Against bad manners

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen during the Olympic Opening Ceremonies. Kim Yo-jong sits back left. Image  here .   Matthias Hangst—Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen during the Olympic Opening Ceremonies. Kim Yo-jong sits back left. Image hereMatthias Hangst—Getty Images

On Oct. 25, 1995 – one day after the United Nations turned 50 – then New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani threw Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat out of a concert at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall that ironically featured Ludwig van Beethoven’s great ode to humanity, his Symphony No. 9. The Clinton Administration then criticized Giuliani for an egregious breach of international diplomacy, but Giuliani said he could never forgive Arafat’s terrorist past, even though at that point he had been praised by both the Americans and the Israelis for his role in the Middle East peace talks.

It’s an age-old problem. We have our values. Do we cast them aside in social situations? We do not. But neither do we make a mockery of our values by punctuating them with rudeness.

Impolite behavior seeks to ridicule and humiliate others. But it is really only a reflection of those who advocate it.

I thought of this while watching the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang as Vice President Mike Pence avoided contact with Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, even though he was sitting right in front of her and the president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, had shaken her hand. Would it have hurt him to be gracious and do the same – or would “Mother,” alias wife Karen, have disapproved? Maybe this was a corollary to his rule about not being alone with a woman who isn’t his wife.

No one thinks a handshake is going to resolve deep divisions. But one of the ways you take that first step is by meeting people face-to-face and treating them like human beings. The quietly spectacular Opening Ceremonies conveyed the hunger for peace, with the two Koreas marching as one, Korean pop stars singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” as ceremony participants waved lights and formed a dove, and then two women from the joint North and South Korea hockey team running the final leg of the torch relay together, handing it to two-time South Korean figure skating medalist Yuna Kim for the lighting ceremony.

Pence’s cold shoulder was out of tune with the evening, offering a poor reflection of his American and Christian values. But then he’s a lackey for a president who has no respect for others and who defended Rob Porter, two-time wife-beater and now resigned Trump staff secretary.

“It’s about just being a gentleman,” David Brooks told Judy Woodruff on the “Shields and Brooks” segment of the “PBS NewsHour” Friday. “The MeToo movement, everything we have seen over the last six months… do (men) know what it’s like to be a gentleman and just behave decently like a gentleman?

“If you look through the history of our political leaders, Teddy Roosevelt, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, they were gentlemen. It’s not hard.

“And yet once you lose the social standards of how a man is supposed to behave, you have got a lot of bad stuff that comes out.”

The question is, How much longer are we going to give the Trump Administration’s “bad stuff” a pass?