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  • Steve Hamelman

From Tears to Trash Talk

In Iowa this past weekend to address the recent spate of gun violence in the United States, Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang broke into tears while recounting the death of a child killed by a stray bullet.

That was impressive, for two reasons.

First, it was unrehearsed. Score one for Andrew Yang. Authenticity is in short supply on the national political stage.

Second, it showed that at least two of the Democratic Party’s male candidates are not “afraid” to cry in public. (The other is Joe Biden, for whom tears arise when he reminisces about his late son Beau. He has also cried when bringing up the names of his first wife and daughter.)

Andrew Yang’s compassion for the grieving mother probably touched as many Republicans as Democrats. I imagine Independents were moved, too. At the same time, it made Trump and his ICE-men seem like cold-hearted brutes.

Contrast the image of Yang in tears with the grinning Trump giving a thumbs-up as he held the baby who was orphaned in the Dayton shooting last week.

But within hours of this impressive display, Yang went after Trump directly. Saying he wanted to stay in “presidential form,” Yang implied that American voters think favorably of candidates who maintain their physiques.

This theme gave him an opening—was it premediated?—for ridiculing Trump’s physical condition. It would be “hysterical,” Yang said, to watch Trump try to run a mile: “Oh my gosh, that would be so amazing for the American people.”

Yang next mused, “What could that guy beat me at? Being a slob? He’s an embarrassment.”

This trash talk continued for another minute or so, Yang concluding that the only things Trump could beat him at would be an eating contest, keeping a hot air balloon on the ground, and playing golf.”

Viewers and voters will have decide whether or not Yang, by virtue of the second interview, undid the good will achieved by his tearful speech the previous day. By mocking President Trump so scathingly, Mr. Yang may have shown that even the best-intentioned candidates cannot avoid the “new normal” of rhetorical disdain established by Trump.

What are we to make of a cultural climate in which the President excoriates whole cities (Baltimore) and Democratic hopefuls take ad hominempotshots at the President of the United States without the slightest hesitation?

Having no answer to this question, I can only hope the latter know what they are doing.

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