Even respectful toward Trump: In the wake of Elijah Cummings' death, we've thought about some of our experiences as a performer.
On one occasion, in August 1996, we opened for Johnny Cash. After we finished, changing our mind, we decided to to stick around to see what happened next.
Thirty seconds into the gentleman's set, we were very glad that we'd stayed. Immediately, it was strangely apparent that Johnny Cash was the real deal.
Around that same time, we performed at a convention luncheon event for a well-known corporate group whose name we can't recall. The speaker that day was Rep. David Bonior, the liberal Democrat who chaired the relevant committee in the House. We were struck by the chill in the air as he gentleman spoke.
On another occasion, we performed at the national convention of a construction industry group. The convention had a striking, somewhat menacing theme: "Balcony failure."
We've often thought that, if the world contained only people like us, there wouldn't be any balconies at all, let alone any balcony failure. In all likelihood, there wouldn't even be any walls for balconies to fall off.
In 1995, we had to follow President Clinton at the first official fund-raiser for the re-election campaign. The gentleman told an extremely good joke about the immediate surroundings. Making matters even worse, he delivered the joke very well.
(The punch line: "I always ask myself, Hey, which one of us got elected president, anyway?")
Then too, there was the time, probably in the late 1990s, when we had to follow, or attempt to follow, Rep. Cummings at a biannual AFL-CIO evening event.
Senator Sarbanes also spoke, as did Kweisi Mfume, who was the head of the national NAACP at the time. But it was Cummings, the relatively new congressman, who gave the most memorable speech.
Because the gentleman's political appeal was that of a "regular guy," we had no idea, until that night, that he was such an astonishing speaker. He spoke about the values he learned from his grandparents in South Carolina.
We can't remember a single specific thing he said. We only remember his remarkable moral depth and power.
In this morning's papers, we find two anecdotes about Rep. Cummings' respect for others. This attitude on Cummings' part has been discussed on several occasions in the past year or so.
In the Washington Post, Colbert King discusses Cummings' role in passing criminal-justice reform legislation in recent years.
"What a blessing he was," King writes. He continues with this:
KING (10/18/19): In April 2015, Cummings assembled at Howard [University] some key advocates of criminal-justice reform legislation that no one thought would see the light of day on Capitol Hill.Apparently, Cummings wasn't one to gag. Nor does he seem to have been a hater, or even a loather, of persons.
On the dais sat an unlikely alliance—liberal Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and libertarian Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), sharing a panel with now-former congressman and Freedom Caucus member Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho), in addition to a Koch Foundation representative—promoting an unprecedented progressive change in an unjust and corrosive justice system. Cummings, by all measures, helped steer that bill out of darkness into law.
Which galled some of us to see Trump shamelessly take credit for an initiative that was underway and advanced months before he took office.
Some of us gagged.
But not Cummings.
Did Rep. Cummings learn these values from his grandparents? We can't tell you that. But in this morning's New York Times, Sabrina Tavernise quotes an associate of Cummings who said that Cummings' "unflappable optimism sometimes frustrated him."
That estimable figure is Ralph Moore, "a veteran activist in Baltimore who teaches classes for adults getting their G.E.D." The world needs many people like Moore, who sometimes found Cummings frustrating:
TAVERNISE (10/18/19): “He was a moderating influence,” Mr. Moore said. “He wanted this system to work. He believed in it. I guess from the vantage point of a congressman that makes sense. But he was mindful that from our vantage point in a city like Baltimore, you have to keep wondering how is this going to work.”Hey! We live in that district too!
One example was Mr. Cummings’s response to President Trump’s attack on Twitter this summer in which the president called his district a “rodent infested mess.”
Mr. Cummings replied calmly: “Mr. President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors.”
“He was being nice to him,” Mr. Moore said, “and I didn’t agree with him being nice to him.”
But that spirit is what made Mr. Cummings unique, his friends in Baltimore said on Thursday.
At any rate, Cummings was being nice to Trump! Understandably enough, Moore wasn't inclined to agree with that approach.
There is no ultimate right or wrong concerning such matters. And Trump, of course, is the one person best equipped to occasion the loathing of those who oppose his behavior and his views, to the extent that he actually has any discernible views.
That said, Cummings was able to assemble various people to pass that criminal justice legislation. There was even a Koch person there!
In our own view, our liberal tribe has suffered greatly from the impulse to look down on others, not excluding millions of regular people who aren't Donald J. Trump. As a group, we're long tended to think that we're the good, smart, decent people, unlike the lesser folk offensively found Over There.
We're told that we human beings are wired to see things that way. It seems to us that, for our own hapless liberal tribe, this attitude has frequently been self-defeating over the past quite a few years.
Did Cummings mention respect for others when he spoke to that crowd that night?
We can't recall a single specific thing he said. But as many others seem to have found, he was very impressive, and we were impressed and surprised.
Tomorrow: No sympathy for the devils