President Trump’s tweet bashing Nordstrom for dropping his daughter Ivanka’s line of products has been compared to the vitriolic 1950 letter that President Harry Truman sent to the music critic who panned his daughter Margaret’s singing. The comparison fails on at least two grounds. First, when Harry Truman’s blood was up he could make Donald Trump look like Little Lord Fauntleroy. Here is the text of President Trump’s tweet:
My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!
Here is the text of President Truman’s letter to Washington Post music critic Paul Hume:
Mr. Hume: I’ve just read your lousy review of Margaret’s concert. I’ve come to the conclusion that you are an “eight ulcer man on four ulcer pay.” It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful. When you write such poppy-cock as was in the back section of the paper you work for it shows conclusively that you’re off the beam and at least four of your ulcers are at work. Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below! [Right-wing columnist Westbrook] Pegler, a gutter snipe, is a gentleman alongside you. I hope you’ll accept that statement as a worse insult than a reflection on your ancestry.” H.S.T.
Second, there is a lot more to the Truman/Hume story than is usually told. Truman was under tremendous strain at the time. The Korean War was going badly. Also, just hours before Margaret’s concert began Truman’s press secretary Charles Ross had died of a sudden heart attack in his office. Ross was not only one of Truman’s closest aides, he was a lifelong friend. What made Ross’s death even more of a bereavement for Truman was that it was part of Ross’s job to tear up the president’s more intemperate letters—like the one to Hume– before they became public embarrassments.
Paul Hume, to his credit, did not want to embarrass the president. He did not publish Truman’s letter, but the story leaked out anyway. When it did, Hume expressed regret that the letter had been made public and added graciously, “I can only say that a man suffering the loss of a friend and carrying the burden of the present world crisis ought to be indulged in an occasional outburst of temper.” Margaret Truman was equally gracious about the bad review saying, “Mr. Hume is a very fine critic. He has a right to write as he pleases.”
Margaret had reason to be gracious. She knew, deep down, that Hume’s criticism was justified. When he said in his review that hers was “a pleasant voice of little size and fair quality” he merely confirmed what her mentor, famed opera singer Helen Traubel, had already told her in private: she was pushing her career too fast. She was still inexperienced and needed five more years of study at least. But by then the damage was done. Ten thousand letters poured into the White House in response to the incident, condemning the president’s attack on Hume by a ratio of nearly two to one.
According to Truman biographer David McCullough, once the president simmered down he realized that he had made a mistake. But having sent the letter, it was not in his nature to apologize—at least not immediately. Eight years later, though, it would be a different story. Paul Hume was in St. Louis to review a concert by soprano Maria Callas.
He made a point of stopping off at Independence, Missouri to pay a personal call on former President Truman. Truman received him cordially and even played the piano for him. The hatchet was buried and the two became friends. So while it took a little time, decency, good manners and good humor ultimately won out. It remains to be seen whether any of President Trump’s tweets will ever reach such a civilized conclusion.
Hal Gordon, who wrote speeches for the Reagan White House and Gen. Colin Powell, is currently a freelance speechwriter in Houston. Web site: www.ringingwords.com. Like this post? Share with your friends using the button below! Also be sure to like PunditWire on Facebook.