By Tom Allon
Aside from squiring three spectacular children, one of my proudest achievements in life has been dumping a glass of beer in the lap of Ann Coulter about three decades ago.
She and I were college classmates at Cornell, and well before the world came to know her as the conservative fire breather that she has become, I would occasionally debate politics with her at a neighborhood bar. One time, she took a right-wing position that was so preposterous and insulting (I cannot remember the exact argument), I decided the only way to douse her inflammatory rhetoric was by draining my brew in a place that would stop her mouth from flapping.
I thought of that incident recently while watching the second Republican presidential debate. That night, Coulter managed to light up Facebook with her intentionally shocking tweet: “How many f——- Jews do they think there are in this country?” she ranted, in her incendiary critique of her party’s would-be leaders.
I am the son of Holocaust survivors and a proud American Jew. Was I offended by Coulter’s stupid comment? Not really. I know that everything she says is calculated to shock so as to get her more attention, sell more books, and make her the bad girl of the Republican Party. I don’t believe she is an anti-Semite; she is a carnival performer who barks as loudly as possible so the spotlight stays on her ring of the circus.
Which brings us to Donald Trump, the current leader of the Republican Party’s presidential reality show. Trump reminds me a lot of Ann Coulter; they use similar techniques to keep themselves in the media glare and because neither has the capacity to feel shame, they will say anything they can to shock and amuse the public and the press.
Coulter and Trump are perfect examples of people who are celebrities because they are famous. Fame is a means to an end for both; their brand is themselves and their mouths and they have both successfully managed to stay relevant for a few decades by continuing to push the envelope of decency further and further.
After the summer of Trump and the rantings of Coulter, it was refreshing to have a few days respite from both—and the whole Republican circus—when Pope Francis graced the Northeast with his progressive brand of Catholicism.
I knew before he got here that this was a man of deep substance when I heard his reaction to gay marriage: “Who am I to judge?”
A pope, the leaders of millions of Catholics, decided to display the better angels of his religion by not judging, not preaching, not condemning. His whirlwind trip through New York left pixie dust everywhere he went; I heard one television anchor say incredulously that he’s covered New York City for many years and has never seen a happier, more gentle time than the 36 hours of Pope Francis’ visit.
Like a true moral leader, he implored the United Nations to pursue real nuclear disarmament. Published reports said that even the president of Iran heartily applauded that.
He talked about the deafening silence of the poor, the disadvantaged, the overlooked in New York. His understated tone and words spoke volumes. If words can heal, Pope Francis is a miracle doctor.
He said that we are all either immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, a poignant reminder in this increasingly xenophobic age. Instead of shunning immigrants we should all open our arms to the stranger, the refugee in our midst. He implored the leading countries of the world to come together to fix the gaping wound—Syria, that is—in the Middle East.
In an era where presidential candidates are on tour for almost two years and thus speak many, many words—much of them superfluous and foolish—we see in Francis’ speeches that words really matter.
How’s that for a new hashtag? #wordsreallymatter.
Tweet using that handle the next time a presidential candidate uses words to spread hate or negativity.
Words really matter. Thanks to Pope Francis for reminding us of that.
Tom Allon, president of City & State NY, ran for mayor in 2013. Reach him at tallo