When I was mouthy as a kid, my father would say to me, “Better to be thought of as a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” It’s a proverb that stems back further than my father of course. Further even than Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain, both of whom are credited with the quip. Its root is in the Bible, in Proverbs incidentally enough. (Proverbs 17:28)
I still find myself on occasion, okay often, putting my foot in my mouth and saying things I should have thought through first. That’s a human trait we’ve all had to combat and some of us have had a harder fight than others. I do try to hear what I’m going to say in my head before it articulates on my lips, but sometimes it just happens. It escapes and then it’s out there, unable to be taken back. Maybe it was said at the wrong time or with the wrong placement of emphasis or just should’ve been kept to myself in the first place, but at that point, I can’t do anything about it but own it and apologize. I try to not let it happen but since I’m a human person, it does. Mostly it happens in off-the-cuff moments, when I’m responding to a friend and in the casual context of conversation, I spit out a joke or barb or passive aggressive response I immediately regret.
My writing, my social media accounts, and my text messages however are not places where I pop off and say whatever comes to mind. I’m all too aware that those things have the potential shelf life of a jar of honey; they will never expire. I write and rewrite and read and reread and edit and cut and trim and spackle and sand and dust the language I know will be released into the world before I press publish. I’m trying to get my brain and mouth to follow suit.
Now, the time has come and gone for the President Elect to keep his trap shut to prevent looking like a fool. In truth, he’s been a fool long before he launched his campaign of misogyny, name calling and making fun of any American who isn’t himself. He proved himself to be a fool on his TV show, he proved himself to be a fool when he engaged in a public and unnecessary fight with Rosie O’Donnell, and now he daily shows his true, repulsive, colors. This week, he decided to brand himself the Grand Fool, the Jester-in-Chief, and an all-around buffoon, when he chose to pick a fight with our greatest living (and let’s be frank, greatest living or dead) actor.
Oh sure, she took to the stage in a fancy dress in front of a room of champagne soaked celebrities to accept an award that’s superfluous when you’re Meryl Streep. But then she spoke badly of our National Nightmare Elect, which hurt his feelings. She spoke of when he publicly, viewed by millions, made fun of Serge Kovaleski, a reporter for The New York Times who has a Pulitzer to his name. Serge has arthrogryposis, a condition that causes joint contracture in his right arm and hand. Trump made fun of his physicality, something that becomes even more horrifying when replayed. So Meryl voiced her heartbreak and frustration with this monster from the stage. Her politics were a surprise to no one; then again, his short-tempered and petulant response wasn’t either.
You see, here’s what the National Nightmare Elect knows about Meryl Streep: He knows she has achieved an acclaimed mark on the history of our collective culture that he will never be able to approach. He knows that when she speaks, multitudes listen. Not only do they listen when she speaks, but they pay handily to hear her speak someone else’s words as a fictional character in a fictional story. He knows that her calm, pointed delivery could not be warped to appear angry or antagonistic. He knew she landed every blow to his character that she intended, and she did so with poise, with grace, and with only half a voice.
Now let’s be honest. She’s Meryl Streep. She doesn’t give a crap about his Twitter response, mostly because he’s too underdeveloped to have any sort of retort beyond 140 characters on a website. But I took personal offense to him calling her a “Hillary flunky who lost big.” This echoes his New Year’s address to the nation, again, on Twitter because that’s the only way he knows how to communicate, when he said, “Happy New Year too all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought against me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do.” In that tweet, he labeled me and anyone who didn’t vote for him as an enemy and a loser. How presidential of him. Tell me again how it’s time to come together to support this man and I’ll refer you to that tweet.
To recap: Myself, Meryl Streep, and the 65,844,608 other people who voted for Hillary are enemies of the soon-to-be President of the United States. Good to know. What’s also good to know is that we enemies outnumber those in his camp by 3 million, which is more people than live in the entire state of Mississippi.
What Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Meryl Streep said on Sunday echoed all over the world, and the President Elect knows it. While his diminutive vocabulary may make waves on Twitter and the ego inside of him can rest easy as long as his name is in the news, what Meryl said boldly is that she isn’t going to allow it. But mostly, what Meryl Streep did from the stage of the Golden Globes was hand out permission slips to every person in that room, every artist watching, and every person who clicked on the YouTube link, to do the same. She said: Give a measured response and it will snuff out the darkness. She said: Speak boldly with the confidence that you as an artist possess and people will listen. She said: Use the platform you’ve been given to fight for change. She didn’t need to give a speech about her career; she’s done that time and time again. Instead, she gave a speech about the state of our country because she knew that long after she’s done making movies, long after the tribute reels have played in her honor, there will still be artists making art. No doubt, many of those artists, thanks in part to her vocal stand, will use their own voices and mediums to express their desire for change as well.
My friend Cheryl made an observation last night that resonated with me. She commented that the man elected has never been in a position where people could talk back to him. In every facet of his adult life, on TV or otherwise, he fired anyone who disagreed with him. Now he’s living in a world of push-back so of course he’s a baby. She’s right. He’s always been surrounded by yes-men who were just as delusional as he is. For the love of God, he brought in his own cheering section to that bullshit news conference he only held so he could publicly finger-wag CNN for criticizing him. Now he’s got a world, literally a world, of people telling him he’s neither great nor good, that he doesn’t even register as mediocre, and so he lashes out like the inexperienced man he is.
This is a man who has known no conflict. When something was in his way, he either wrote a check to make it disappear or fired the person who stood between him and what he wanted. His entire quarrel with Rosie came from her publicly criticizing him and then refusing to back down. She said ten years ago what the world is saying now and just like when she was on The View, he responds with all the maturity of a teething toddler. He has no tact because he was never taught to be tactful. He has no poise because he was never taught grace. He has no empathy because he was taught to step on people to climb higher. He has no compassion because the only thing he’s ever truly loved is money. He’s a defective human being, and for that, I grieve for him and for everyone who has had or will have their lives affected or ruined by his unsteady temperament and his un-coached personhood.
He and his blonde talking-heads may continue to rail against Streep, a fight they will never win, and that’s okay. It’s okay mostly because her influence has already reached the people it was intended to permeate and take root in. The people whose words and voices take up residence on the radio, on laptops and TV screens, on IMAX screens and Spotify playlists, in black box theater stages and at the Palace Theater on Broadway – those people heard her and so did I.
So when someone near me tries to defend this man, I will be measured, I will be calm and I will not pop off ineloquently. After all, a difference of opinion is what created our nation in the first place. But I will not stand for his priggish power grab when it will directly affect the lives of millions. I will not stay silent when he condones separatism in any form – be it by race, by ability, by orientation, by faith or by social stature. He can keep tweeting from his ivory penthouse, and the rest of us – myself, Meryl Streep, artists, politicians, maybe even MMA fighters – will continue to fight for the America we were raised to believe was full of opportunity, hope and inclusion.
And it’s true about the shelf life of honey by the way. When archaeologists were excavating in Egypt, they found centuries-old honey in the jars of a tomb and it was still perfectly edible. It’s a wonder of nature and science. Despite the toxic political hurricane cloud that hovers over us at the moment, it’s still a super cool world we get to live in.