Like many of you, I should think, I spend a certain amount of time listening to National Public Radio, in my case when I am in my car running errands. Today, I took Susie to the dentist and sat outside in my car waiting for her. I tuned in a show called “1A,” short for “First Amendment.” It is the successor to the Diane Rehm Show which ran here in North Carolina for many years from 10 am to noon five days a week. The show is hosted by someone named Joshua Johnson who sounds to me like a young man [although everyone sounds young to me.] The topic was what to make of Trump’s recent rash of adoring statements and friendly overtures to a pretty fair sampling of the world’s dictators – Putin, Erdogan, Duterte, Kim Jong-un. In the course of the conversation, I heard something I had never heard before on NPR. What struck me most forcefully was the spontaneous eruption it triggered from Johnson.
I should explain to my overseas readers that talk shows on NPR are almost always polite, informed, restrained, apolitical or if not that then politically balanced, the ideal fare for urban upper middle class college educated types who can be counted on to vote, to support good causes, to recycle, and to express sympathy for the poor, for the homeless, for the oppressed and of course for Native Americans. Listening to NPR makes me feel clean, the way I have always imagined Catholics feel after finally going to confession. The one thing missing from the typical NPR talk show is truth, naked, raw, unqualified, unapologized for truth.
In the discussion today, the guests were being asked to speculate on the reasons for certain of Trump’s recent statements and actions: the congratulatory call to Erdogan, the invitation to Duterte, the rather unanticipated statement that he would be “honored” to meet with Kim Jong-un. Why would Trump speak in this way about rulers who murdered their own countrymen, even their own relatives, rigged elections, oppressed opponents, threw reporters in jail?
One after another, guests speculated that Trump was trying to upend long-standing American foreign policy, or was speaking thoughtlessly, or had some hidden negotiating strategy in mind. To each of these guests, Johnson responded courteously, respectfully, clearly signaling that these were just the sorts of sober, serious, thoughtful comments he wished to encourage.
Then it happened. One of the guests, I do not know whom it was, said quietly, “I think it is envy.” Johnson erupted almost before the words had been uttered. In a loud, flustered voice, he burst out, “But you cannot mean that you think he would like to do those things! But, but, but, surely you do not mean that.” Johnson went on in this way, speaking over his guest, who was trying, so far as I could hear, to say “Yes, I think that is just what he wants to do.”
It was so manifestly, obviously, undeniably true, and at the same time so nakedly partisan, that it made Johnson’s head explode.
It was, in its simplicity, the truest thing I had ever heard on NPR. I do not imagine that guest will be invited back.