Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.

By Andrew J. Pridgen

Meryl Streep should not have had to use her Golden Globes Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement acceptance speech as a battle cry. It should have been a long and lugubrious list of tipsy thank yous to her husband, children, friends, coworkers, agents, publicists and guardian angels who have helped her along the way to the most prolific and blessed career of any actress to date. She has given us a million hangover Sundays of brilliant performances (especially It’s Complicated for whatever reason), we could at least give her an indulgent eight minutes in return.

But, well, it’s Meryl. And, well, the times are different.

Without mentioning his name (so we won’t either) Streep excoriated the soon-to-be commander in chief by highlighting a 17-second ordeal from his campaign that was both something he thought would perhaps never come back to haunt him…as well as the most haunting thing we’ve ever seen a politician do.

Here’s the clip.

His defense is that he used some standard spastic arm waving at a rally mimicking New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski as a way to make, you know, fun of a people in general and even tried to turn it back around on the victim saying the gestures were making light of Kovaleski’s own, um, apology—as if any of this is anywhere near the realm of decent, acceptable or OK.

Here’s the thing that everyone who’s ever attended school through seventh grade knows: When you, of able body and (allegedly) sound mind do that kind of mimicry, it’s designed to make fun of a defenseless segment of the population. It is a cruel gesture, a mocking one. One that, at some point, someone a little older, a little kinder, a little wiser than you—a teacher, a mentor, a peer—lets you know this is not what we do. Then you grow up a little and realize…why it’s not.

Well, the majority of us do anyway.

Whatever his intentions were in relation to reporter Kovaleski does not matter one bit. It’s immaterial. The simple truth is we had a candidate who is now poised to take the highest office in the free world who would not only lower himself to such reprehensible playground behavior but is trying to defend and/or deny it months and months after the fact.

I don’t know what’s actually more abhorrent, him actually doing that…at age 70…or him—after being called out on it by one of the world’s greatest and most eloquent performers—refusing to own up to his own staggeringly offensive and unwatchable performance.

All he had to say of the incident and Streep’s speech that reminded the rest of us that whatever that was was but one of literal thousands of insulting beyond insults this man is capable of is: “She got me. Regardless of why or how I did what I did, it was disrespectful. It was unconscionable. I apologize and I can’t say…enough, of how sorry I am that that happened. But today is the beginning of a new era and I have new responsibilities and I want whatever that was to be a lesson, not just for myself, but for the millions of people who now have to call me their leader. Most importantly, to the millions of children who will now watch me lead, I want you to know how much watching that type of behavior—regardless of the context—pains me too. And I promise you, regardless of context or circumstance or intent, that acting out like that is something I will never, ever repeat again.”

That would be a start.

Instead 3 a.m. came around and we were treated to…More. Angry. Tweets.

Let’s start with his own lies here. Meryl Streep is overrated like John Lennon and Joe DiMaggio and Cleopatra are overrated (<- btw, overrated is one word Donnie. Sometimes I think it’d be best to send you back to school starting from scratch Billy Madison-style to learn a thing or two before getting the keys to the Oval Office.) 2) Hillary won, by a lot (3 million+ last count.) 3) No idea what’s up with the air quotes, but those seem to “come standard.” 4) He made fun of a disabled reporter by making mocking gestures, it’s on tape. Doesn’t matter what he said he was was doing, look at the tape. My two-year-old knows this lesson:

“Did you pour your milk on the ground?”

“No.”

“I watched you pour your milk on the ground. What do you say?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Did you make fun of the disabled reporter?”

“No.”

“I watched you make fun of the disabled reporter. What do you say?”

“I’m sorry.”

Trump reverting to his playbook of lying and denying only gives more credence to Streep’s speech.

When you have a person, one who is selected to be your leader, who cannot admit folly and foibles, who only uses his pulpit to demean, harass and call people who call him out on his lies—liars, who shakes down every bit of civility and humanity and empathy that we have spent millennia after millennia trying to groom. Who tries, every effing day, to discredit the credible, starting with those in the media. Who is a mere grizzled and warped subhuman who appeals only to the darkness in people and then goes darker after that—well, what else is there?

What saving grace, shred of dignity…hint of civility is left?

I feel like the man’s legacy, if there can be such a thing beyond scorched earth and stiffed workers, will be but a loosely strung together series of sound bites, tweets and footage that create a body of work showcasing how inept, unqualified and sick and sad and vile this thing the color of phlegm you get the moment you realize you’re really really sick really is.

But you already know this. People who read sites like this or columns like this are already on the path to trying to understand, trying to be helpful, trying to be compassionate. They don’t have to be perfect, but they do get it. Somewhere inside them, they feel something for others. Plain and simple. Do you have love in your heart? Do you want to be OK but see other people be OK too? Do you feel like the block you live on is stronger, healthier…a better place to be if everyone’s doing alright, not just you?

Good then, that’s most of us.

Clearly though, that’s not the case with the person we’ve put in charge. What’s scary is, and this is true for all of us whether you voted for him or not: He does not give a shit about you. Nope. Not at all. That was what Streep was saying. That’s what his footage—regardless of what or who it was about—shows.

You see, it isn’t about just one thing, it’s about everything.

And that’s what he’s not getting.

If Streep knows one thing, she knows acting. Good acting and bad acting and phone-it-in acting and ridiculously superb bordering on the sublime acting. And she’s more qualified than pretty much anyone to point out what we’ve done is put a B-movie slime creature at the helm and given him the right to act out (poorly) as he’s wont to do.

He should not have been taken seriously up to the point of the disabled reporter impression and certainly should not have been a candidate for public office after that. It’s a non-starter. Those who cannot show the most basic level of understanding and kindness beyond, you know, a seventh-grade level of crassness and cruelty that is punishable by suspension or expulsion, should not be eligible for the nation’s highest post. Those who only have served themselves should not become the world’s most relied-upon public servant.

But there he was and we did nothing about it, so here we are.

What Streep said was important and needs to be studied and emulated over and over and over and over. Because if there’s one thing that man and his followers do respond to, it’s repetition.

She is right, we are heartbroken right now. But we can and we will make art out of it. Those of us who care, who show concern for our fellow man, who do, you know, still feel something are now called upon to do something—we are portrayed as the minority, as a fringe movement. But we are not. We all know to our core what is right. And we need now, more than any time in this nation’s history, to turn this misery into understanding and solidarity—and we are mandated to do it on the double.

He can imitate the weak. He can douse the meek with insult. He can lie about it and change his story and discredit the truth tellers and try to get his legion to do the dirty work, the boycotts and the death threats and the MAGA memes (<- the latter are prevalent because they can’t form actual sentences), for him. He can push around those who do not have the platform to push back. But he cannot and will not take what’s left of what’s good in us.

Because what’s good, as Streep has shown us for four decades, is better than good…it’s peerless, timeless…and, most importantly, compellingly human.

Andrew J. Pridgen is the author of the novellaBurgundy Upholstery Sky”. His first full-length novel will be released in late-2017.

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