Don't Do It

by TOM MCLAUGHLIN December 14, 2016

Never judge a book by its cover, they say, but sometimes I can't help myself. What's the first thing you notice about Donald Trump? The hair, right? For a long time, I couldn't get past it and dismissed him from serious consideration. Who would go out in public with that coiffure, I asked myself. Think of the time it takes every day to make his hair look like that. It was hard to see it as anything but a vanity flag.

When I wrote about this before the election, several enthusiastic Trump supporters emailed me to express dismay. They saw what I saw, but to them his hair indicated he didn't care what people thought. It was a sign of confidence and they liked that. They believed Donald Trump alone had the gumption to go to Washington, DC and turn things upside down, and that's exactly what they wanted him to do. I knew I'd vote for him if he won the nomination but I hoped he wouldn't. Neither did I expect him to win the general election, but he did. 

It's only been a month, but I have to admit I really like what he's doing so far. The people he's appointing are terrific. As a career teacher with strong opinions about how to improve education, I applaud his appointment of Betsy DeVos. The best way to improve public schools is to break the teachers' union stranglehold over them. The best way to do that would be fostering voucher programs in our states and local districts - and the best person to do that is Betsy DeVos. She is a longtime champion of vouchers in her home state and supported with her own money. Vouchers would empower real innovation in education by breaking the public school monopoly and allowing private citizens to form their own, decentralized schools. Local control of education will bring real change, unlike that bastion of entrenched special interests and stifling bureaucracy that is Washington, DC.

I might have violated that "never judge" dictum in the case of another New Yorker - the writer, Tom Wolfe - but I never got the chance. If I'd seen Wolfe on the covers of Time and Newsweek dressed like a dandy courtier for Louis XVI, it is likely I would never have picked up Bonfire of the Vanities, the first of his books I read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I was somewhat shocked afterward when I saw what he looked like. I was also surprised that it was his first novel. He was a successful writer of non-fiction up to that time and the move to novel writing seemed effortless. After Bonfire, I enjoyed A Man in Full, I Am Charlotte Simmons, and Back To Blood.

Language is Wolfe's stock in trade, and he believes it a uniquely human ability that did not evolve from lower animals. Just a few months ago, he published Kingdom of Speech in which he ridicules two sacred cows of the secular left: Darwinism and Chomskyism. He claims Charles Darwin stole ideas from an obscure researcher named Alfred Russell Wallace and published them as his own. He also portrays MIT linguist and leftist demigod Noam Chomsky as vile and vindictive toward anyone who questions him. Anthropologist Daniel Everett's work on the language of the obscure Piraha tribe of the Amazon is outlined in the bestselling Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes. It casts doubt on Chomsky's long insistence that humans evolved with a "language organ" in our brains even if neurosurgeons have never found one. The language organ explains "universal grammar" in all language, Chomsky maintains. Piraha language, however, not only lacks "universal grammar," it lacks tense. There is no future, no past, only eternal present. There are no numbers or colors either.

Wolfe's Kingdom of Speech enrages the left, but it cannot be attacked as religious hocus-pocus. While Daniel Everett is an evangelical Christian, he doesn't argue from there. Rather, he bases his case on scientific observation while living with the Piraha for decades. And, Tom Wolfe is an atheist. He endorses Everett's ideas from a logical standpoint and teases both Chomsky and Darwin for their pomposity. Typical of the left, neither Chomsky nor his defenders have any sense of humor which makes teasing them so much fun for Wolfe.
Wolfe has been cranking out books that are windows on American culture for a long time while Trump is just beginning his career in government. He could still screw up, but he seems to have already taken over the presidency. He's leading us while Obama is yelling, "Hey! I'm still here! Look at me and my legacy!"
There's a lesson for me in all this. From now on, I won't judge people with facial metal, neck tattoos, or purple hair. I'm going to look past those things... I think. Contributing Editor Tom McLaughlin is a (now retired) history teacher and a regular weekly columnist for newspapers in Maine and New Hampshire. He writes about political and social issues, history, family, education and Radical Islam.  Email him at


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