President Donald Trump has seemingly pulled off the impossible, convincing at least 40% of the country that his July 25, 2019, phone conversation with Ukraine’s president was, as he frequently puts it, “perfect.”
By constantly repeating in tweets, speeches and letters a description of the controversial conversation as nothing but “perfect,” he has thrown into question the idea that attempting to bribe a foreign dignitary is worthy of removing a president from office. In true form, his recent six-page letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi once again repeated the mantra of “it was a perfect call.”
Though many Americans buy Trump’s attempt to distort the meaning of “perfect,” I take it as a personal affront that threatens to upend what I consider my well-constructed, long evolving understanding of this word.
My first meaningful encounter with the word “perfect” occurred in school when I dreamed of receiving a straight-A report card. This was the ultimate state of perfection, I thought at the time. I imagined greeting my parents with such a perfect report card, telling them, “Hey, get a load of these grades. They’re perfect, and that makes me perfect. Now, stop nagging about me not doing my homework, or anything else for that matter, because quite frankly, I’m perfect.” Ultimately, my concept of perfection proved to be more associated with other words like “elusive” and “beyond one’s grasp.”
As a fanatical sports fan, I spent my adolescent years obsessed with reading up on the history of major league baseball. In the process, I grew to strongly associate the word “perfect” with Don Larsen’s memorable perfect game, thrown for the New York Yankees during the 1956 World Series. The Point Loma native did the impossible that October day—preventing any batters from reaching first base under the most pressure packed of situations. Words like “flawless,” “unblemished,” and “rare” entered my lexicon as I consumed numerous sports writers’ accounts of that long-ago feat.
Later, my understanding of perfection grew to include the Miami Dolphins’ 1972-73 undefeated NFL season. Coach Don Shula’s unrelenting team efficiency became synonymous with the concept of “perfect.” Being able to attain a 17-0 season registered as quite an achievement at the time. The significance of this “perfect” season has only been reinforced by the passage of time as we’ve seen one great NFL team after another stumble on its quest to duplicate this singular accomplishment.
As a young adult my idea of perfection became further influenced by Hollywood and the 1979 movie 10, when I watched the beautiful actress Bo Derek prance in slow motion on the beach. According to the movie script, her character was worthy of a perfect 10 rating on a scale of 10. Few male moviegoers argued with that subjective judgment call.
In spite of my time-honed understanding of the word, President Trump has come along to seriously challenge my perfection parameters. On the one hand, I must admit to admiring his bizarre persistence. By repeating his “perfect” refrain, he has convinced congressional Republicans the Ukraine phone conversation is neither high crime nor misdemeanor worthy.
Perhaps inspired by his ability to pull this off, I have recently begun experiencing a weird flashback. I return to my time as a middle school student suffering a grade of D in Algebra. As expected, my parents yell at me, but in this flashback I surprisingly counter by saying over and over again, “What’s the problem? My grade in Algebra is perfect! I deserve congratulations.”
They eventually tire of my rant, and say, “Maybe you have a point. Could it be your math teacher is conducting a witch hunt?” I then snap out of the flashback and return to today’s reality — albeit a little bit happier.
On the other hand, I find the president’s use of the word “perfect” as nothing short of outrageous. The word has become a blunt instrument designed to hammer away and muddle the minds of Americans.
He doesn’t use “perfect” in a relative or context-based manner. His phone conversation is never described as “perfectly fine under the circumstances,” or even “near perfect, but one that might leave room for some misunderstanding.” Instead, as I see it, he actually aims to convince voters that a phone conversation in which he attempted to bribe another foreign leader is nothing short of perfect—like perfect on the scale of a Miami Dolphins’ undefeated NFL season.
I find the comparison hard to swallow. Apparently, the president believes that if he constantly refers to his phone conversation as perfect, enough Americans will equate its quality with the flawlessness of pitching a perfect World Series game. That would be one heck of a phone conversation, and I’m not willing to go there.
What I find most outrageous is that by constantly referring to the word “perfect,” Trump is attempting to diminish my perfect image of Bo Derek. After all, if that Ukraine phone call was perfect, then President Trump and the Bo Derek depicted in the movie 10 must now be regarded as existing on an equal perfection footing. Not even the most fanatical Trump fan could defend that grotesque proposition!
President John F. Kennedy, in honoring Winston Churchill’s inspirational World War II speeches, once eloquently remarked that the British Prime Minister “mobilized the English language and sent it off to war.” Unfortunately, I contend President Trump is absurdly distorting the English language and sending it off to a stormy U.S. Senate impeachment trial.
Steve Rodriguez is a retired Marine Corps officer and high school teacher who last taught at Olympian High School in Chula Vista.