Thursday, February 2, 2017

Poem: Honoring it more and more

President Trump cherishing the bust of Dr. King. "Nice Reverend! Doesn't bite, does he?" Via BizPac Review.
Some time after 7:20 PM on January 20 in the Oval Office, during the inauguration festivities for President Donald J. Trump, Zeke Miller of Time Magazine noted that a bust of Winston Churchill by Jason Epstein seemed to have replaced the Charles Alston bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. that President Obama placed to the left of the fireplace in 2009, and sent a couple of tweets to that effect, but realized half an hour or so later that both busts were actually there, deleted the erroneous tweet, and sent a correction at 8:14. It was a "story" for less than an hour. It was never published.

The bust is still there, too, though the rather fine Norman Rockwell picture that hung on the wall above it at the end of Obama's term—of workers, some of them black, restoring the flame of Liberty high above New York Harbor—is gone, and that space is now occupied by a portrait of slaveholder "populist" president Andrew Jackson looming with his fierce Trumpical frown over Dr. King's head, as if he were wielding a whip.

Eleven days later, in any case, at the White House commemoration of African American History Month (also known as Black History Month, but President Trump doesn't use that, because as people in truly American places like Staten Island often suggest, "Black History Month, doesn't that sound a little racist?"—though it is not true that he has officially changed the observance's name), instead of the usual informal remarks, he read an intensely felt and personal poem, in which his pain at the unjust suspicions to which he was almost subjected for half an hour brings him into deeper connection with the African American experience:

Wherever Fox Is, Thank You
a poem
by President Donald J. Trump

I The Bust

Last month we celebrated the life
of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.,
an incredible example, unique in American history.

You read all about Dr. Martin Luther King
a week ago when somebody said
I took the statue out of my office.
And it turned out that that was fake news.
Fake news. The statue is cherished.

It's one of the favorite things in the—
and we have some good ones,
we have Lincoln and we have Jefferson,
and we have Dr. Martin Luther King,
and we have -- But they said the statue,
the bust of Dr. Martin Luther King
was taken out of the office.

And it was never even touched.
So I think it was a disgrace.
But that's the way the press is, very unfortunate. 

II The Museum

I am very proud now that we have a museum
at the national mall where people can learn
about Reverend King, so many other things.

Frederick Douglass is an example
of somebody who has done an amazing job,
and is being recognized more and more, I notice.
Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, millions more
black Americans who made America what it is today.

A big impact. I'm proud to honor this heritage.
I will be honoring it more and more.

III The Table

The folks at the table, in almost all cases
have been great friends and supporters.
Darrell, I met Darrell when he was defending me on television.
And the people that were on the other side of the argument
didn't have a chance, right?

And Paris has done an amazing job
in a very hostile CNN community.
He's all by himself, seven people and Paris.
I'll take Paris over the seven. But I don't watch CNN,
so I don't get to see him as much.

I don't like watching fake news.
Fox has treated me very nice,
wherever Fox is, thank you.

In the first section, the poet swiftly builds a picture of crisis, in an impasto of thick strokes, starting with the incredible figure of Dr. King, whose birthday we celebrated the Monday before the inauguration. But we—you and I—only learned about Dr. King ("You all read about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.") after the inauguration, when his bust suddenly and involuntarily got involved with Trump. How could we have read about King, come to think of it, if Trump hadn't been there pointing the way by not moving the bust?

Then the sudden surfacing of those unexpected and devastating allegations, that Trump had somehow moved Dr. King's bust out of the Oval Office, which remained alive on Twitter for, as I've said, probably more than half an hour, creates a sense of crisis and near desperation.

To understand what a blow it was, all you really have to do is imagine what it would have been like for President Obama if people had started falsely alleging that he'd spirited a bust by Jacob Epstein of the racist and imperialist supervillain Winston Churchill out of the White House, consigning this crucial historical figure to oblivion, at the beginning of his term. And carried on with their false allegations for more than half an hour, or as much as eight years, when President Trump repeated them one last time in his address to the CIA.

Oh wait, you don't have to imagine it, because it happened, and I wrote it up in a piece on a different subject in 2013 (the White House at the time of Obama's inauguration had had two almost identical Epstein busts of Churchill, one a personal loan to George W. Bush, which Obama returned on schedule to the British government), and Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post addressed it more directly (and possibly more accurately) on January 23 of this year.

Anyway, the hurt Donald Trump experienced when he was treated this way for maybe as much as 50 minutes on Inauguration Day before Miller managed to delete his tweet is evident in the impassioned expression ("it was never even touched... it was a disgrace... very unfortunate"). You can only suppose he's come to realize, intimately and almost physically, how Obama felt in his own similar case, though Trump is too delicate, too subtle, to mention Obama's name. Or Churchill's either.

In the mercurial, quick-tempo middle section, he imagines the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, which he was unable to visit as scheduled on January 14 because of the museum's show honoring the civil rights hero John Lewis, who is alive and a member of Congress, and who said something that made the President-Elect sad. But in his fantasy Trump can go there, to a warm African American utopia where time and space have disappeared, and old Dr. King rubs shoulders with young Frederick Douglass (who "has done an amazing job" and is increasingly getting noticed! Maybe he'll have a shot at that coveted Dancing with the Stars gig), and Rosa Parks with Harriet Tubman. And "millions more". But not John Lewis.

It's a lively, chaotic experience and it makes him proud. At least twice.

The final section moves from these cheerful fantasies of what that museum would be like if he weren't afraid to go there to the earnest here and now, in the White House and the African American History Month observations, where he sits in state with what he might have called at a different moment "my African Americans", from Omarosa Manigault, former Apprentice star and now director of communications in the Office of Public Liaisons, to Dr. Ben Carson, former distinguished brain surgeon and now prominent victim of spontaneous catatonic seizures and designated secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

At the table there, he's among African American people who understand him, who get what his suffering is all about, guys like the Cleveland pastor Darrell Scott (the only black pastor to endorse Trump that weekend when Trump promised he was going to get endorsements from 100 black pastors), who has been working with so many top Chicago gang leaders eager to work with Trump (well, maybe one), and Paris Dennard, former Bush White House Black Outreach director and now CNN commentator, or, as The New York Times's Charles Blow called him, "Who is this? Do you want him to talk? Do you want him to talk or do you want me to talk?"

But Paris Dennard is a kind of continuation of our young friend Fredrick Douglass because he, too, "has done an amazing job."

Painting by Norman Rockwell, via Etsy.

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