Meacham: We Can’t Normalize a Mad, Dysfunctional Kingship
Appearing on the Eleventh Hour with Brian Williams on Monday night, Presidential Historian found exactly the right phrase for the Trump Administration, calling it “a mad, dysfunctional kingship.” The question had to do with Trump’s total lack of empathy and utter failure to convey that he understood the problems his fellow Americans are experiencing. Here is the youtube of the whole show, but the Meacham segment begins at about 32:30:
Meacham gave two examples of presidents who were able to convey that they felt someone else’s pain (JFK’s phone call to Coretta King when Dr. King was unjustly jailed, and LBJ walking along the southern border in the path of Hurrican Betsy, saying “I am your president and I’m here to help). And he gave a third example of a president who couldn’t express empathy, Bush the Elder, when the Berlin Wall came down — and George H.W. Bush felt, but could not express, any empathy. Trump feels nothing, and his little mention of the souls we lost to Coronavirus seemed leaden and bored, completely lacking in empathy. Trump was reading words but conveying no emotion. I recommend that you listen to the Meacham segment beginning at about 32:30; it takes about five minutes.
Meacham’s most quotable sentence in this interview was:
We can’t normalize what is fundamentally a mad dysfunctional kingship.
Meacham Predicted Trump’s Overexposure
I have always admired Meacham’s work, but most on point was his book “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels,” published last summer. Meacham discusses the great moral crises in our history, particularly those that pitted the forces of inclusion against the forces of exclusion, the forces of tolerance against the forces of intolerance. Trump is the great unspoken
presence in that book, but in every chapter, the burden of Meacham’s argument is that our nation has risen above forces of intolerance before (though they keep returning) and has overcome crises as bad as Trump.
In its analytical section on the foul, lying, slanderous Senator Joe McCarthy, The Soul of America argues that what really did McCarthy in was overexposure. As I personally well remember, there was a 24 hour news cycle then, as now, but back then it was mainly the daily morning papers and the network evening news (this was pre-Huntley-Brinkley and pre-Cronkite). Generally, both these media — morning newspapers and evening news — had deadlines, and they were both at about 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
McCarthy would put out something outrageously slanderous just in time for the deadline, saying he was going to investigate it or him or her. The reporters never got to ask what happened to the previous day’s slander because by the next day McCarthy was making up something entirely different. That is what Trump does; when things get bad enough, he changes the narrative by saying or doing something worse. Meacham believed, and even quotes McCarthy’s (and later Trump’s) vile ex-lawyer, Roy Cohn, as saying that the public just got sick of McCarthy from over-exposure. The Army-McCarthy hearings were the culmination of that over-exposure, not the sole cause.
So it is with Trump. Since reading Meacham’s above-cited book, I have been waiting for Trump to crash from overexposure. Now with the Coronavirus Daily Briefing, that crash from public disgust with Trump’s overexposure has begun. And Trump cannot neutralize that overexposure by shoving an ultra-violet flashlight up — oh, never mind.