In one typically funny Monty Python sketch, author Oscar Wilde walks into a drawing room and says something pithy to the Prince of Wales: “Your Highness, there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” Bystanders laugh for an extended time in a sycophantic manner.
Wilde says something else and, again, he evokes laughter. Once again, Wilde says something similarly inane, but suddenly he faces stunned silence. The Python troupe apparently was poking fun at an incident in Wilde’s career, but I thought of the skit in the context of Donald Trump and the midterms.
First, we have a former president who can think of nothing worse than not being talked about. Second, I’m reminded of how Trump continues to make, er, unusual comments that for years have evoked thunderous applause, but suddenly fewer people find them funny anymore. Something changed after the GOP’s electoral flop.
After Trump gave his big speech on Tuesday, most networks and even Fox News downplayed the rambling talk. The New York Post—a reliably pro-Trump publication—featured this headline at the bottom of its front page: “Florida man makes announcement.” Buried on Page 26, the Post published a brutal short item under the headline, “Been there, Don that.”
“With just 720 days to go before the next election, a Florida retiree made the surprise announcement that he was running for president,” the article explained. “Avid golfer Donald J. Trump kicked things off at Mar-a-Lago, his resort and classified-documents library.” Ouch.
Perhaps Trump Fever finally has broken, which is encouraging after digesting the substance of his speech. He championed law-and-order themes that are inappropriate in a constitutional republic. He vowed to restore public safety by sending the military into cities even if cities don’t want the “help.”
Trump even touted China’s model for handling drug dealers: “If you get caught dealing drugs, you have an immediate and quick trial. And by the end of the day, you’re executed.” Our Constitution assures due process for anyone accused of a crime. Only under totalitarianism can someone be accused of a crime, judged, and executed on the same day. That’s childish posturing, not serious policy.
Nationally, Trump was the biggest loser on Election Day, even though he wasn’t on the ballot. Fortunately, voters rebuked other politicians with a similarly un-American sense of justice. Los Angeles County voters gave the heave-ho to Sheriff Alex Villanueva. They chose former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna, who seems like a normal reform-oriented lawman, by a 60-percent to 40-percent margin.
Unlike Trump, Villanueva at least conceded defeat. But his concession speech contained all the whiny, self-focused blather we’ve come to expect. “Every adversity I’ve faced throughout my years in law enforcement has always propelled me to a bigger stage, a bigger audience and a bigger voice,” he said. He certainly has a big voice, but perhaps voters had grown as tired of it as they’ve grown of Trump’s.
As NBC News reported, Villanueva “blamed defeat on what he claimed was a sweeping misinformation campaign and the use of ‘false narratives’ focused on issues including alleged deputy gangs, his alleged resistance of oversight by the county and Civilian Oversight Commission and other allegations of internal harassment and retaliation against purported whistleblowers.”
In April, Villanueva held a press conference where he pointed to a photo of a Los Angeles Times reporter and hinted that she may be a target in a criminal-leak investigation. He later relented, but instead of being observably concerned by the Times‘ reported allegations that “sheriff’s officials attempted to cover up an incident in which a deputy knelt on the head of a handcuffed inmate for three minutes,” he harangued the reporter.
Then there are the deputy-gangs allegations. Some deputies “have been accused of celebrating police brutality, intimidating and retaliating against fellow deputies, and running a shadow hierarchy that operates outside the chain of command,” per LAist.
Deputy gangs undermine trust in law enforcement and could violate citizens’ rights, but Villanueva calls them “cliques” and claims to have handled the problem. He defied subpoenas to testify and viewed the allegations as a political smear. He seemed unconcerned that some of his deputies may sport tattoos with alleged gang names such as Banditos and Executioners.
“I don’t expect deputies to get tattoos of Hello Kitty,” he said during a re-election kickoff event. “These are grown men and women and the tattoos they put on themselves. That’s an expression of their First Amendment right.” Wow.
Is it any wonder voters chose Luna, an outsider who has vowed to rid the department of gangs and insist on professional behavior? For a while, the public laughed at the tawdry things Villanueva and Trump have been saying about criminal justice. No more. The only thing better than watching them lose, however, is to watch better people take their place.
This column was first published in The Orange County Register.