September 17th, 2021


Just in Time, Springtime in Washington

Suzanne Fields

By Suzanne Fields

Published May 4,2018

Just in Time, Springtime in Washington

It's hard to remember a season when so many informed, knowledgeable and sophisticated men and women spent so much time talking about the weather and longing for change, literally and figuratively; complaining about the windy days of winter; and yearning for the extended days of light and warmth, when that lucky ol' sun finally chases away cloud and murk.

On that, Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative, clumsy Romeo and angry feminist are at last united, if only for a little while.

In one article, Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal mimics a bird's song, a harbinger of spring, as if the bird were a source (And why not?), writing "byeet-byeet-chur-chur-chur."

She contrasts the birdsong with the machine-shop cacophony of President Donald Trump's tweets and telephone calls. The winter's turbulence retreats reluctantly.

Amanda Foreman, another Journal scribbler, recalls Shakespeare's lyrical notion that the songs of the birds pull lovers together but reminds that the season has a dark side, liberating violent forces of nature to go on the offensive. She notes the Taliban's threat of a spring offensive planned for Afghanistan. These are not the folks who long to make a spring pilgrimage, as in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales."

For poets, the seasonal cycles echo patterns of sacrifice and rebirth, with lessons of the tragic ironies in the human comedy. Talk of the weather is neutral, conversation devoid of the political differences that pose a minefield when Americans gather to trade anecdotes and good wishes. The current social climate reflects more about the harsher side of human nature than the give and take, the meet and greet that was once regulated by good manners and traditional decorum. (Stormy Daniels could not have known how appropriate her name would turn out to be.)

The annual dinner of the White House Correspondents Association, which arrives every spring with the first robin in the nation's capital, once celebrated the importance of the Fourth Estate, affording a truce when press and politicians wine, dine, dress up and laugh it up together.

This year it merely exacerbated the ugliness that dwells in the swamp, more like T.S. Eliot's "Waste Land" of dead roots than a golden triumph of daffodils, the blaze of azaleas and the budding of the dogwood trees transforming the neighborhoods of Washington.

Trump, who chose to be a no-show for a second year in a row, blossomed instead at a rally in chilly Michigan, rousing a crowd as though he were beginning another triumphant campaign, while back at the Washington Hilton the comedienne Michelle Wolf took aim at his surrogates with nasty cracks that buried her in a mud pie of her own making.

It's sometimes not easy to make Trump look good, but she did it. She ridiculed his press secretary's looks from a dozen feet away and compared the president to the failed engine on a Southwest Airlines flight that cost the life of a passenger.

For decades the correspondents' dinner was more famous for the glitter and guests imported from Hollywood than being an occasion for ink-stained wretches to butter up the politicians they roast and toast. But that glitter vanished with former President Barack Obama. The guests now run, mostly to Washington's evergreens, and this year's "talent" was strangely out of touch with the idea of forging unity with the banter of light-hearted barbs. One of Wolf's most obscene riffs, apart from dropping F-bombs on network television, was on abortion: "Don't knock it till you try it." She mocked the president's daughter Ivanka Trump as "about as helpful to women as an empty box of tampons," and mocked Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway saying, "if a tree falls in the woods, how do we get Kellyanne under that tree?" Surely, this is not what the sisterhood had in mind.

It tells you something when one of the comic's rare apologists was Kathy Griffin, whose contribution to the campaign to take down Trump was a photograph of herself holding a papier-mache head of the president dripping with blood. Her contribution this year was merely giving the upraised middle finger to a former Trump spokesman and taking back her apology to the president for the faux decapitation.

The president himself contributes to the crude tone of cultural conversation, having come to Washington directly from a mean reality show, where money rather than taste sets the standard for status. Crudity and lack of taste and manners has become the norm, even in once-polite capital parlors.

The Hill, the Capitol Hill political daily, withdrew this week from future participation in the White House Correspondents Association dinner (others may follow) because an "ugly sideshow" now overshadows the main event. The reality is that the ugly sideshow is now the main event.

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