In Search Of A Tipping Point: Trump, The Microphone, And Thomas Dewey’s Ghost

Tom Dewey

The question is what will be the tipping point with Donald Trump, the incident, large or small, that suddenly causes the scales to fall from the eyes of his so far endlessly tolerant supporters, and cause them to suddenly realize what they are doing, exclaim, “My God! This man is a jerk!” and end this sick romance. The human being behind the ugly mask is uglier still, after all. Sooner or later, a tipping point will be reached.

In 1948, Republican Tom Dewey, who already had given FDR his best battle in an election, was poised to defeat the unpopular President Harry Truman and become President of the United States. It was less than a month from election day when, in Beaucoup, Illinois,  Dewey was speaking on the rear platform of a train as a tactic to counter Truman’s 30,000-mile whistle-stop campaign. The engineer accidentally backed the train up a short distance and stopped with a jolt, frightening both the candidate and the crowd. Dewey, flustered, snapped, “This is the first lunatic I’ve had as an engineer. He probably ought to be shot at sunrise, but I guess we can let him off because nobody was hurt!”

Nobody laughed. This was a petulant, privileged, arrogant side of Dewey that the public had never seen before, and was played up by papers as emblematic of a contempt  for working Americans. It didn’t help that he wore a fussy, anachronistic  mustache mocked by Alice Roosevelt Longworth as making her visualize Dewey as “the bridegroom on the wedding cake,” but whatever his other flaws, the train incident and his unguarded moment of impatience may have cost Thomas Dewey the election.

Yesterday, during an overflowing rally in Pensacola, Florida, the Republican poll-leader for the party’s Presidential nomination became annoyed by a balky microphone and attacked an anonymous sound engineer.

“And by the way I don’t like this mic, whoever the hell brought this mic system, don’t pay the son of a bitch who brought it in,” The Donald ranted. “No this mic is terrible, stupid mic keeps popping…Don’t pay him. You know I believe in paying, but when somebody does a bad job like this you shouldn’t pay the bastard,” Trump continued.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the real Donald Trump!

Sure, it was just a moment and a mic, just as Dewey’s Waterloo was a moment and a train. Small incidents can be regarded as having signature significance, and then they are tipping points in public perception, the unplanned moment that pulls everything together and makes people realize that whatever the limits are to the personality flaws they will tolerate in their national leaders, this exceeds it.

Maybe the popping microphone will be Trump’s Dewey moment, when ordering his staff to throw a protester into the cold without his coat, mocking a reporter’s physical maladies, insulting prisoners of war and other boorish, ugly moments weren’t enough to drop those veils. You never know: tipping points are often cumulative.

I am certain that even if this wasn’t it,Trump’s Dewey moment is coming. The nation can only hope that it happens before the Republican Convention, and not after.

30 thoughts on “In Search Of A Tipping Point: Trump, The Microphone, And Thomas Dewey’s Ghost

  1. It should have happened the moment he said that Senator McCain was not a hero. Even if you disagreed with everything he said before that, he was saying things that were somewhat fair for a presidential candidate-at least in the substance, if not always in the delivery. However, when he said that this man wasn’t a hero he betrayed himself as having the intellectual and moral capacities I had when I was thirteen years old when I couldn’t understand why The Diary of Anne Frank was such a big deal. After all, I assumed, wouldn’t anyone who suffered through such a fate be just the same? Answer: No. Her heroism was not what she went through, but her ability to maintain her faith in humanity in spite of it. Similarly, McCain’s heroism was about his ability to maintain his patriotic spirit in the face of the horrors to which he was confronted. At .least for me, I had the slight excuse of being a boorish thirteen year old boy. What’s Trump’s excuse?

  2. Unfortunately the many more egregious things Trump has said hasn’t caused the “scales” to fall from his followers eyes. The mic comment will be related to by many. “I had someone do a bad job at X and I still had to pay him.” They won’t side with the person who brought in the system, but the idea that poor work shouldn’t be rewarded. As much as Trump irritates I recognize that this is part of his attraction. He says the rude thing that many would like to say.

        • In his case, however, it could be accomplished ny changing show, from one where he was a villain to one where his role was to be a flawed but lovable hero. Just like Lou Grant had the capacity to change from a funny, ironic foil for Mary Tyler Moore at a TV station to an unfunny, sanctimonious, tedious liberal editor at a big city newspaper.

          • True, partly necessitated by the departure of heavyweight jut-jawed heroes John Kelly (David Caruso) and Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits) and a lack of more heavyweight heroes to take the lead. It also led to James Martinez (Nicholas Turturro), who was originally envisioned as a protégé for Kelly, being reduced, at least for a while, to saying things like “I’ll go work the canvas.”

            One of these days I’d like to see a whole feature on the ethics of law enforcement-based entertainment, from Jack Webb’s ethical, but perhaps hopelessly square, sermons as Joe Friday up to the borderline horror of SVU and the dystopia of Chicago PD.

        • Andy could and did change, as far as his attitudes toward those of a different color and orientation went, partly because he found out his dad had been feeding him lies about what a black man actually did to him and partly because he actually got to know a (somewhat stereotypical) gay person. He still loses points for not easing up on brutality, and I hate to say that Trump is probably perfectly ok with brutality, cast as “cutting through all the bs” and dealing out deserved street justice. If we don’t respect the process when it’s applied to someone else, we really have nothing to complain about when it gets disregarded as to us.

  3. Thanks for the running total. Not that I know any Trump-supporters but having more than one point of argument always makes me feel more secure, and this batch is piling up so unevenly (you never know who will be outraged by which) it’s likely to spill over on his head. Hopefully soon, as noted.

    • I know exactly one Trump supporter. A generally likable person, but somewhat of a victim complex. She liked Trump because he “told it like it was”. I don’t think she paid very close attention to any he said.

  4. He gets away with it because he says things people either think or say in their worst moments. Sort of like lawyers think a juror wouldn’t convict a drunk driver if they could remember times they were driving drunk and were just lucky to get away with it.

    Up until now in our history we have voted for people who speak like our best selves. After 60 years of cultural rot we don’t have a best self anymore. Nor do we think there is a need for it. Even the appearance of it.

  5. Unfortunately, I don’t think this line of reasoning applies to Trump. Whatever attraction his campaign holds for people lies in the precise fact that in a vulgar, unethical, lewd, and generally boorish manner he is poking the whole American political machine in the eye, repeatedly. To his fans, the phrase “cuckservative” is pleasing not just because it attacks a group of politicians who have not followed party orthodoxy stringently enough, but also because it is insulting and demeaning. Trumpishness is anti-compromise, anti-polite, and takes a perverse delight in offending people because it is founded on the conceit that Americans are too quick to fall on the fainting couches and reach for the smelling salts when confronted with “hate-facts” that don’t immediately conform to a multicultural worldview. Every time Trump has a Dewey moment, his partisans will only love him more.

    • There are limits. People who succeed by breaching conventional wisdom and historically valid rules always, always break one they can’t afford to, by definition. Their destruction is assured by their success. There may be more reliable lessons of history, but not many.

  6. I have a friend who engineered the sound for a large church back when McCain was a candidate. He visited the church for a “town meeting”.

    My friend locked all the unused gear away, and for the event distributed only freshly batteried hand held wireless mics for the event with screw on caps on the bottom. Such caps are specifically designed to prevent clumsy performers from accidentally touching the controls on the bottom of the mic– where one could turn the mic off, change the battery, or worst of all, change the frequency. Then color coded the mics with bright spike tape, so that while he was at the sound board he could instantly tell which mic/channel he was dealing with.

    The plan was for McCain to give a speech, then take questions from the floor. Runners would carry one of three hand helds to the person with the query, so the question could be heard throughout the house. There was a fourth back up.

    If all of this sounds pretty standard for people who know what they’re doing and have done many such events before: well, it is.

    That evening, during the event, the question and answer session occurs. The first mic, it develops, is dead. A quick check reveals that ALL FOUR are dead. Irked at having to come the the edge of the stage and get close to an actual person to hear an actual question, or perhaps just trying to infuse humor at an awkward moment, McCain points to the back of the house, right at my friend, and says to the crowd, “Fire that guy!”

    He gets a laugh. Except from my friend, of course.

    Turns out the Secret Service removed all the batteries without telling anyone. And neatly respiked the spike tape. Evidently, they imagined the mics could be alternatively cabled or something– the point is unclear– but my friend did get a security speech about how we can’t allow batteried items around a candidate when we don’t know what they do.

    I can tell you from sad experience, such things are almost NEVER the sound guy’s fault, though they may be his responsibility. Bad sound is usually generated by sound ignorant people stepping in front of the engineering for some “better” reason. That, or Someone Decided To Hire Their Nephew.

    I think it’s _bad_ at best that Tump, who relies on his management skills, doesn’t understand even that much about teamwork with technicians. …. Of course, he lost my vote long ago.

    Regarding Dewey, that mustache looked pretty good on Clark Gable. Anything would right? So doubtless, we could also say that Dewey had a problem in that he wasn’t exactly Clark Gable. My personal feeling is that Trump also has this problem, indeed, I’d have said that Trump’s hair problems dwarf Dewey’s, but

    there sure seem to be a lot of people responding to Trump’s “personal magnetism” and not much more.

  7. The Trump microphone incident brings back a few of my favorite character quotes that I’d like to share…

    Character is developed and revealed to others by how we confront obstacles in our life not by what those obstacles are.

    True character is revealed in ones instantaneous reaction to life’s challenges.

    Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.

    Character can easily be revealed by what we outwardly support and by what we condone with our own inaction whether that inaction is driven by choice or being apathetic.

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