The early episodes of The Andy Griffith Show (which first aired in 1960) were filled with wonderful characters. One was Ernest T. Bass, which Wikipedia describes as “an ignorant and rowdy mountain man with a penchant for troublemaking, which wreaks havoc on the otherwise sedate town of Mayberry.” Now, Tr-mp is a different kind of mountain man—Tr-mp Tower is a Manhattan mountain—but he is as ignorant and rowdy as Ernest T. Bass. And he shares other traits. Here’s more from Wikipedia on Bass:
When threatened with the law, Ernest T. is adept at eluding Sheriff Taylor and Deputy Fife. He taunts the two lawmen with his famous catchphrase, “You ain’t seen the las’ of Ernest T. Bass!” Ernest T. loves breaking windows with rocks and prides himself on being “the best rock thrower in the county.” He is notoriously importunate with the women he desires, and regularly uses this tactic to get their attention. He also tries to impress people by informing them that he is saving up for a gold tooth. He once boasted that he had lifted a mule onto his shoulders and “tote’ her five miles to the doctor,” an impressive feat of strength (if true).
His behavior is summed up succinctly (and repeatedly) by Deputy Fife: “He’s a nut!“
Besides the obvious comparisons in personalities, I bring up Ernst T. in the context of Tr-mp’s speech last night because of one of my favorite Andy Griffith episodes ever, “My Fair Ernest T. Bass.” Andy and Barney dress up Ernest T. and try to teach him some manners so they can pass him off at a social gathering as Andy’s cousin from the big city of Raleigh. Ernest T. was looking for a woman he could marry. Here are a few seconds of how Andy was teaching him to speak to Mrs. Wiley, a socialite of Mayberry:
I thought about Ernest T. last night, just after all the gushing praise for Tr-mp’s speech came rolling in from cable television pundits and on Twitter. CNN’s instant poll, which admittedly was skewed toward those inclined to favor Tr-mp, showed “57% who tuned in saying they had a very positive reaction to the speech.” That was a good night for Tr-mp. A lot of Mrs. Wiley’s were impressed with his manners.
But it was the pundits on television last night, those who should know better, who got to me. I admit it. They got to me. The consensus was pretty much this: “Tr-mp looked presidential tonight.” After all we have seen, after all we have heard, after all the rock-throwing, Tr-mp stands up there and does the equivalent of “How do you do, Mrs. Wiley” and suddenly we have us a bona fide president on our hands.
There were the usual suspects, of course. Fox’s Chris Wallace said, “It was one of the best speeches in that setting I’ve heard any president give.” If that wasn’t enough, he added, “I feel like tonight Donald Tr-mp became the President.” One expects such puke-producing pap from a Fox host. But what one doesn’t expect is David Axelrod, former chief strategist for Obama, saying on CNN, “you’d have to be dead not to appreciate the moment, the change we just saw.” Well, I guess I’m dead. Or I passed on to an alternate universe. Or, maybe, I just happen to know who Ernest T. Bass really is.
Perhaps the worst offense of the night was committed by Van Jones, normally a sensible left-of-center voice on CNN. But not last night. Unbelievably, Jones fell in love with Tr-mp’s exploitation of the grief of Carryn Owens, wife of fallen Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, whose dad is not happy with Tr-mp and the dubious mission he authorized that got his son killed. Jones said on the air:
He became President of the United States in that moment, period. There are a lot of people who have a lot of reasons to be frustrated with him, to be fearful of him, to be mad at him. But that was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period.
And for people who have been hoping that he would become unifying, hoping that he might find some way to become presidential, they should be happy with that moment. For people who have been hoping that he would remain a divisive cartoon, which he often finds a way to do, they should begin to become a little bit worried tonight. Because that thing you just saw him do–if he can find a way to do that over and over again, he’s going to be there for eight years.
I can’t conjure up the words this early in the morning to describe such fruity analysis. Fortunately, Slate’s Will Oremus has already said it better than I ever could have:
While it’s fair to note that Trump had set himself a low bar going in, it’s also true that he delivered a strong-sounding speech quite convincingly and that he successfully orchestrated a wickedly effective bit of political theater by hitching his wagon to a dead sailor whom he cast as a hero.
Still, it takes a nasty case of recency bias for a political analyst to toss aside everything Trump has said and and done in his career to date and declare him “presidential” on the basis of a single impressive speech. It takes thick blinders to watch him move a war widow to tears and not see the hypocrisy at work in Trump’s willingness to profit politically from her husband’s death—even as he evades responsibility for it. And it takes a combination of shallowness and smarm that is peculiar to the mainstream media’s pundit class to ignore the rank xenophobia and fearmongering that characterized Trump’s speech and focus almost exclusively on his oratorical virtuosity. Then again, there are few things cable pundits relish more than an opportunity to declare that a candidate has attained that mythical quality of being “presidential.”
What’s remarkable is that CNN’s panel reverted to this sort of empty-headed boosterism even in response to a president who has repeatedly and strategically branded them as “fake news” in order to cover for his own bare-faced lies. It shows how deeply ingrained the old frameworks of judging a commander in chief remain and how uncomfortable the network must be with its new, unasked-for role as a truth-telling counterweight to a president whose habitual buffoonery makes it impossible to accord him the dignity of the office. By acting like a president for a night, Trump gave CNN license to act like CNN.
Needless to say, Ernest T. Bass eventually reverted to his old ways in that Andy Griffith episode. He just couldn’t maintain his newly-acquired manners. He started throwing rocks again. And Will Oremus perfectly captured that inevitablity with our own Ernest Tr-mp:
The good news—or the bad news, if you somehow found yourself persuaded along with Jones that Trump became a fundamentally different person Tuesday night—is that none of this will last. What the talking heads failed to properly emphasize was that Trump was different Tuesday night largely because he was reading word-for-word from a carefully prepared script. That’s something he very rarely does and is not likely to do again anytime soon. The moment he’s back at his Twitter feed, the unfiltered Trump will re-emerge, his fountain of falsehoods will burble back to life, and Van Jones’ grand pronouncement will have marked him as only the latest of the many suckers to fall for one of Trump’s cons.
Exactly. We ain’t seen the las’ of Ernest T. Bass.