New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow picked up an award for promoting dialogue and understanding Wednesday, then declared America at war over truth in a wide-ranging speech that ridiculed Donald J. Trump and lamented his presidency.
Blow, 46, has used his opinion page column to critique Trump, writing recently that the president of the United States “has the intellectual depth of a coat of paint.” He devoted much of his 18-minute speech to expanding on that theme.
“Trump is also an attack on scholarship and history. Forget for a minute that he talks like a third grader,” he said to laughter. “Forget for a moment that he has gathered one of the least educated cabinets in the recent memory.”
“Lies spring forth from his mouth like water from a hose,” he said at one point. “He corrupts and corrodes the absoluteness of truth and facts and science.”
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The event happened to coincide with the United Nations’ World Press Freedom Day and although Blow, a columnist at the paper since 2008, didn’t mention it, he also focused a portion of his talk to the president’s attacks on the press.
“In his mind, adulation is the only honesty,” he said.
And this: “Trump keeps signaling that if he had his druthers he would silence dissent altogether… These principles of free press and free speech, which are almost as old as the country itself, are not things to be tinkered with on a whim. Trump’s dictatorial instincts to suppress what he deems negative speech, particularly from the press, is the very thing that the founders worried about.”
He offered a tutorial on the president’s recent comments on the 19th Century thinker and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, noting that Trump’s words suggested he did not realize he was dead, and his praise of former President Andrew Jackson, who Blow called “an extreme white separatist” who died owning more than 150 slaves.
Jackson, he said, “wasn’t winding down his idea that people should be held as slaves. He was ramping it up. People like to say that he was nice to his slaves because he gave them food. What? Seriously? That’s called humanity.”
“You cannot bend history enough to tell me that a man who would exploit slaves and pay them no money is a person who is interested in economic populism. Those things don’t go together. And if we had a president who read, he would know that. This is a war. It’s a war over what it means to be honest. It’s a war about what the definition of truth is. And facts. And science. And history. And in the end truth must win.”
The speech was sponsored by MCCJ, which presented Blow with its annual Hank Meyer Headliners Award at a breakfast sponsored by several community organizations and business, including the Miami Herald. MCCJ was founded in Miami in 1935 as the Miami branch of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Its motto is, “Embracing diversity, building an inclusive community.”
The organization said the award, launched in 1979, is presented “to outstanding members of the media who used their skills and communication to promote dialogue and understanding between and among the diverse members of American society.” Its program hailed Blow’s columns on “politics, public opinion and social justice,” calling them a “platform for resistance to the current atmosphere of hateful and discriminatory rhetoric.”
Blow spoke to an audience of students, journalists, community and religious leaders at the Rusty Pelican restaurant on Key Biscayne, the skyscrapers of downtown Miami’s financial district as his backdrop — and entertained questions.
The Miami Herald’s editorial page editor Nancy Ancrum asked Blow if, in his remarks on Andrew Jackson, Trump was telegraphing his world view, that during that era America “was a great nation” that put blacks and native Americans in their place.
“Sometimes I’m tempted to believe there’s a brilliant maniacal mind at work,” Blow replied. “And then I am convinced otherwise.”
Blow cast the president as obsessed with several things, including New York's social scene. “He never got invited to the right parties, no matter how much money he made, because they thought he was gross.”
“That obsession is crazy. You’re the president. You can let it go now. You made it. Dad would be proud, but he can’t let it go. And it’s sad. And it’s tragic.”