If You Ask Me

America first: Great and dreadful inaugural addresses over the centuries

It’s been a week since Donald Trump made what the eminent conservative columnist George Will called “the most dreadful inaugural address in history.” 

It was easily the most awful in my memory, but it prompted me to wonder about the competition. What other presidents have made truly terrible inaugural addresses or, conversely, how many have made great, memorable speeches to launch their presidencies?

From the Land of Steady Habits to a state of decline

Connecticut, the longtime Land of Steady Habits, has turned into a state of decline. 

The decline comes in many forms from many causes. But the biggest is in people. More of them are going from than coming to Connecticut for a third year in a row, the shrinking Hartford Courant told its readers on Christmas morning. From July 2015 to July 2016, “the net outmigration was 29,880, more than twice as many as five years earlier.” Forty-two states increased their population in that period. Connecticut is one of the other eight.

Harry Truman, a president for his time and for our time

Just before Christmas, The Wall Street Journal had a piece on presidential oral histories, a relatively rare species that tends to range from revealing to self-serving.

But the story, which selected the best of the bunch, recalled a forgotten favorite of mine, “Plain Speaking,” the blunt reminiscences of an aging Harry Truman as told to the novelist and biographer Merle Miller. 

Trump brings back the Big Lie

This is how the Trump transition team responded to the CIA’s determination that Russia intervened in the election to help Donald Trump win the presidency.

“These are the same people who said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s time to move on and make America great again.” 

Well, not exactly. 

We, the people, don’t really pick our president every four years

It’s good to see the two people most intimately involved in next month’s meeting of the Electoral College have had similar views on that institution’s place in our democracy.

After the 2000 election, the first in 112 years that saw the winner of the popular vote lose the presidency, Hillary Clinton said, “It’s time to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our president.”

Hillary’s hubris cost her the Electoral College win

Donald Trump broke almost all the rules in his successful pursuit of the presidency. But Clinton broke some too, and her rule-breaking proved fatal.  

She lost because she showed disdain for Trump’s supporters instead of trying to attract some of them. (The “deplorables” remark was about as deplorable as it gets.)  And it turned out her strategy was pretty awful for so seasoned a politician, while his strategy, while mocked by many, worked.

Getting the news from all the wrong places

As we struggle through the final rounds of this vile presidential campaign, I was taken by the words of a writer who left journalism decades ago to write novels.

“All the better newspapers were struggling as if the news were no longer a priority or even a convenience. News was now a function of the mill called social media,” writes Ward Just in “The Eastern Shore,” the story of an elderly editor not unlike, said a reviewer, Ben Bradlee, the legendary Washington Post editor who died in 2014.

Boos ring out at dinner where candidates are always nice

Looking for some relief from this ugliest of all presidential contests, I decided to write about how kind the candidates were at the always benign Al Smith dinner. Then I watched it. 

If newspaper endorsements still count, Trump’s toast

Newspaper endorsements for president of the United States were once extremely important but that was long ago when most people got their news from professional journalists.

But if they still matter at all—and I devoutly hope they do—we’ll be enjoying a serving of Trump toast on Election Night, unless he’s no longer running by then.

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Judge’s truth hurts in blistering education ruling

Shameful, isn’t it, that it took a ruling by a Superior Court judge to acknowledge what we have known for so long: that Connecticut deprives its poorest, mostly minority students of their constitutionally guaranteed right to a proper education.  

Governors and legislators of both parties have known that this shameful condition has existed for more than half a century; the educational establishment, teachers, their unions, local governments and the courts have tolerated it; even, at times, upheld it.