleases, as though he’s some medieval warlord, a Carthaginian King. He is brash, unpredictable and self-serving, as witnessed by the number of new assistants and ancillary personnel who periodically ebb and flow through the White House like a summer tide. If the owners of the Redskins created a special box at FedExField for former Trump administration staffers, it might now stretch for twenty yards in width and as many feet in height. So the question is not, “Do you like him?” Instead, it is, “Do you truly respect him?” And, at this point, let’s bring in Bill Clinton, for I cannot ignore him in this commentary. Some may have the perception that these are two great men, but the reality is that their behavior has shown an absolute lack of respect for the office they hold and held. They do dishonor to the presidency, and by doing so, they dishonor each and every one of us.

John Brennan, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said this in an interview on June 2nd. “The impact of the Trump presidency will be felt for many years to come. Most worrisome is that his use of falsehoods, his mean-spirited and malicious behavior, and his self-absorption will be emulated by many young Americans — indeed, young people globally — who look to the President of the United States as a role model.”

I, for one, feel in good company with Director Brennan. The presidency, as an institution, carries massive obligations. The man or woman sitting in the Oval Office must, above all else, be a person of resolute character, with hands firmly on the Resolute Desk in a daily attempt to guide this nation through storms and toward greatness. The office of the presidency requires and demands a moral compass that’s beyond reproach, and while individual presidents may or may not live up to these stringent requirements, there can be no shirking away from or watering down of the covenants required when accepting this office. We do not currently have a man at that desk who can keep a steady hand on the proverbial tiller of our ship of state. He is easily swayed, influenced, perturbed, distracted and angered by trivialities. Greatness will elude him and not be his, even though that is what he so desperately seeks. The names Lincoln and Trump will never be mentioned together in a single history of this nation that discusses our very finest, and as John Brennan also recently said so eloquently, “The esteem with which I held the presidency was dealt a serious blow when Donald Trump took office. Almost immediately, I began to see a startling aberration from the remarkable, though human, presidents I had served. Mr. Trump’s lifelong preoccupation with aggrandizing himself seemed to intensify in office, and he quickly leveraged his 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue address and his Twitter handle to burnish his brand and misrepresent reality.”

There is a phrase that decent people use periodically. When we slide by those seated in a crowded movie theater or those mingling around the office coffee machine, we say, “Pardon me.” It’s a common phrase, and using it is an integral part of being aware of others and being humble and polite. But in the scant days since John Brennan’s scathing remarks concerning the President of the United States, those two words have taken on an entirely new meaning. Our president contends he may pardon himself for whatever transgressions he may be ultimately accused. The iceberg looming beneath that arrogant philosophy is that without responsibility and penalty, no transgression might later be ruled out. However bold, however heinous, however outrageous the offense, our president may merely pardon himself and those around him for committing an unconscionable act. This caste system consisting of an elitist coterie of those who are above the law, if adopted and perpetrated, will be at the expense of the Republic the president has sworn to serve and protect. As we witness highly perilous times looming before us, to have a president who regards himself completely above the law is a tradition we cannot tolerate, and we are but a stone’s throw away from that reality.

As a final thought, I’d love to be a fly on the wall when William F. Buckley, founder of the National Review who passed away in 2008, and Charles Krauthammer get together for the first time. Mr. Buckley, with his ever-present legal pad and Eastern Establishment debating skills and Dr. Krauthammer, with his calm ability to cut to the chase with rock-solid logic and brilliantly direct commentaries. Not Rome against Carthage, but rather, Titan versus Titan.

Go get ‘em, Chuck.

Alan Levy is the author of The Tenth Plague, which will be published by Chickadee Prince Books in 2019.

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