The late Don Marsh, who co-hosted “Talkline” with me for a few years after he retired from his longtime position as editor of the Charleston Gazette, was fearless and caustic in his criticism of others he considered scoundrels or simply wrongheaded.
Marsh had more than his share of feuds, and some of them played out on the Gazette editorial page and occasionally on “Talkline.”
However, once when the subject of one of his targets who had passed away came up on the show, Marsh was noticeably delicate. When I asked him why, he cautioned me, “Don’t speak ill of the dead, Hoppy.”
Even the brassy Don Marsh had his limits.
President Donald Trump, it would seem, has no such moral compass when it comes to feuds.
He recently renewed his tiff with the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Sunday, Trump tweeted, “So it was indeed (just proven in court papers) ‘last in his class’ (Annapolis) John McCain that sent the Fake Dossier to the FBI and Media hoping to have it printed BEFORE the Election. He & the Dems, working together, failed (as usual). Even the Fake News refused this garbage.”
When asked later about the tweet, Trump said, “I was never a fan of John McCain, and I never will be.”
It’s debatable whether you can even have a feud with someone who is dead and cannot respond for himself, but that doesn’t stop Trump. The president has also created a Twitter battle with George Conway, husband of Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser and spokesperson for the president.
George Conway is a conservative Republican, but also a frequent critic of Trump. The president tweeted Wednesday, “George Conway, often referred to as Mr. Kellyanne Conway by those who know him, is VERY jealous of his wife’s success and angry that I, with her help, didn’t give him a job he so desperately wanted. I barely know him but just take a look, a stone cold LOSER & husband from hell!”
What’s the point of that feud, which the president, by way of his tweets, elevates to national news. I doubt anyone outside the beltway would even know who George Conway is were it not for this bickering.
I’ve had a few feuds over the years and probably held more than my share of grudges, but they are usually pointless, a waste of time and my emotional energy. University of Miami psychology professor Michael McCullough says a feud is a “perpetual state of craving or desire.”
“It becomes important for us — sometimes to the point of obsession — to make sure the person behind our angst will change his or her mind, acknowledge their faults, understand the harm they’ve done to us, and/or ultimately learn a lesson.”
Of course, there’s usually not much chance of that happening, so what’s to be gained? Feuding with a dead person, especially someone like McCain who is held in high regard because of his service to his country, is the ultimate in futility. And Trump’s feud with Conway just diminishes the presidency.
Yes, Trump is a counter-puncher; hit him and he’s going to hit back harder. But, continuing with the boxing metaphor, let’s consider the self-assured champion boxer who, after taking his opponent’s best shot, shakes his head and smiles at his aggressor as if to say, “That’s the best you’ve got?” and “You didn’t phase me.”
That’s the way to one-up your opponent without diminishing yourself.
Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at email@example.com.