Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

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The Audacity of Taupe

Obama in Tan Suit.jpg

Exactly five years ago today (i.e. September 28, 2014) then-President Barack Obama became embroiled in what was the gravest (and to my knowledge, only) scandal of his administration. So what happened? After surviving “birtherism,” being damned for having bowed down to the Saudi King and assorted other heresies, the 44th POTUS had the utter gall to show up at a press conference clad in a . . . are you buckled up and ready for this? . . . a beige suit! Horror of Horrors!

Predictably, Fox News commentators came down on Obama for wearing the suit, claiming that he was “cheapening” the presidency; Representative Peter King (R-NY), who is still a member of the House, fumed that the suit “pointed to a lack of seriousness” on the president’s part. Five years later it’s hard to recall just how much press time this “scandal” consumed. Cable news shows held round-table discussions, fashion critics and image consultants weighed in, and TV news reporters conducted person-on-the-street interviews to find out what the people of Northeast Ohio thought of the controversial look. (Happy to report that to a person, they thought the question was absurd; that there were many things of far greater importance to discuss.)

Where Obama normally limited himself top either grey or blue suits and, unlike Gerald Ford never wore a vest, he by no means was the only president to wear a khaki-colored suit. Check out FDR, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and JFK to see their color sense. Interestingly, most of them - including Barack Obama - had their suits made by the same tailor: “George of Paris” (née Georgios Christopoulos) of Kalamata, Greece. Unlike ‘45, who wears $5,000.00 suits that are tailored to hide his bulging gut, monumental tuchas and over-long red ties, Barack Obama was a fashion plate whether clad in jeans, or khaki slacks. He must have learned from my father - a wonderfully-tailored gentleman in his own right - who used to say that the best way to keep one’s weight in check was to find a great tailor whose prices were just a hair beyond your means. “This’ he used to say, “would force one to keep their size, shape and weight because five pounds one way or the other would cause your trousers and jackets to be obviously out of whack.”

But this is far from the purpose of this essay. As much as I may personally chortle at 45’s tailoring, I am far more disgusted by his absolute inability to laugh at himself. Where ‘45 responds to any negative comment about himself with all the vengeance of a tiger (long recognized as the most retaliatory creature on the planet) Barack Obama’s innumerable cracks about the suit became part of his repertoire of bad jokes: He told attendees of a September 2014 awards dinner for the Congressional Black Caucus that he would have worn his tan suit if the event wasn’t black-tie, and joked at his final news conference in January 2017 that he had been “sorely tempted” to wear a tan suit for the occasion.

How’s About Them Sartorial Apples?

How’s About Them Sartorial Apples?

And although after 5 years most fashionistas still contend that Obama’s taupe suit (no matter how impeccably tailored) was a boo boo, what shocks them most is that it came to dominate an entire news cycle. If this turns out to be the worst personal scandal of the eight Obama years, so be it. In comparison to what his successor has put the planet through over the past 19+ months, Obama’s “Audacity of “Taupe” is nothing more than a quaint twitter (pun intended) in the annals of presidential history. In retrospect, the Obama years now seem as innocent and charming as an episode of The Donna Reed Show. Of course they weren’t; after all, these were the 8 years which included Obama’s “red line in the sand” vis-à-vis Assad’s Syria, the assassination of Bin Laden and the deportation of more illegal immigrants than ‘45 ever dreamed of. And yes, for virtually everything Obama did, did not do, said or wore, he had tons of militant detractors.

But if anyone had looked into the political crystal ball and foretold that our next president would be known for monetizing his office; for making creepy comments about finding his own daughter attractive; for being investigated for allegedly colluding with Russia and obstructing justice; and for cozying up to dictators from Rio to Moscow to Pyongyang, we would have immediately sent that crystal ball to the repair shop and deported said seer to the lunatic asylum of Charenton.

What most of us crave is a return to sanity and maturity; to honesty and humility; to empathy and compassion . . . if not to far more use of the first person plural instead of a steady diet of the first person singular. And who knows, perhaps even a return to the audacity of taupe, if not pin stripes or power pantsuits . . .

435 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Why Do So Many Brits Dislike '45?

Trump and Queen Elizabeth.jpg

Rarely - if ever - in the fifteen years this blog has been up and running, have I reposted content from another writer. I hope you won’t mind if I break that longstanding tradition this week, and run a piece written by a British journalist named Nate White. For I find in what follows a wonderfully satiric - yet deeply on-the-mark - description of the POTUS. I hope you will agree it’s a marvelous retort as to why so many British citizens (and people from many other countries ,are appalled by what’s happening in America. (And yes, there are a few words in the following essay that I myself generally do not use . . .)

Question:  Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?

A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority — perhaps a third — of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:
* Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
* You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.

On behalf of Nate White, this is Kurt Franklin Stone

Travels in Time (?)

Before beginning this week’s piece, permit me to urge you to click this link and listen; what you will hear is meant to set an emotive tone for what you are about to read . . .

Baaron+Trump.jpg

Of President Trump’s 5 children, the two least-known, least photographed are 25-year old Tiffany (currently a law student at Georgetown University) and 12-year old Barron, who is a 6th grader at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School in Potomac, Maryland.

Eerily, in 1889 - fully 130 years before Barron (note the double “r” in his name) was born - the now long-forgotten Victorian-era lawyer, diplomat and author Ingersoll Lockwood (1841-1918) published the first in a series of children’s adventure novels starring a character named Baron (with one “r'“)Trump. The first of these novels was entitled The Travels and Adventures of Little Baron Trump and His Wonderful Dog Bulger . This novel, and its sequel, Baron Trump’s Marvelous Underground Adventure (1893) were quickly forgotten as was a later satirical novella by Lockwood entitled 1900: Or the Last President. This, the last of Lockwood’s works, begins on a Tuesday in November, “a terrible night for the great city of New York.” Anarchists and socialists have laid siege to a hotel on Fifth Avenue, screaming, “death to the rich man.”

What’s really quite remarkable about Ingersoll Lockwood’s otherwise gone-and-ought-to-be-forgotten books (beyond naming his main character “Baron Trump”) is the eerie prescience one finds within their pages. Indeed, it seems almost as if the writer knew the latter-day Trumps and were made aware of the state of uncivil society in the early 21st century. Then again, currently living in an age of Jonesian (as in Alex) conspiracy theories as we do, perhaps Lockwood at one time had played host to a visitor from a time traveler named Trump.

When it comes to great Victorian-era children’s adventure-cum-fantasy literature, Lockwood’s works are as forgotten as the films of John Bunny and Flora Finch. Twain’s A Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and any of the Baum Wizard of Oz fantasies are still read. By comparison, I think we can safely say that not a single Lockwood novel was ever made into a motion picture . . . a sort of latter-day imprimatur. Nevertheless, there’s still something utterly fascinating and prescient about the Baron Trump novels or 1900 subtitled Or the Last President.

The Last President.jpg

With breathtaking foreknowledge (?), Ingersoll Lockwood presents Baron Trump as continually talking about his gigantic brain. While meeting with the Russian government, he talks about his glorious gray matter. As foreign women fall for him, he mentions his superior intelligence before casting them off. He once sued his tutors, alleging that they owed him money for everything he had taught them. He won. Born Wilhelm Heinrich Sebastian Von Troomp - but better known as “Little Baron Trump” - he travels both around and under the globe with his dog Bulger, meeting residents of as-of-yet undiscovered lands before arriving back home at Castle Trump. Lockwood’s Trump is precocious, restless, and prone to get in trouble, with a brain so big that his head has grown to twice the normal size. Mind you, these novels were a): written for children, and b): were all published in the Victorian era.

What did Lockwood know? Was this Trump a time traveler? Just kidding.

Lockwood’s novella 1900: Or, the Last President, is steeped in paranoia over the gold standard and fears about what would happen to a country still torn apart by civil war. If anything, Lockwood’s works are disquieting because their mood of anxiety and reprisal for old battles feels genuinely familiar. In this novel, the main character carries the title “Don,” and owns a hotel on whose grounds Trump Towers currently stands. Lockwood’s satire - meant to be read and digested by literate children - chastises the rise of socialism and populism, inferring their fictional rise here as disastrous and leading to chaos. And yet, for a man of his time, Lockwood was rather broadminded. Despite being an ardent Catholic himself, he had little use for moralists, and had a passionate belief in the power of noblesse oblige - namely, “with wealth and power comes much responsibility for those who possess neither.”

Without question, there are those who, once becoming turned on to Lockwood’s novels, will come up with some sort of “time traveler’s conspiracy” and spread the word that Ingersoll Lockwood was actually engaged in giving ’45 both marching orders and a world view more than a century ago. This, of course, is abject twaddle. In reality, what it is is an eerie and unpredictable view of the future from the past . . . and a pleasant afternoon’s read to boot.

658 days until the next election.

Copyright©20019 Kurt F. Stone