I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after. — Wallace Stevens, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"
While many of you were at Beale Street Music Fest or at the movies or drinking yourselves silly with craft beer last Saturday night, I spent the evening watching "Nerd Prom," otherwise known as the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Yes, I know, I need to get out more.
The WHCD is an incestuous affair, one in which the Beltway elite dress up and endure polite jabs from the president, and then, after the the leader of the free world's remarks, get skewered more forcefully by a comedian. This year's dinner went pretty much true to form, except that comedian Larry Wilmore of The Nightly Show had the bad fortune to follow a president who had funnier material and a better stage presence.
Obama took shots at Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Reince Priebus, Ted Cruz, and, of course, Donald Trump. He was in rare form, obviously feeling some relief that this would be the last such dinner he would ever have to attend. "Next year at this time," he said, "someone else will be standing here in this very spot, and it's anyone's guess who she will be." Ow.
The president even poked fun at himself in a video in which he received "advice" on retirement from former Speaker John Boehner, who offered Obama a cigarette and suggested that having a beer in the morning wasn't the worst idea ever. Which is true.
At the end of his speech, when Obama literally dropped the mic, I thought about how much I'll miss having a president with a sense of humor and an ability to be self-deferential, a national leader who can be joyful and use Snapchat and charm children and shoot hoops with Stephen Curry — and bear with grace and humor the most vitriolic and coordinated attacks on a president's character in my memory.
I can't imagine Donald Trump, for instance, ever making fun of himself. To do so requires genuine self-confidence, not the insecure macho bluster that is Trump's stock in trade. As we trundle toward what now appears inevitable — a presidential contest between Trump and Hillary Clinton — I cannot help but feel the country is taking a step backward, with two candidates in their late 60s, neither of whom seems in touch with the nation's current zeitgeist.
Even so, the choice between Trump and Clinton will be not a difficult one for me, nor will it be for the majority of Americans, if current polling is to be believed. In 2012, Obama beat Mitt Romney in an Electoral College landslide, and it's unlikely many Democratic voters will switch to Trump in 2016. There simply aren't enough angry, xenophobic white people to swing a national election to the GOP. Nor are there enough Democratic voters who "feel the Bern" of Sanders' efforts to tackle the country's increasingly troubling income disparity.
But there is an overlap there between Trump's frustrated blue-collar followers and Sanders' underpaid and over-leveraged young folks. The candidate who can reach both groups and show them their common interests — and their common enemies — will have a shot at creating genuine change. It's not happening this year, but I get the sense that we are only waiting for this moment to arrive.