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Whatever Happened to “Stooping to Conquer”?

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Who among us ever dreamed that we would pine for the days when we had an American president who saw himself as both figuratively and literally “above” the rest of us—a president who was so isolated in the rarefied world of international politics and command decisions that he was oblivious to the detritus of pop culture, celebrity gossip, and the assorted background noise that so delights the “masses”?

Instead, we got a president who’s the exact opposite. From all the evidence so far, Donald Trump is about as thin-skinned and vulnerable as a high school girl wringing her hands over who’s going to invite her to the Junior Prom.

Considering the history of the American presidency, what we’re witnessing is close to unbelievable. It’s stunning. It’s shocking.

Has any occupant of the White House ever been this demonstrably insecure and skittish? Indeed, Trump’s “insult antenna” must be 10 miles long and must have its sensitivity dial set on “maximum hoo-hah,” because even something as harmless as graffiti sprayed on a freeway overpass appears to be enough to provoke this man to send out a flurry of self-defensive Tweets.

In 1972, arch-conservative and Vietnam War supporter Al Capp (creator of the “Lil’ Abner” comic strip), went on TV and harshly criticized George McGovern, the Democrats’ “peace” nominee for president, calling him, among things, a communist sympathizer, a liar, a coward, and a traitor to his country.

Days later, when McGovern was asked by a reporter if he would care to comment on Al Capp’s incendiary remarks, he responded like a perfect gentleman. Appearing genuinely curious and unaware, McGovern said with a straight face, “Who’s Al Capp?”

So when an indignant and self-absorbed Meryl Streep, at last night’s Golden Globes gala, decided that a splashy, ego-choked awards show—where Hollywood celebrities gather together to congratulate themselves—was the appropriate forum to criticize Trump for his earlier treatment of a disabled journalist, Trump, like the petulant man-child he is, took the bait. He had his “McGovern moment” handed to him on a silver platter, and he blew it.

Instead of capitalizing on a made-to-order opportunity to appear “presidential” and above the fray by saying something like, “I’ve always admired Meryl Streep and consider one of our finest actresses,” Trump took the low road. He chose to reveal himself as the petty and vindictive con man we all knew him to be. He couldn’t help himself. He lashed out at Streep, referring to her as an “overrated actress” and a “Hillary lover.”

Of course, the truly discouraging part to all this is that Trump ain’t even president yet. The real estate tycoon is doing all this weird shit—displaying an alarming tendency to go off the deep end and behave like an adolescent—even before he’s been inaugurated, even before he’s had to face his first actual “crisis.” Makes you wonder what Sean Spicer (whom Trump appointed as his Press Secretary) must be thinking.

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David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

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