BALTIMORE — For a few brief, shining moments last week, Nancy Pelosi came back to her old home town to eulogize her late brother, Tommy D’Alesandro, and her late “brother in Baltimore,” Elijah Cummings, and slip in a veiled reference to the latest smear tactics employed by the president of the United States.
To all those with three-digit IQs, Pelosi is known as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. But, to Donald Trump, she is known as “Crazy Nancy.” He imagines such a nickname is the essence of biting wit and nimble sophistication.
Pelosi arrived here just hours after a return flight from Afghanistan, where she spoke to U.S. military leaders and troops. Unlike Trump, she did not slink away from any war zone by claiming bone spurs.
As she stood in a quiet area of this city’s St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church last week, a mourner told her, “You must be exhausted.”
“I don’t do exhaustion,” Pelosi said with a wan smile.
What she does is deliver criticism so deftly that its intended target doesn’t recognize the blade entering between the ribs until it’s been fully plunged and removed.
In the eulogy at packed St. Ignatius, Pelosi talked about her late brother Tommy D’Alesandro III, this city’s mayor roughly five decades ago, and her father, Tommy Jr., who was Baltimore’s three-term mayor in the post-war years.
From them, she said, she was handed down a phrase to keep in mind during all political confrontations, even the most heated. It sounded like something out of Scripture.
“He that throweth mud loseth ground,” Pelosi said.
It’s a phrase Donald Trump might consider – not only because, according to polls, he’s losing ground to those wishing to impeach him. But, also, because his verbal mud is a blight on his office, and on the country, and it never seems to end.
In the same moment mourners here delivered Rep. Elijah Cummings to his final rest, let’s remember that Trump’s differences with the West Baltimore congressman caused the president to slander an entire city.
“Those people are living in hell in Baltimore,” Trump said, calling the city “a disgusting rat and rodent-infested mess.” (He said this not yet knowing that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, would be sued the other day for alleged violations at hundreds of Baltimore apartments he owns, which are described in various published reports as rat and rodent-infested. Perhaps this is where the president got his lamentable description of the city.)
And yet, the things Trump said about Baltimore are just the merest glop of this president’s routine mud-slinging. Last week, he called some of his critics “human scum.” Scum! And these were critics from his own Republican Party.
He’s called Democrats “crazed lunatics” who “hate America.” He says Nancy Pelosi is “tearing the country apart.” He’s called reporters “enemies of the people.”
He’s orchestrated chants to “lock her up” for “crooked” Hillary Clinton and calls Bernie Sanders “Crazy Bernie.” He called the former FBI chief, James Comey “a disgrace.” His efforts to get any available dirt on Joe Biden may yet be the final straw leading to impeachment.
More mud, always more mud – even as he’s losing ground.
Contrast that with last week’s funeral here for Rep. Cummings, at New Psalmist Baptist Church, where hundreds of mourners who stood for hours in long, winding lines had to be turned away from the 4,000-seat building for lack of space.
Pelosi was there to deliver another eulogy. “My darling Elijah,” she called him. “He always made a seat at the table for others.”
Kweisi Mfume, who preceded Cummings as 7th district congressman, talked of him stressing that any opponent should be considered “a foe without hate.”
Former President Bill Clinton added that Cummings “tried to treat us the way he wanted to be treated, the way America should be treated. You know, you can’t run a free society if you hate everybody you disagree with.”
And former President Barack Obama added, “You’re not a sucker to have integrity, and to treat others with respect.”
Inside the church, the silence was so profound, maybe even Donald Trump could hear such guiding words, and perhaps one day in the course of his life actually take them to heart.
Michael Olesker, columnist for the News American, Baltimore Sun, and Baltimore Examiner has spent a quarter of a century writing about the city he loves.He is the author of several books, including Michael Olesker’s Baltimore: If You Live Here, You’re Home, Journeys to the Heart of Baltimore, and The Colts’ Baltimore: A City and Its Love Affair in the 1950s, all published by Johns Hopkins Press.