Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Uncle John

As readers of my blog no doubt tire of hearing, I am a man who feels blessed by his family: three brilliant children, two brilliant daughters-in-law, a polyglot son-in-law and six delightful grandchildren now spread over nearly a generation.  Nor does my good fortune end there.  My father used to quip: “Of all my wife’s relations, I like myself the best.”  I could never express such a sentiment, however jesting, concerning the familial extensions of my spouse, whose company I always enjoy.

However, there is one sad lack.  Circumstances have conspired to deny me local avuncular status.  That is, I have no Fleming nephews or nieces.  Luckily Joan has two very accomplished nieces in England who do not entirely deny my acquaintance.  But though my father had two brothers among his six siblings, and though I myself had two brothers, the sole hope for the long-term perpetuation of my particular line of the Fleming name is one puckish lad in Montreal, currently four years old.

One of the most important figures in my infancy and childhood was my father’s older brother, Uncle John.  About the earliest certain memory I have is that of a rabbit that darted out in front of me while I was toddling along hand in hand with my Uncle John.  He was a wonderful man.  Everyone should benefit from the inspiration and if possible the guiding hand of an Uncle John.  Thus over this past weekend, when I was doing my damnedest to keep my head when all about were losing theirs, etc., etc., I was greatly relieved to learn that our new president had enjoyed such an advantage.

I was able to review two speeches that President Trump gave over the weekend.  The first was very solemn, his formal inaugural, which will probably be remembered in the annals of our national oratory as “American Carnage” for short.  Eloquence and substance apparently being in the ear of the auditor, this speech has received dramatically discordant reviews.  You almost certainly have heard it yourself, and formed your own opinions.  I could not possibly comment.  The second speech, somewhat less formal, was delivered to a room full of employees of the Central Intelligence Agency.  President Trump made the following points, among others.  Nobody is a greater fan of the intelligence community than D. J. Trump, nobody.  He intends to give this group lots of backing, perhaps even too much.  The Press is mendacious, as evidenced by their false reports that had said negative things about intelligence and especially as evidenced by Zeke, from Time magazine, who said that DJT had banished a simulacrum of MLK from the White House office.  However he (the President) had appeared on the cover of Time frequently, probably a record number of times, dontcha think.  We must wipe ISIS from the face of the earth, just have to.  People in military service, law enforcement, first responders, and probably you too (CIA employees) voted for me in large numbers.  Right?  And so advanced the rhetorical flow, roughly with the convolutions of the River Meander.

Speaking of which, the reader may fear I had wandered from the avuncular theme.  Not at all.  Praising the academic prowess of Michael Pompeo, his yet-to-be-confirmed nominee to head the CIA, President Trump assured his audience: “I’m a person that very strongly believes in academics.” Furthermore, the President shares the genes of at least one “academic genius,” a blood relative.  “I had an uncle who was a great professor at MIT for thirty-five years…Trust me I’m like a smart person.”  That is the transcription I draw from the oral presentation.  I think that the written form of this, should there ever have been one, would be: “I’m, like, a smart person,” in which the word like is entirely insignificant save as a signal of an unstudied inarticulateness now dignified by our press as “populism”.  I am certainly not an academic genius nor even perhaps like a smart person, but I am an English professor (retired), and I shall risk my professional opinion that Mr. Trump’s spoken English is about that of the average fifth-grader of the current generation--among which group the habitual use of the meaningless like is, like, sad.  Totally.

However, I must not succumb to spleen or jealousy.  The point about this uncle, or rather the two points are (1) it’s all true--he really was a distinguished scientist and professor, and (2) he was an Uncle John.  You can only imagine how exciting it is for me to hear the President of the United States praising an Uncle John college professor, and in a certain sense drawing from him the credentials that authenticate his own stupendous success.  If only given the right opportunity and the right raw materials, who knows?  Might not I also have been the inspiring mentor who—but soft!  As the Duke of York says in Richard II: "Grace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle”.  And forgive the Tuesday publication of this essay.  I shall be otherwise engaged for the next several days.