From Dan Quayle's potato-e and President Donald Trump's amazing July 4th speech to Mike Kelly's denial of his roots. Want to make America great again?
Dan Quayle must be shaking his head.
A long time ago, in a political galaxy far, far away, there was once a vice president named Dan Quayle. It was the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Instagram may as well have been a sugary energy drink; the internet some kind of Dungeons and Dragons tool.
The knock-on Quayle -- who hails from Indiana, just like our current vice president, the Irish-but-no-longer-Catholic Mike Pence -- was that he was an intellectual lightweight.
And so, one day, he paid a visit to a grade school, and the kids were writing on the board, and one child spelled “potato.” Quayle encouraged the poor kid to add an “e” at the end.
It was all on tape. Actual videotape.
Hilarity ensued. For weeks, months.
Nearly three decades later, type Dan Quayle into Google and “potato” is swiftly auto-filled.
So it’s got to be driving Quayle nuts that he tacked an “e” on potato, faced a lifetime of mockery for it, and folks can say the things they are saying these days, and maybe Trevor Noah or Stephen Colbert can get a joke or two out of it before we move up yet another level on the lunatic meter.
And it ain’t just Trump. Though it is worth reminding folks that back on the 4th of July he praised George Washington’s military deftness as it related to airports. Which, you know, would not exist for another 150 years or so.
Which is not even the worst thing about that dumb statement. The worst thing is that in the very same sentence, he added that Washington’s army “did everything it had to do, and at Fort McHenry, under the rockets’ red glare, it had nothing but victory.”
Fort McHenry. In Baltimore. Where “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written by Francis Scott Key. During the War of 1812! Forty years later!
But since you presumably have to have a Ph.D. in U.S. history to remember such things, we just let that blunder fly right on by.
And that’s got to be driving 72-year-old Dan Quayle nuts.
Which brings us to the fascinating case of Pittsburgh Congressman Mike Kelly. He too somehow managed to say numerous silly things recently, in a remarkably condensed period of time.
“They talk about people of color. I'm a person of color. I'm white,” said Kelly last week, amidst the furor over Trump’s Twitter war with various liberal congresswomen, who, unlike Kelly, are not white.
“I'm an Anglo Saxon. People say things all the time, but I don't get offended. With a name like Mike Kelly you can’t be from anyplace else but Ireland.”
Everyone got hung up on whether or not whiteness was a color. Thus missing out on the truly reprehensible thing Kelly said.
I can’t pretend to have requested that Kelly spit into a tube, so I could have some saliva sleuth calculate Kelly’s ethnicity down to the decimal point. But based on what he himself said, based on the fact that he is Catholic, we can safely assume Kelly descends from Celtic folks.
You know, the people who White Anglo Saxon Protestants (WASPs) actually hated. And not 1,000 years ago.
Just over 50 years ago an anti-Irish, anti-Catholic fellow sat outside of the Kennedy’s family vacation home in Florida with a bomb in his truck. He was thinking seriously about driving the truck into the home, thus saving the country from the tyranny of a Vatican-controlled president.
But there is an ugly truth to Kelly’s historical gaffe. He and so many other Trump supporters are not WASPs. But they have convinced themselves they are.
And worse, they are acting like them, in their paranoia that “their” country is being invaded by refugees from “s***hole countries.” They are imitating the worst behavior of bigots like the KKK’s Imperial Wizard Hiram Wesley Evans, who, in the 1920s, said, "Our unity is threatened by hordes of immigrants…who bring foreign ideas and ideals into our land…we must stop the influx of foreigners."
Want to make American great again? Let’s get back to a time when misspelling potato was a real problem.
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