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The buck doesn’t stop here

Dan Buck is a philosopher friend of mine with a rare gift for explaining the political world. Back when Ronald Reagan was an enormously popular president (carrying 93 out of a possible 100 states in two national campaigns), I marveled at how voters were so unfailingly tolerant, even forgiving, when the Gipper said things that were factually inaccurate.

For example, in Steubenville, Ohio, on a campaign stop, Candidate Reagan announced, wrongly, “Trees cause more pollution than automobiles.” As luck would have it, Reagan’s schedule took him next to Southern California, which was suffering an unhealthy air pollution inversion. At Clermont College, where Reagan was to speak, some wiseacre graduate student had hung a sign on a tree: “Cut me down before I kill again.” To his credit, nobody laughed harder than Ronald Reagan, who went on to win in a landslide.

Buck explained to me that Reagan’s special “Teflon” gift prevented gaffes or worse from sticking to the Gipper: “You have to understand that if Ronald Reagan drove a convertible with the top down through a car wash, Jimmy Carter (whose political coating was, unfairly, “Velcro“) would get wet.”

So, how does Buck see the current Republican president, now trailing Democrat Joe Biden in virtually every poll? President Donald Trump is the political equivalent of the shock comedian Andrew Dice Clay. For those too young to remember, some four decades ago, Andrew Clay Silverstein was a Brooklyn kid who became the first comedian ever to sell out Madison Square Garden on back-to-back nights with a brand of insult comedy that humiliated and ridiculed women and gays with a dollop of racism to boot. His stage persona was a caricature of an unschooled, street-tough Italian American.

In short, Clay said offensive things that no other mainstream comedian then said — in semipolite society — and, for a brief but remarkable period, semipolite America laughed and cheered him on.

But very much like the current occupant of the White House, there was no second act. The public lost interest while Clay made enemies. When he was scheduled to host “Saturday Night Live,” cast member Nora Dunn and musical guest Sinead O’Connor both announced they would boycott his appearance. Gay and women’s groups joined the anti-Diceman protests. Religious figures joined the criticism, even branding him an anti-Christ.

Then, it was over. To his credit, Clay has persisted. He became a serious actor, even winning critical acclaim for his role as Lady Gaga’s character’s father in “A Star Is Born,” but the guilty pleasure of large crowds roaring at his verbal abuse of “fat girls” or homosexuals proved ephemeral.

Recall the last presidential campaign and Trump’s attack on the late Sen. John McCain, who had endured 5 1/2 years of torture as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam: “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” (One way to avoid the possibility of being captured is, as Trump did, to avoid going when your nation calls you to serve.)

So, where does this lead us? Dan Buck has a prediction: “Trump has his shtick that he can neither vary nor escape. When he leaves office, he can move his Oldies Act to Branson, Missouri, to the Donald Trump MAGA Theater.”

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