Donald Trump has finally met his fast-talking match
And it's not Stormy Daniels
By TATIANA PROPHET
She didn’t kill the night and she didn’t kill the tradition; what Michelle Wolf killed on Sunday night was the frustration of half the country.
Frustration that has formed a collective nightmare since November 8, 2016. Frustration for those who are appalled and horrified with each new day that a coarse, brutish business man with an ill-fitting suit is living in the White House and steering the ship of state. They are so appalled that they will not watch him speak, or speak his name. So the moniker 45 has been a way to cope, to deal with the daily effrontery of his predictable bravado, his juvenile nicknames, and his senior citizen tangents. Every word he has uttered toward or about a minority is evidence of his endemic racism, misogyny and superiority.
Anyone is more believable than this man – even his white billionaire cabinet members – and when his gaffes are disseminated to us from the anonymous courtiers among the columns, they contain words so shocking that they send cable news aflutter for two or three weeks.
So on Sunday night, it was someone else’s turn to be offensive, someone else’s turn to be shocking, someone else’s turn to taunt the man who has been dominating everyone at the offensive game.
Whoa! What just happened? Did Michelle Wolf do a symbolic judo flip? In reflecting back to the President and his supporters a commensurate level of intensity that the showman-in-chief puts out, she may have just helped us all see that we are letting our outrage get in the way of being a country again.
Wait, so how can I make light of what the President says and does? He’s Orwellian, he’s a cunning idiot, he’s got racism kneaded into him, he treats women like meat, he’s destroying the country.
My friends and countrymen, I will explain to you why I believe we should all simmer down, have a nice cuppa tea like our friends over the pond, and take a step back from the nearly two years of unprecedented emotional trauma and stress that we have all been through.
Let us establish a few ground rules:
Rule No. 1: If you are offended by a remark, you get to feel offended and you get to express that feeling, but you don’t get to decide what the person meant or even what the remark says about the preponderance of their life and their beliefs. This is because your feeling is subjective. You are upset because of your belief about the topic being discussed, and how the remark impacts you.
Rule No. 2: If you are offended by a remark, it’s possible that your beliefs are forming a filter by which you then feel no choice but to disparage the person and put them down – their looks, their voice and their talent. Or you can simply say that they did not accomplish the objective for which they are speaking (humor or communication).
For nearly two years, the left has been pointing to Donald Trump’s offensive remarks as evidence that he is an authoritarian, a con man and a racist. After the Access Hollywood tape, the idea was everywhere: “He’s been telling us who he is. Why is anyone surprised?”
Now, with the shocking monologue of a millennial comedienne with a potty mouth and a terrible attitude, the other half of the country – the half that has been winning daily for two years – have met their match.
“Loathsome and unfunny,” cried the National Review. Even some centrist or left-leaning news outlets – such as a CNN panel, a Hollywood Reporter article, and Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s Morning Joe panned her performance, especially her words about White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
“Watching a wife and mother be humiliated on national television for her looks is deplorable," Brzezinski wrote on Twitter.
Then there was a controversy over whether Wolf was attacking Sanders’ appearance, or just comparing her deeds to those of Aunt Lydia in "A Handmaid’s Tale." Aunt Lydia is the one who arranges for men to rape women and impregnate them.
And Wolf had plenty to say about Sanders’ deeds. "I actually really like Sarah, I think she's very resourceful," Wolf said. "She burns facts, and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye.” (When I watched this live, I misheard it and thought she said “burns fat.” Others did, too.
By the way, Politifact’s definitive list of false statements by Sanders has four items.
Go ahead, look. And even those statements are quibbles. They could have been misstated. Yet this is what we’ve come to.
I tried to figure out where it was that people started repeating the idea that Sanders lies all the time. Well, that’s because people repeat that her boss lies (let’s save that for another day). But more importantly, it appears to be a refrain that gets tweeted a lot.
Another one of her outrageous "lies" was a story about 10 guys at a bar that she used to explain tax reform. According to The Week, this story was also in a viral chain email from 2011. Ha. So if I tell an Aesop’s fable in one of my articles, I’m sure someone could probably dig it up from a viral chain e-mail as well. So it turns out she doesn't even lie a lot.
Are we sensing a pattern here? Not only are both the left and right all aflutter in either defending or disparaging Michelle Wolf’s performance, but we can’t even agree about whether she attacked Sanders’ appearance or not. Burnt facts can never become bread again.
Maybe we are fighting so much because everyone is now a pundit. The spin regarding every word uttered by the President is intense, and conflicted.
And to illustrate the power of outrage, the most offensive remark of Wolf’s monologue was not about a person; it was about abortion.
“Mike Pence is very anti-choice,” she said. “He thinks abortion is murder, which, first of all, don’t knock it till you try it. And when you do try it, really knock it. You know, you got to get that baby out of there.”
As if that sentence weren’t graphic enough for those in the room, she then followed up with the real kicker:
“You can groan all you want. I know a lot of you are very anti-abortion, you know, unless it's the one you got for your secret mistress. It's fun how values can waver.”
I personally know a lot of people who are profoundly disturbed by these remarks. The remark about a “secret mistress” was a pointed jab at President Trump since there is a rumor that deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee Elliott Broidy had settled with a former Playboy model who became pregnant during their affair. She subsequently had an abortion, which when Broidy apologized publicy, he said was a decision she made alone. Some are speculating that the payoff may have actually been for Trump.
And rumors have circulated for years that Donald Trump may have arranged for an abortion or two (and he even told Howard Stern about asking Marla Maples “what are we going to do?” before Tiffany was born. He then followed up with “I’m glad it happened. I have a great little daughter, Tiffany.”) All of these details swirl and circulate through the Resistance, and so the joke is a secret nod to these rumors.
The thing that perhaps Wolf does not understand, and the same goes for many pro-choice advocates, is that abortion is not a wavering value for millions of people in this country. While some religious people may justify condoning abortion for their own families, there are staunchly pro-life citizens who wouldn’t dream of doing so. It is these Americans who were profoundly offended by Wolf’s remarks. And so the backstory goes to every remark made by Trump, every joke his supporters think is funny that everyone else takes very, very seriously. And the subtext is that these millions of people should never support such an amoral man as Trump. The answer here is that many Christians believe that it's never too late for a sinner to repent. Especially if they agree with his policies. And all his supporters hate immigrants, right? Because they're brown. (That's a topic for another day).
Am I using whataboutism? Definitely. But so is everybody else. In fact, whataboutism appears to be gaining favor as a rhetorical device on social media and is showing no signs of stopping. But maybe that’s a good thing. It helps us ferret out double standards in each half’s reaction to the other.
Does Michelle Wolf's monologue mean that Donald Trump has a soul in spite of his vile, vile words? That he is not a con man, that he is merely misunderstood? Not necessarily. But since the election, I have come to realize that many, many of the beliefs held by the Resistance about Trump and his supporters are based on the idea that a small sample of people who fall into that category is representative of the whole.
This is a logical fallacy called “faulty generalization,” and I saw it happen over and over again before and after the election.
Take the mention of “white nationalists” by Michelle Wolf, for example. Based on news reports about Charlottesville, she said Trump said white nationalists were “very fine people.” And this is important – like the misconception that Michelle Wolf attacked Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ appearance, Trump’s words have been misquoted again and again. Here is the full paragraph:
REPORTER: The neo-Nazis started this thing. They showed up in Charlottesville.
TRUMP: “Excuse me, they didn't put themselves down as neo-Nazis, and you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group – excuse me, excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down, of to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.”
This coupled with his very first statement shows his supporters that of course he does not view Neo Nazis as very fine people:
“… we're closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides. It's been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society. And no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time. … Above all else, we must remember this truth: No matter our color, creed, religion or political party, we are all Americans first. We love our country. We love our God.”
If you read his words carefully, and you are a grammarian like me, you would see that he is saying there was violence on many sides (not necessarily hatred and bigotry). The rhetoric about “white nationalism” before and after the election was a prime example of faulty generalization, especially the coverage of a meeting held in a Washington hotel right after the election in which everyone gave a Nazi salute.
What I have learned since then, in my research and reaching out, is that on the whole, both Trump supporters and detractors abhor white supremacy, Nazis and any kind of racism. Try it out. Ask them. See what their attitudes are. Find out what research they've done, and what their voting history has been.
Michelle Wolf talked about Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway and all of their “lies.” She compared Ivanka Trump to a diaper genie. “It looks nice on the outside, but inside it’s still full of shit.”
Yes, there’s been more than enough controversy to last all of us for the rest of our lives.
The next day, Michelle Wolf said she stood by every word from her monologue. Dave Chappelle said she “nailed it.” And the Village Voice stated: “Michelle Wolf is the Voice Comedy Needs Right Now.”
Wolf is going places. She’s a fascinating person; she worked at Bear Stearns from 2007-08 and then JP Morgan Chase, experiences which inform her comedy. And she will likely change her opinions throughout the course of her life. In other words, she’s allowed to get spunky, she’s allowed to misspeak, and she’s allowed to speak truth to power. Even when it’s half the truth. Because there is no way that Trump and his supporters, who are still marginalized by most of the entertainment and media world, were in any way represented during her routine.
That’s right, it’s the positive statements that are completely ignored. To be sure, a White House correspondent’s dinner is usually a roast, though with President Obama they were love fests. (One exception is Larry Wilmore reminding Obama he killed a lot of people with drones. He also called him "My n-----.)
I don’t expect the White House Correspondent’s Dinner to love President Trump. But I do expect them to dig a little deeper and to accurately reflect the half of the country that won the election. I expect them to know when he’s been misquoted and to check out his press secretary’s long list of four lies.
I'm sure neither Wolf nor her friends listen to Trump’s inaugural address when he said:
“What truly matters is not which party controls our government but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.
The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”
Half the country refused to watch the speech (I’m guilty of faulty generalization, I know), and then afterward they read in their favorite newspapers that the speech was bewildering and dark. As George W. Bush summed it up, according to writer Jonathan Chait, “That was some weird shit.” What an oracle of truth.
A year later, Chait wrote “His speech reads now as a comic litany of failure,” in New York magazine.
That was before the record-low unemployment numbers began coming in.
Did Wolf or her friends listen to Trump’s remarks in Davos, when he told a room full of multinational CEOs that the American worker was the most important part of American business and should be treasured?
Did Wolf see Trump tell the media, when asked about a possible Nobel Prize nomination, that “peace is the prize”?
That seems very uncharacteristic of a man who had a fake TIME magazine cover of himself in one of his restaurants.
As I’ve watched Trump, and his supporters, and really worked to understand what’s important to them, beyond the “lock her up” and “Trump that bitch,” I find myself wishing the President could unite the country. It would take a conscious effort to speak to the fears and concerns of people of color and minority groups. It would even take an apology to women he has publicly insulted, like Mika Brzezinski, Meryl Streep and Carly Fiorina.
I’m sure it won’t happen anytime soon. The attacks are flying and the misunderstandings pile up like a hill of minions.
But maybe if we can remember that belief shapes our outrage, then we can be open to dialogue again. Maybe not with the president, but with our countrymen and family members. The progression of their political views, where they go for information, and what's important to them, are good conversation starters.
Tatiana Prophet is an award-winning journalist who was an active supporter of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. She has now renounced partisan politics in favor of facts.