The danger of irrelevant old men
You may be pleased to learn that I’ve figured out what’s wrong with America. At least one of the many things that’s wrong with America. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea how to fix it. Hopefully, time and nature will help.
The malady isn’t dark money in politics, political disinformation fueled by social media, or the quirks of the Electoral College. Though none of those are helpful. It’s old men who don’t know when to leave the stage. I’m thinking in particular of Newt Gingrich, attorney Alan Dershowitz and Rudy Giuliani.
I can sympathize with these guys. Even if you’ve tasted a tiny measure of recognition it’s hard to give it up. The universe is constantly coughing up proof that even the most famous among us is insignificant; that anything other than humility is a fool’s game. Yet humanity, god love her, has created a system that allows for the illusion that some of us matter more than others, that we’re owed attention.
A lot of ink has been spilled and heads scratched wondering why Newt Gingrich, for example, has turned into such an ardent defender of Donald Trump; just this week he described the United States as a banana republic for having the temerity to confiscate top-secret documents from the former president’s private club. Perhaps Newt’s simply afraid that viewers have forgotten or are too young to remember that as Speaker of the House in the 1990’s he was the author of the smash mouth politics that Trump rode to victory and that lots of other Republicans, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis foremost among them, have been trying to imitate.
Alan Dershowitz I actually have some personal experience with. Mr. Dershowitz is famous for many things. He was made a full Harvard Law School professor at 28. He’s defended such unsavory characters as Claus Von Bulow, O.J. Simpson, Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein. Lately, he may be best known for griping that he’s been ostracized by his liberal Martha’s Vineyard friends for joining Donald Trump’s legal team during his first Senate impeachment trial.
I met him at one of those politically correct Martha’s Vineyard parties and subsequently interviewed him about a book he’d just published. Though to describe our meeting as an interview – he’d recently retired from teaching at Harvard, withdrawal possibly part of the problem – would be a mischaracterization of our encounter. If you’ll allow me to quote from my subsequent column in the Wall Street Journal: “It would be disingenuous – indeed, a big fat lie – to say I interviewed Alan Dershowitz about his new autobiography “Taking the Stand” on Tuesday afternoon. He talked while I listened and took notes like a callow freshmen in a senior constitutional law seminar.”
Perhaps it was all those years pontificating from behind a lectern, but I’d rarely met anybody as enamored of his own voice. He’d even ended the book with a posthumous letter to the editor that includes the admission, “I have always tried to get the last word.”
I suspect that’s what his star turn on the Trump impeachment team was about. I have trouble taking him at his word that his presence was required to defend the constitution. It was an opportunity for a retiree to hog the spotlight. I get it. I bristle when anybody asks me if I’m retired. I have no plans to retire. Writing, teaching law, or pontificating doesn’t exact much of a toll on the body. There’s no reason why you can’t go on forever.
Rudy Giuliani is the case study that has provoked the most puzzlement. Why would “America’s Mayor” demean himself and flirt with criminal contempt to defend Donald Trump’s election lies? People forget that before his heroically hands-on performance on 9/11 Giuliani wasn’t exactly a beloved figure. His autocratic tendencies as Mayor were apparent. He fired his police commissioner, Bill Bratton, because he was jealous Bratton was getting more credit than Rudy for New York City’s plummeting crime rate. Regarding his personal life, he informed the City Hall press corps that he was separating from his wife, Donna Hanover, while neglecting to tell her.
There have been many theories for Giuliani’s aberrant behavior, ranging from a drinking problem to senility. But the most likely is also the most obvious. He’s willing to endure all measure of embarrassment – who can forget the trickling hair dye episode – to stay in the news. The only thing worse than ridicule is irrelevance.
Why don’t I include the most famous sore loser in American history in this confederacy of scoundrels? Say what you will about Donald Trump but his notoriety never faded away and required resuscitation. He just keeps going and going, driven by demons and making them ours.
I had an editor once, at the pinnacle of her career, who told me seriously that she was more than happy to step aside for the next generation. If only some of the old men ruining America felt the same way.
Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com
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