There are great moments in presidential speeches and presidential history. Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural speech comes to mind, as does his Gettysburg Address. So does FDR’s summation of December 7, 1941 as “a day that will live in infamy.”

JFK had a dignified and witty relationship with the country. I still chuckle over his downplayed response to the question, “When will we put a man on the moon?” Without missing a beat, he replied, “Whenever Senator Goldwater is ready to go.” Weren’t those the good old days of snappy repartee? No bludgeons and no character assassination. Just humor wielded with surgical precision.

Ronald Reagan spoke to us about the shining city on the hill. President George W. Bush was unusually eloquent as he stood on the mound of rubble in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, saying, “I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you.”

George Washington, in declining a third term, caused King George III to say, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” While we’re on the subject of dignity in speech and demeanor, we should broaden our view to recall other great leaders like Winston “never surrender” Churchill’s determination, wit, and wisdom; MLK’s “I have a dream” speech; and Gandhi’s passionate defense of nonviolent protest that also inspired Dr. King. Great statesmanship isn’t restricted to presidents or prime ministers. Robert F. Kennedy then a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968 quoted George Bernard Shaw: “Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?”

And yes, there have been some undignified moments. Bill Clinton’s speech to the nation in which he said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” comes to mind. And the performance artist known as Marjorie Taylor Greene has to be part of this conversation, even though she is not president (thank goodness), she displays zero dignity, as this beaut that she uttered the other day demonstrates: “I want to tell you something, if Steve Bannon and I had organized [the January 6th insurrection], we would have won. Not to mention, we would’ve been armed.” 

But in the annals of presidential history and dignity, no one has sunk lower than the 45th president who is now hocking his NFT trading cards.

Readers of this column know that I like to make fun of the advertisers on cable news. Whether it’s the My Pillow guy, or the promises of shrinking prostates, magic hair growers, or get rich quick schemes, they are all of a piece. They all represent the lowest echelon of advertising. When cable TV news became undignified, dignified mainstream advertisers, the Procter & Gambles, Unilevers, and General Motors of the world, ran screaming from the room. They didn’t want to see their goods and services appear next to the likes of Bill O’Reilly, or Tucker Carlson.

In the 70s and 80s I thought we couldn’t sink much lower than the Popiel Pocket Fisherman. Seeing the Former Guy pitching his digital trading cards (“They’re only $99, which doesn’t sound like very much for what you’re getting”) was a stunning, if not surprising, new low. Maybe the saddest aspect of this grift is that his minions, perhaps in the millions, will be ripping their underwear getting the money out of their pockets.

Let’s be clear here. Donald Trump has never been even vaguely Churchillian. If at any time he’s uttered anything even slightly dignified, we may be sure he didn’t write it. Adding insult to injury, the convicted felon with the Twitter handle “Baked Alaska” who marched in Charlottesville and live-streamed himself assaulting the Capitol on January 6th just tweeted, “I can’t believe I’m going to jail for an NFT salesman.” And former federal prosecutor (also a former Republican), Ron Filipkowski, tweeted, “All I can say is that those of us who have lost friends, fought with relatives, resigned positions, been called traitor, left our party, all because we saw very clearly what a con-man, huckster and fraud this man is, have never felt more vindicated.”

If Jimmy Carter represents the Gold Standard of dignity in an ex-president, Donald Trump represents the FTX-opposite end. Maybe the Tin Standard of that scale?

There are still pathetically deceived citizens, Congress Critters, and right-wing media pundits who laud him, so it seems unwise to bet that this is the end of the Trump juggernaut. Lots of people have lost that bet before, and after the drubbing he, his winged-monkey army, and his unbridled id, have given the presidency, our institutions, and decency itself, it’s hard to predict the final straw.

All I know for sure is that he has tarnished the presidency and our country, killing dignity in the process.

©2022 Jon Sinton

Vol. 38, No. 51 - Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022

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