Thank You Very Much, McConnell

“Thank you very much!
Thank you very much!
That’s the nicest thing that anyone’s ever done for me.”

This song, written by Leslie Bricusse for the movie “Scrooge” (1970), is sung when Dickens’ character sees a vision from the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come of the people who owe Scrooge money celebrating at the sight of his coffin.

A fictional scene, this was played out for real just this past week when the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and within hours U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that a new nominee for the high court would be voted on before the important November presidential election.

As a voter who is not affiliated with any political party, I wish to express my deepest disdain for McConnell and his ilk for not waiting until her body was cold—or at least until the first night of Rosh Hashanah concluded.

It is also hypocritical that back in 2016 when former Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia passed away in February, 9 months ahead of that election, Republicans refused to hold hearings for a new nominee to fill his empty seat even though President Obama chose Merrick Garland, a judge who normally Republicans would have supported. 

With less than 7 weeks ahead of this year’s election, why the flip-flop?  Because their “guy” is in the Oval Office.  That is what the whole thing is about.  Politics.  Playground bullying done by old white men who are supposed to serve the American people no matter which party they belong to.

Unfortunately, Americans should not be surprised at the lack of civility in Washington, D.C.  I’m not sure when bipartisanship disappeared, but for those of you younger than 50, take a look at some YouTube videos of President Ronald Reagan.

Watch his self-deprecating humor at a 1984 debate with Democratic nominee Walter Mondale.  When running for re-election, Reagan’s age (73) was being used against him, and so he was asked to respond to the criticism.   He quipped, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”  

This generated a huge laugh even from Mondale.   When can you remember two politicians from different parties sharing a hearty laugh together like this in the past 40 years?

The acrimony that political leaders exhibit these days is reflected in the general population.  Again, YouTube has plenty of evidence showing regular folks acting very badly in public.

There is a feeling in America that people lack common ground, that differences far outweigh similarities.  Our neighbors have become strangers.

Here’s hoping sooner than later that this country finds its footing again, and that no matter one’s politics, ethnicity or Netflix preferences, we can stand together as a united nation.

Otherwise, Russia, China and other foes will be dancing on the coffin of the United States singing, “Thank you very much” to the Americans who helped its demise.

A S-Hole in One

Two weeks ago I rolled out my pre-reading lessons for Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird which includes sharing motivational stories about unknown heroes such as Edward Thomas, Houston’s pioneering African American police officer.

Thomas, who worked on the force for 63 years, died two weeks following the dedication ceremony renaming the department’s office building after him, a man who while in college was drafted into the Army during World War Two, fighting on D-Day and at the Battle of the Bulge.

His country asked him to sacrifice his life yet did not treat him equally; even in the military he was placed in a segregated unit.

Due to his color, he was not allowed to enter the front of the police department building (he had to use the back door), not allowed to be in the roll call room (he had to stay in the hallway), and was on his own during his patrol (white officers would not back him up).   Still, he persevered.

The final job he held was at the security desk where staff checked in which had now been moved to the rear of the building.    Quite ironic that all officers now enter the only door Thomas was allowed through.

We then analyze a poem, “Incident” by Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen, describing a heartbreaking moment of racism for a young boy when the only memory that stayed with him during eight months in Baltimore was when another boy called him the n-word.

That leads to a discussion about the n-word and its use in literature.  We went over which words for African Americans would be permissible and which were not.

Hours after having a sensitive talk about racial epithets, President Trump obliterates the point I was trying to make by using ugly language to discuss certain immigrants.

In a meeting on immigration with lawmakers, Trump said, “Why do we want all these people from Africa here? Why do we want all these people from s—hole countries?”

The language was raw, the racism an open sore. Did our Commander-in-Chief actually say those ugly things?

And then the second part of the story unraveled.

The news media decided to spell the whole expletive out.  There it was in the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

Not only that, when I turned on CNN, in the lower-thirds of the screen, there was Trump’s quote with each letter of the fully spelled out word in all its glory—no asterisk or hyphen substituted.

For further shock value, moderator Anderson Cooper and nearly all of his guests actually said the word on the air repeatedly in their conversations.

What’s baffling is when former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci gave obscenity-laden responses to a reporter last July, the media refrained from spelling out the words or saying them on the air.   So why have the standards and practices of the media changed?  Has the bar lowered even further on what words can be in print and on TV? If so, what about the n-word and other racially charged language?

The next day, news broke about a porn star being paid $130,000 to keep quiet about an affair with Trump years ago when his wife was pregnant with their child.

Coincidentally, I also introduced a semester-long assignment called The Decency Project which asks students to come up with ways that they can help others.   Some will be collecting items for underprivileged people, while others will be working at hospitals, animal shelters, and homeless shelters.

Teenagers working at a higher moral plane than the President.  Who would have ever thought that day would come.

Thank you, President Trump, for continuing to provide teachable moments for educators.


Trump is no Boy Scout

Further proof that the words dignity and Trump will never form a complete sentence was his inappropriate remarks last Monday at the Boy Scouts’ National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia.

Trump hijacked the scouts’ largest event occurring every four years and put the focus on his favorite subject—himself.

Addressing 35,000 scouts ages 12 through 17, Trump claimed there were 45,000:  “You set a record today.”  He still overestimates how many people come out to see him, and wanting others to believe wherever he appears, large crowds and long ovations break records.

Trump spoke for 38 minutes not caring that this venue was not the place for his stump speech.

Promising to “put aside all of the policy fights” because “who the hell wants to speak to politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts,” Trump proceeded to do just that.

Within minutes he veered away from the teleprompter remarks, always a cover-your-eyes moment, and resurrected his favorite audience-pleasing targets:  health care (“killing this horrible thing called Obamacare”), the media (“these dishonest people”), and election day (“was that a beautiful date”).

It didn’t help that some of America’s best kids behaved like a Jerry Springer audience chanting the jingoistic “USA, USA.”

He highlighted members of his cabinet, some present on stage, who were Boy Scouts, curiously overlooking Eagle Scout and Attorney General Jeff Sessions who was not there.

He joked about getting rid of Health and Human Resources secretary Tom Price if Obamacare isn’t repealed, using his old chestnut, “you’re fired.”

When meaning to say “American success,” out came “American sex,” quite a Freudian slip considering Trump’s mindset.

When he boasted that President Obama never came to a Jamboree, Trump turned to the cabinet members behind him where they guffawed about the comment, public servants joining in the mockery of a former president in front of an impressionable audience.

Actually, Obama did record a 94-second greeting in 2010 for the Boy Scouts’ centennial.  Understanding his audience, Obama eschewed politicking and instead celebrated scouts in history, including those who aided during World War Two.

Obama could have gained their favor by mentioning his scouting days, something Trump would have exploited to no end, but he didn’t.

Meanwhile, Trump rambled about real-estate builder William Levett who “bought a yacht and a very interesting life” intimating, what, that he was a ladies’ man?

If I couldn’t make sense of this story, imagine how a 13-year-old absorbed it.

The speech dragged on for so long that Energy Secretary Rick Perry can be seen in the background using his phone.

Referencing his election, Trump said “what we did is an unbelievable tribute to you.”  Wait a minute, most of the crowd hasn’t even reached voting age yet.

Then, out of nowhere he said “under the Trump administration you’ll be saying, ‘Merry Christmas’ again when you go shopping.”  It is July, right?

Trump told the scouts “you should take great pride in the example you set for every citizen of our country to follow . . . you inherit a noble American tradition . . . remember your duty, honor your history.”

If only Trump could have been in the audience hearing his own words pertaining to the presidency.  Trump needs to take great pride for inheriting a position only 44 other Americans were blessed to hold and honor their history as well.

Instead, he torches their legacy.

And he taints the spirit of the Boy Scouts’ oath “to help other people at all times” for back in 1989, the Trump Foundation donated $7 to the organization, according to the Washington Post.   This was when $7 was the membership fee and when Don Jr. was 11 years old.

Showing how even when it comes to helping others, Trump’s most important cause is himself.  And that is why Trump could never be a Boy Scout.


Trump speaks like a Fifth Grader

If President Donald J. Trump was a student in my 10th grade English class, here is how I would evaluate his use of the English language as observed in last week’s press conference.

One major characteristic of Trump’s speaking is the repetition of words and phrases, often within the same sentence, revealing a limited vocabulary.

Tony Schwartz, co-author of Trump:  The Art of the Deal, told MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid that Trump has a “200-word vocabulary.”

That is why in his 77-minute presser he repeated words so frequently:  really (14), great (19), very (87).

An easy way to impress people, I tell my students, is by using a varied vocabulary when speaking with prospective employers.  It also retains an audience’s attention when the speaker uses different words; using the same words over and over again, well, the message gets lost.

See if you can figure out what Trump was trying to say:

  • “It’s very important to me. I’ve been talking about that for a long time.  It’s very, very important to me.”
  • “We’re looking at them very, very, very serious.”
  • “Very, very strongly. Very, very strongly.”

Avoid saying “honestly,” “I’ll be honest” or “can I be honest with you” because more likely than not you’re not being truthful.

Just like declaring yourself to be 100 percent opposite of who you really are.

“Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.  Number two, racism, the least racist person.”

I teach my students to avoid the phrase “I think” because it diminishes the persuasiveness of one’s opinion, coming across as if only the speaker believes that way.  Yet Trump repeated it 42 times in the press conference.

In fact, he used the pronoun “I” 389 times. It goes without much analysis why he would refer to himself so often.

I instruct my students to avoid hysterical language; people are more likely to consider your opinions when spoken more judiciously.

Trump, however, washes himself in hyperbole, depicting the world as a “mess” or “disaster” or in “chaos” or “turmoil” where things are “horrible,” “terrible,” “horrendous,” or “catastrophic.”

When discussing people who please him, Trump uses “wonderful,” “tremendous,” “fantastic,” “fabulous,” “incredible,” the types of adjectives children would more often use than a 70-year-old man.

And look at the repetitive wording when talking about his daughter—“Ivanka who is a fabulous person and a fabulous, fabulous woman”—and his wife Melania who feels “very, very strongly, she’s a very, very strong advocate.”

Carnegie Mellon studied the vocabulary of presidents and concluded that Trump’s language is at a fifth-grade level.

“I inherited a mess.  It’s a mess.  At home and abroad, a mess.”

The same could be said of the way Trump talks.

Dr. Justin Frank, a psychoanalyst at George Washington University Medical Center who is writing a book called “Trump on the Couch,” told me that “not reading or not being able to read often has a lasting limiting effect” on one’s vocabulary development.  It’s widely known that Trump watches TV and does not read books—not a promising combination for thinking deeply about issues affecting the nation.

If Trump’s parents visited me at Open House this week, how would I diplomatically broach his shortcomings as an English student?  Most likely do what any politician does and redirect my response to a different subject: have Donald join my journalism class to learn about real news.


The Gettysburg Tweet?

Newly inaugurated U.S. presidents are often judged by the work completed in their first 100 days of office.

We can judge President Trump by the first 100 tweets of his presidency.

George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post reported that “more than half his tweets end with an exclamation point and more than one-quarter [have] at least one word in all capital letters.”

Take a look.

“Enjoy the Super Bowl and then we continue: MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

“Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile.  Should have been thankful for the terrible deal the U.S. made with them!”

“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”

“I will send in the Feds!”


Words matter.   They can threaten or they can heal.

February 12 is the 208th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth whose words still endure today.

Acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns made “The Address” in 2014 about the Greenwood School in Putney, Vermont, a small boarding school for boys with learning disabilities who each year recite Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as a rite of passage that demonstrates their confidence to overcome their challenges.

In 272 words, it may be the best written speech by any president under two minutes.

He uses the rule of three twice, done to perfection: “we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground” and the famous coda “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln was not the featured speaker when the battlefield was dedicated as a cemetery on Nov. 19, 1863.  Edward Everett, noted orator of the time, spoke for two hours first, then came Lincoln.

The photographer assumed Lincoln would speak longer allowing him more time to focus his camera on the president.  By the time he took the photograph, Lincoln had just sat down.

Little did Americans know at the time that the Civil War would continue for almost two more years.

And it wasn’t until years later that Lincoln’s words would burn an indelible mark in the American story.  In fact, before he was assassinated, many in the country disliked Lincoln.   After his murder, however, his reputation rose.

This year I had my English students learn about Lincoln and recite the speech.

After they finished, I asked them their thoughts.

“I loved presenting this speech and learning about it and the person behind it,” one student wrote.

“It inspires people and reminds us how great Lincoln was” that “he was able to bring the country together,” remarked another.

The speech showed “how much he cared about his country,” how “he cared about the American people deeply.”

He “was very intelligent and eloquent” who “showed compassion” and “loved his country;” “a good, true, honorable man.”

And one student said “funny how in the speech Lincoln says ‘the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here’ but people still remember the speech today.”

If only our Chief Executive could word his thoughts as well as a 15-year-old high school student.

Indeed, in the turbulent times we live in where there is a pervasive dark mood, it is comforting to read the words of someone who truly led a divided nation.

When he was assassinated on April 15, 1865, he had recently turned 56 years old.   Even with an additional 14 years of life, Trump has a lot of catching up to do before his memorial ever breaks ground on the National Mall.

Over 150 years from now, will a Trump Tweet be recited by school children, examined as one of the finest collection of words coming from a president?

Take a break from all the bad news and read over the Gettysburg Address to honor Abraham Lincoln and to remind yourself that we are all Americans.



Trump Trash-talking Coarsens Society

Last week I took my son to see the animated film “Zootopia” and saw a trailer for “The Angry Birds Movie” which included a 15-second scene of an American Bald Eagle character urinating in front of other birds. While the action was not shown, the sound of it was in full Dolby sound. This is what passes as family entertainment these days.

Of course, this pales in comparison to presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio mocking the size of one’s manhood.

The incredulous campaign of Trump that has captured America’s attention this election season has done more than bring out new voters to the polls and new viewers to Fox News. It has lowered the bar in campaign protocol and human discourse.

How many of us would extol a person who uses profanity in a public speech, mocks a female journalist’s menstruation, insults people who are not white or Christian, and interrupts others who try to question him?   Trump is not trying out material in a comedy club—he’s running for President of the United States.

Just so you know, I am not registered with any political party. Over the years I have voted for both Democrats and Republicans.

I get the anti-establishment appeal of a Trump or a Bernie Sanders.   We should not ignore the concerns of those who vote for these candidates.

However, we want leaders to inspire people. Instead, we have someone whose no-filter, impromptu remarks is bringing out the ugliness in Americans.

Two weeks ago a disturbing event took place at a high school basketball game in Indiana.   Students from Andrean High taunted Bishop Noll students, a school with a significant Latino population, holding up giant Donald Trump heads and chanting “build that wall.” A similar incident occurred earlier in Iowa.

Impressionable young people are picking up on how Trump’s vitriolic language is garnering loud ovations. If it is okay for grown-ups to mock immigrants, it’s okay for them to do it as well.

Trump is tapping the anti-politically correct core that has remained dormant. He is not pushing people’s buttons, he is unleashing demons like a bad horror movie.

In the world of 2016, we don’t need someone antagonizing world leaders.

Part of the reason for Trump’s rise is the amount of media attention he has received. Have you noticed how the debates seem to occur once a week? It’s as if they are a regularly scheduled show.

Here we are in mid-March and the GOP has already held 12 debates. The Democrats have had eight, including two this week within four days of one another. And this does not include the phony baloney town hall meetings that CNN televises.

At the very least, stop inviting audiences to debates. It wasn’t that long ago when people attended debates respectfully, reserving applause until the end. Today audiences chant “USA, USA” as if watching a UFC match. Such a mob reaction encourages Trump to say even more outlandish things.

Also, why do the news networks insist on covering Trump’s complete speech on election nights since it lengthens into a pseudo-press conference ensuring extended free TV time for him to pontificate and proliferate his views?

Electing the most powerful person in the free world should not be an entertainment alternative to “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

A colleague told me long ago that teachers need to be careful of what they say in front of students since one never knows how certain words will affect young people.   Too bad our political leaders don’t follow that same advice. To borrow from Cole Porter, today anything goes.