There aren’t many opportunities to convincingly tweak the old order of presidential description. This [*] is one of them.
I’ve been blogging about you forever, it seems, on and off, even before the campaign that has landed you, inexplicably, in the White House. The fruition of your 2016 campaign has propelled you into an office that, frankly, I thought you had no more realistic chance to occupy than any reasonably talented golden retriever.
But we are where we are. You’re in the Trump Hotel at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re obliged, one way or another, to accord you some measure of the respect that this awesome address, and its prime occupant, deserve.
Since Jan. 20th, bloggers, writers and other civic-minded scribes have been wrestling with the language, trying to find a way to describe you that's both accurate and truthful. Some have been using only your last name; I’ve been going with “president-apparent” and “president presumptive” as a way to describe you by title. Once I even toyed with POTUSINO (President of the United States In Name Only) but that was too much jargon by half.
But I’ve since found the approach that works for me. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, I’m giving your current title the simple, elegant, Occam’s-razor grace note it deserves. It’s as simple as this:
[ * ]
That’s it. The asterisk. That little typographical pinwheel juxtaposed with the first mention of the word “President.” For me, from now on, upon first reference, for as long as you remain on the Oval Office, you will be President* Donald Trump.
I don’t make that choice idly or without serious consideration of a number of alternatives. Despite its size, the asterisk carries great weight, capable of saying a lot by saying very little. It’s the Rashomon of typographical symbols, capable of indicating subtext, omission, disclaimer, chin-pulling skepticism, furious debate.
As a longtime Yankees fan, you can appreciate the power of the suggestion of the asterisk. You know all too well the fate of Roger Maris, the great Yankee slugger who fought his way through the magical 1961 season that saw him eclipse Babe Ruth’s single-season home-run record that October ... and then, thanks to the urging of Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick, was forced to endure seeing his name adorned with a figurative asterisk, because he broke Babe Ruth’s record with eight extra games in the season (162 games compared to the 154 games in Ruth’s era).
However unintentional, that little addendum on Maris’ name called into question what he accomplished in a culture long accustomed to the invincibility of Ruth’s record, a culture that took it out on Maris in ugly ways. Maris died in December 1985, at the painfully tender age of 51, and til the day he died, there were — and probably still are — those sclerotic hierophants of major league baseball looking askance at Maris’ home-run record for reasons Maris could not control.
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There’s no changing that, Mr. President*. You, however, are another matter entirely. Questions have hung like a shroud over your presidency since before your presidency even started. They're questions of allegiance, your allegiance to the nation you have taken an oath to lead, and lead collectively — all of us, not just some of us.
Questions persist about your campaign’s connections to the Kremlin, and Russian president Vladimir Putin. Those connections, the previous ones and any that exist today, have corroded our confidence in you as president. And it’s not just the questions that have compromised our confidence in you, it’s your unwillingness to answer them:
What’s the extent of the collusion between your administration and the Russian government? What’s the depth of the connections between Russia and your business interests? How many of your campaign associates and your current advisers are in the pay of Moscow? Why haven’t your formally separated yourself from your businesses by putting them in a real blind trust — required under the Emoluments Clause of the United States Constitution?
And there are the older questions from the campaign: Where are your tax returns? Why do you insist on not releasing them?
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Achieving the American presidency without conclusively answering these matters was a major feat in itself, one that defied the gravity of presidential politics. But that doesn’t obligate ordinary people to give you the titular respect of an office we’re not fully confident you've earned.
Never mind everything else: Frankly, your “victory” in November deserves an asterisk next to it regardless of all that we’ve discovered since then. Your opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton, garnered about 2.8 million more popular votes than you did in the election, but thanks to the workings of the asterisk factory known as the Electoral College, you won the White House. Despite almost 3 million fewer votes.
If that alone doesn’t warrant an asterisk next to your title, nothing does.
So, that’s it, Donald. Look for that little significant star next to your title from here on in — however long “here on in” turns out to be. In the 24/7 media scrum we live in, there are precious few perceptions a writer and observer of today’s volatile scene can make with any power. There aren’t many opportunities to convincingly tweak the old order of presidential description. This is one of them.
Roger Maris never deserved an asterisk welded to his name, real or otherwise.
You, Mr. President*, most certainly do.