Email #260: “messed up”?

Speaker Ryan criticized President Trump during a town hall meeting this week: “I do believe that he messed up in his comments on Tuesday when it sounded like a moral equivocation or at the very least moral ambiguity when we need extreme moral clarity. You’re not a good person if you’re there, it’s so very clear.”

Ryan repeated the criticism, but also indicated that he thought the President had already corrected his statements about Charlottesville: “It was not only morally ambiguous, it was equivocating. And that was wrong. That’s why I think it was very, very important that he has since then cleared that up. I think it was important that he did that tonight.” He repeated the claim when asked if he would ask the President to apologize: “I think just he needs to do better and I think he just did.”

I assume Speaker Ryan was referring to the address the President made about Afghanistan just prior to the town hall, but looking at the transcript I see nothing about Charlottesville or Neo-Nazis or the so-called alt-left. The only statement the President made that could be interpreted as addressing Charlottesville was at best indirect and generic: “Let us make a simple promise to the men and women we ask to fight in our name, that when they return home from battle, they will find a country that has renewed the sacred bonds of love and loyalty that unite us together as one.”

Ryan said before the President’s speech: “we all need to make clear there is no moral relativism when it comes to neo-Nazis. We cannot allow the slightest ambiguity on such a fundamental question.” In what sense did the President’s ambiguous remark provide any new clarity?

Still, I applaud Speaker Ryan’s ability to at least acknowledge that President Trump“messed up”—though his phrase would suit something significantly less important than how Ryan himself described the magnitude of the issue. I also applaud him for holding a town hall. It is his first since October 2015. Of course it was a highly constrained one. It was hosted by CNN and held in a small venue with CNN selecting participants from Ryan’s district and screening questions. But that is a significant improvement over the even more controlled interactions that he has used for the past two years, which are usually private and allow Ryan’s staff to screen questions directly.

One of Ryan’s fellow Wisconsin Representatives, Democrat Mark Pocan, said afterwards: “Hopefully the media event that occurred tonight will convince Paul Ryan that talking to his constituents is a good idea. In the remaining weeks when Paul is home, he might want to schedule a real town hall or two and explain his health care bill that drops tens of millions of people’s coverage, as well as discuss his tax preferences that would give the top 1 percent more tax breaks while working Americans continue to struggle.”

You have not held a real town hall since August 2013, twice as long as Ryan. While a traditional format is preferable, would you be willing to meet with your constituents in a town hall of the kind hosted by CNN for the Speaker? It would be a small venue and include only 6th district residents with a third party selecting pre-submitted questions and hosting the interactions on stage with you. There would be no shouting, no signs, no protests of any kind, just you answering reasonable questions posed directly by people you represent. It worked for Speaker Ryan, and his was televised live nationally while yours would not be. The format is conducive to conversation and so answers your objection to traditional town halls that allow large, angry crowds.

If you reject even this format, could you please explain on what grounds you find it unacceptable? And is there any format of any kind that you would find acceptable? What will it take to get you in a room with more than a dozen polite constituents?

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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