Along with many other Americans, I like someone who shoots straight and doesn’t pull punches, someone who will tell it like it is without fear of being politically incorrect.
For many Americans, that “someone” is Donald Trump, a man who has said more politically incorrect things in a few months of presidential campaigning than many politicians say in a lifetime.
For some, this is very refreshing.
For others, it’s deeply disturbing, not because of his boldness but because of his rudeness.
Now, to be clear, as a New York Jew (currently living in North Carolina but with that aggressive New York spirit alive and well within me), I understand the “art” of sarcasm, and I don’t believe in candy coating our differences with some kind of Southern, genteel charm.
In fact, when my wife, Nancy, and I lived near Pensacola, Florida from 1996-2003, we experienced almost daily culture shock (I’m sure the people around us experienced some culture shock too; Nancy is also a New York Jew).
It was not just that everything seemed to move so slowly.
It was also that our direct manner of speech was perceived as being impolite (or worse), while on our part, while we loved the sweetness of the people and found much of the culture to be far more Christian than our previous milieu, we often wondered what was behind the lovely smiles.
New Yorkers might be brusque, but at least you knew what they were thinking.
All that to say that I have no problem with Trump’s forthrightness and I would much rather have a bold lion running for a president than someone who tip-toed around the issues for fear of sounding offensive.
Tell me the truth, the whole truth, the hard truth, and tell me straight and plain.
That’s what I want to hear and that’s what so many Americans want to hear.
But there is a difference between gutsy truth-telling and abrasiveness, and unfortunately, Donald Trump is consistently guilty of the latter, which might well be the undoing of his campaign.
Really now, can you picture the president of the United States attacking world leaders the way Trump has attacked political rivals, newscasters, and others?
To repeat: I’m not looking for a sissified candidate, and I would reject a spineless candidate in a split second, no matter what other appeal he or she had.
But America needs someone with chutzpah, not rudeness, and there is a world of difference between the two.
Chutzpah is a Jewish (Yiddish) word that comes from a Hebrew/Aramaic root and speaks of a particular nerve or courage that would cause people to say, “I can’t believe he had the gall to say that. What chutzpah!”
As classically explained by the Yiddish scholar Leo Rosten, chutzpah is “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.”
Chutzpah is an impudence that borders on shamelessness, but when it is in the cause of right, it is courageous and commendable.
It took real chutzpah for Ronald Reagan to stand at the Brandenburg Gate near the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987 and say, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Is that what you say to the leader of the Soviet Union while standing next to the wall that his country helped build?
Absolutely, if you’re committed to doing what is right rather than bowing down to fear of conflict or selling out to toothless diplomacy.
It also took real chutzpah for Elie Wiesel to confront President Reagan two years earlier when Wiesel was at the White House to receive the Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement, the highest honor that the government gives to civilians.
President Reagan was scheduled to go to Germany and visit the Bergen Belsen concentration camp, where Anne Frank died, and then, the same day, to attend ceremonies at the Bitburg military cemetery, where, it was learned, 47 SS soldiers, members of the Nazi elite guard, were buried.
As he stood to receive his prestigious gold medal, Wiesel said to the president (while declaring his respect and admiration for him), “The issue here is not politics, but good and evil. And we must never confuse them. For I have seen the SS at work. And I have seen their victims. They were my friends. They were my parents. Mr. President, there was a degree of suffering in the concentration camps that defies imagination.”
He continued with this appeal: “May I, Mr. President, if it’s possible at all, implore you to do something else, to find a way, to find another way, another site? That place, Mr. President, is not your place. Your place is with the victims of the SS.”
What chutzpah to say this to the leader of the free world when he is personally honoring you with a congressional award in the White House.
Now, contrast the chutzpah of Reagan and Wiesel with Donald Trump’s attacks on Megyn Kelly (she “had blood coming out of her whatever”), Carly Fiorina (“Look at that face!”), and Marco Rubio (“He sweats more than any young person I’ve ever seen in my life”), just to name a few, and you see the difference between chutzpah and rudeness.
Just imagine how much more effective Donald Trump could be if he learned the difference between the two.