For President Trump, R-E-S-P-E-C-T is a big deal. He demands it for the nation (even though he has squandered it) and for himself (even though he’s not worthy of it). One of his favorite insults against opponents is to declare that no one respects them. He does it as much to get under their skin as to get a laugh at their expense. So, when Trump hurled it at former vice president Joe Biden during remarks at a rally in Iowa on June 11, I laughed. But not at Biden.
“In the past, and under the Obama administration, our politicians let other countries push us around, treat us badly, treat our country with no respect,” the president said. “And you see that with Biden. We would never be treated with respect because people don’t respect him, even the people that he’s running against.”
I laughed because Trump’s dig at Biden reminded me of a hilarious observation on respect and the president from comedian Wanda Sykes.
“The moment that I saw him board Air Force One with toilet paper on the back of his shoe, I said, ‘They don’t like him.’ Everyone around him who works with him, they cannot stand him. They have no respect for this man,” Sykes told me at the 92nd Street Y in New York this month during a conversation about her new stand-up special on Netflix. “I mean, you would stop a stranger to get toilet paper off their shoe. I’ve almost missed a flight because I’m at my gate and I see someone walking by with toilet paper [on their shoe], and I’m like ‘I can’t let that happen’ and I run down and get the toilet paper off.”
Sykes makes a great point about a man who craves respect with a nose-perpetually-pressed-up-against-the-glass intensity. Respect is earned. Some earn it through fear. Most earn it through consistent good works. But no one earns it through pleading, which is why the president will never be satisfied with the level of respect he gets.
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