“Mister Rogers” vs. “Someone’s Crazy Uncle”

“Mister Rogers” in his trademark cardigan sweater

Mercedes Schlapp, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump’s campaign, evidently felt it was a slur when she tweeted, “Well @JoeBiden @ABCPolitics townhall [sic] feels like I am watching an episode of Mister Rodgers [sic] Neighborhood.” Meanwhile, over at the other town hall extravaganza, this one on the plethora of NBC networks, moderator Savannah Guthrie provided an apt metaphor when she castigated Trump for retweeting an outrageous and unproven conspiracy theory accusing Biden of arranging the murder of a team of Navy SEALs to cover up the alleged fake death of Osama bin Laden. “I don’t get that, you’re the president. You’re not, like, someone’s crazy uncle,” Guthrie said when Trump tried to claim it was just a “retweet. I’ll put it out there. People can decide for themselves. I don’t take a position.”

President Donald Trump with moderator Savannah Guthrie in last Thursday’s town hall

“Pretty telling that this crew thinks Mr. Rogers is the bad guy,” tweeted Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist. Schlapp’s tweet quickly went viral, which is no surprise since many who grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood thought her comparison a compliment. At the same time, Guthrie’s description of Trump as “someone’s crazy uncle” resonated with many who were appalled by the president’s refusal to denounce QAnon, a sprawling internet conspiracy theory. Trump’s estranged niece, Mary Trump, who wrote a bestselling book about her uncle’s lying, narcissism, and cruelty, tweeted, “Actually…”.

So, this most critical election has become a battle between a beloved host of a long-running children’s TV show and the relative no one wants to sit next to at Thanksgiving dinner. 

John Rogers, the son of Fred Rogers, told TMZ that comparing anyone to his father is a compliment, not an insult. The younger Rogers went on to say that Biden is worthy of the praise and is a gentle man like his father. John is not the only Rogers to speak kindly about Biden. Fred’s widow, Joanne, recently described herself as a “very big Biden fan,” adding, “I think we all need somebody like Biden who can give us little pats on the back.”

Joe Biden with 13-year-old Brayden Harrington

Biden’s empathy is legendary. Anyone who watched the moving tribute shown in August at the Democratic National Convention from 13-year-old Brayden Harrington, a youngster who stutters, like Biden as a boy, knows that Biden is a compassionate and humane man. Those descriptors are not likely to be found in the same sentence with the word “Trump.”

“Crazy uncle” does not begin to capture the malevolence of an irrational, petulant, and lying transactional president who appears to judge supporters and opponents by only one test: Who says kind words about him. He refuses to denounce White supremacists and QAnon conspiracists because, well, those folks are part of his base. For Trump, it matters little how outrageous and abhorrent a group may be if it passes the Trump loyalty test.

At his campaign rallies, Trump substitutes bile and vitriol for overviews of substantive policy proposals. A current rally bestseller is references to Biden and corruption. Nobody with an ounce of critical judgment buys The New York Post story last week about Biden and his son, but truth never stopped Trump from throwing red meat to his core supporters. “Our base loves the stuff about Hunter Biden, laptops, and Mayor Giuliani, but they’re already voting for Trump.” said David Kochel, a Republican strategist in Iowa who thinks Trump should be “laser-focused on the economy” as an argument to attract wavering voters.

President Trump in Muskegon, Michigan, Saturday

Equally outrageous — and far more dangerous — is the reappearance at Trump rallies of the “lock ‘em up” chant. Four years ago, Trump laughed when his supporters chanted “lock her up” in reference to his opponent, Hillary Clinton. That chant never disappeared, even though Trump won the election, and now Trump grins when the crowd calls for locking up everyone from Biden to Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “Lock ‘em all up,” Trump said Saturday at a rally in Muskegon, Michigan. “It’s incredibly disturbing,” responded Whitmer to Trump’s irresponsible behavior, “that the president of the United States, 10 days after a plot to kidnap, put me on trial, and execute me, 10 days after that was uncovered, the president is at it again and inspiring and incentivizing and inciting this kind of domestic terrorism.” Disturbing, yes, surprising, no!

Biden — forever Mister Rogers — believes he still can bridge the nation’s stark partisan divide. Posing as “the kumbaya candidate,” as Elaine Godfrey called him in The Atlantic, has worked for Biden in the past. It helped fuel his come-from-behind primary victory, and it probably explains, at least in part, Biden’s steady double-digit lead in the polls. Biden’s sunny pitch to resurrect the bipartisan comity of the past plays well against Trump’s bullying, but it is probably antiquated as a recipe for mending our broken politics.

In truth, the Republican party is full of “crazy uncles.” Trump has a hardcore base of supporters, many of whom likely believe that the only way he can lose on November 3 is if the election is rigged. They believe it because Trump has told them so. His overlapping coalition of evangelical Christians who made a Faustian bargain over conservative federal judges, nutty followers of QAnon, and White supremacists will not accept a victory by nice Mister Rogers.

Mister Rogers likely will beat “someone’s crazy uncle” and will be inaugurated on January 20. But, Mister Rogers is going to have a tough time convincing everyone to play nicely in the neighborhood.

Posted October 20, 2020

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