Under Anesthesia, Everything Was Beautiful
My American dream made me feel proud, like there’s hope for our political class.
I saw this: The exhausted woman on the shelter cot was surrounded by stressed children when Melania came over, bent down and asked, “How are you doing?” The woman said, “Well — hurricane.” She realized who she was talking to and got flustered. “Those are nice shoes,” she said. They were flat ankle-boots, the kind you wear on the street or the park, only of the finest leather. “Thank you,” said Melania. She saw the woman’s soggy sneakers. “What size do you wear?” she asked, “Oh, 9,” said the woman. “They got bigger with the kids.”
Melania took off her boots and put them on the woman’s feet. She did this in a way that was turned away from the press, so they wouldn’t see. The woman’s daughter said, “Mommy, they’re nice.” Melania took from her bag a pair of white sneakers, put them on, and said, “Oh good, these are so comfortable.” They talked some more and Melania left and the mother looked to her kids and said, softly, “These are the first lady’s shoes.”
Donald was with an old woman in a wheelchair. She was spunky and funny and he loved her. She gestured toward his head and said, “It looks nice today.” He said, “I’m having a good hair day.” “Why do you do that?” she asked.
“Well, it’s a habit,” he said. “When I was young I had this thick brown hair that went down my brow like a swoop, and I looked like a Kennedy and it was beautiful. Then it started to get thin and gray, and it made me feel old, and old is weak.”
“Not for me, honey,” she said. “Does it take a long time to do?”
“About 20 minutes. After the shower, I comb, blow-dry, tease it a little, finish the blow-dry, then a lotta spray.”
“Why don’t you not do that?”
“It’s kinda my brand.”
“You got a new brand,” she said. “You’re president. Be normal.” He paused and said: “I was actually thinking of that.”
She told him she used to be a hairdresser. She said she’ll come to the White House and cut his hair. He turned, gestured; an aide ran over. “My beautiful friend here is coming to see me next week with scissors. Arrange it.” He kissed the old woman on the forehead. She gave a wave. “Goodbye, big boy.” The press was surrounding the FEMA guy with the update and missed it.
This happened just before the Mnuchin story got cleared up. The Treasury secretary had not asked for a government plane to take him on his honeymoon. His request got all bollixed up in transmission, but there was a paper trail. It turned out he was waiting at the airport with his new wife when he saw a guy in Army fatigues comforting a young woman in a white and yellow dress. She was crying. Mr. Mnuchin sent over an aide to find out what’s wrong.
The guy in fatigues had literally just flown in from Kabul. He and the woman had just married, in a chapel down the street. They’d been bumped from their honeymoon flight to Bermuda. Mr. Mnuchin said: “Give them my plane. Louise — we’re flying commercial.” They booked seats on the next flight to France and went to duty free, where they bought the best champagne and placed it in her Hermès bag. They wrote a note: “Every soldier on leave deserves a honeymoon, every bride deserves champagne.” The couple discovered the bag on the plush leather seat just as the pilot was saying: “Please be seated and buckle up, we’ve got special clearance.”
Also at this time Hillary Clinton’s book came out and it was transcendent — a book of historical heft, of depth. She was modest. No, humble. And she loves America like you wouldn’t believe.
“I know what you expect, a blame-shifting revenge fest,” she wrote. “But that would be a book of what I’ve come to see as ‘political little-ism’ — a book that reduces everything to personalities and polls, operatives and excuses. Smallness is killing us. I have been a major political figure in the late 20th and early 21st century in America. My elective career is over. Here I tell you what I know about the age we’re in, its most crucial challenges, what gets in the way of our meeting them, and how we can get around what gets in the way.”
She was unsparing. She said that after 30 years at the top of American life she knew the biggest, most dangerous shift in our political reality came “when the American people began to detach from those at the top, for the simple reason that they’d come to understand the top had detached from them.” She covered the landscape — wars, political money-grubbing, bad faith, immigration, globalism. “Those at the top,” she wrote, “proceeded as if they were unconcerned with what was being asked of the middle and the bottom. My candidacy got caught in the crossfire — understandably, because I had long been at the top, and many saw me as oblivious.”
Cynics expected she would blame her 2016 loss on the fact that she is a woman. America is sexist, misogynistic — in its dumb way, cannot imagine a woman as president.
“To be candid,” she wrote, “I had that in my first draft.” Sheer honesty left her reckoning with Angela Merkel of Germany, democratically elected and seen since the Obama era as the true leader of the West. “I had to wrestle, too, with the groundbreaking leadership of Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher, of Indira Gandhi and Cory Aquino. America is not more backward than their nations, the engine of its heart is not driven by ugly isms.”
Yes, she noted, women in national life, especially in this technologically and culturally brutalist age, have it harder. Only a fool would say otherwise. But she wondered if there wasn’t something deeper: “Part of the challenge is that voters expect not less from women, but more. They have higher expectations, because deep down they think more of women. It is a compliment, though a difficult one. Golda is the toughest, Indira the most ruthless, Thatcher the most unwavering. They elect a woman when they can tell she’s better than the guys. And not enough saw me as better than the guys. They saw me as one of the guys — one of the leadership class that sank us.”
She didn’t blame sexism for her loss, she said, because she didn’t want to demoralize girls or discourage women. And she didn’t want to scapegoat boys and men: “They have no cultural champion now, no one’s officially on their side, they’re culturally out of style. But they need encouragement too.”
On the book tour she let everyone into her appearances free. America saw her anew. People listened. She was redeemed and appreciated.
It made me feel proud, like there’s hope for our political class.
That is what I saw this week.
I should note — this part is true — that I saw much of it while anesthetized for a minor surgical procedure. For an hour afterward, even knowing it was either a fantasy or a dream, I felt so … hopeful. Cheerful. Proud. I give it to you.
Reprinted by permission from peggynoonan.com.