As a schoolboy, George Washington transcribed 110 Jesuitical maxims later published as Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.
In this pamphlet he counsels a regimen of behaviour so meticulous it forbids blowing on a spoonful of soup to cool it and specifies the proper method for dipping bread in sauce. Presidential mores have travelled three centuries and a few hundred degrees south since then to bring us Donald Trump, who not only disregards his predecessor’s instruction to ‘use no reproachful language against anyone, neither curse nor revile’ but serves as a snarling, swaggering rebuke to any notion of presidential decorum.
‘Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?’ the President is reported to have demanded during a meeting on immigration reform. While his critics have seized on ‘shithole’ as racist, his offence lies elsewhere: the word ‘why.’ In asking such a question, Trump shows his ignorance of the American project. When the Puritans settled Massachusetts Bay, John Winthrop pledged it would be ‘a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us’. Speaking 360 years later, Ronald Reagan affirmed his belief in a shining city ‘teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace… And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.’ America is the other Zion. Next year in San Antonio.