The Trump campaign did not likely pick Latrobe, Pennsylvania, for Thursday night’s rally because it is the hometown of Fred Rogers, beloved icon of children’s television.
Rogers died in 2003, but his cardigan-clad legacy remains, revitalized when Tom Hanks played him in a 2019 movie. Few people could have been more different than Rogers and Trump in matters of honesty and trust and kindness to others and just plain all-American decency.
Not that Rogers would have said anything publicly about Trump if he were still alive. His widow, Joanne Rogers, told The Daily Beast on Thursday that her husband always avoided talking about political candidates or parties for fear it would complicate the lives of kids at home.
“Fred tried to stay pretty quiet about politics, basically because his program was for children,” Joanne Rogers said.
She is under no such constraints herself.
“I’m alone now,” she said. “I don’t do a program for children.”
She made clear her feelings about Trump: “I think he’s just a horrible person.”
She did not hesitate to say how she will react if Trump is re-elected.
“I will probably go into mourning,” she said. “I can’t even imagine. I would feel so badly.”
She was asked why she feels as she does about our current president.
“I think maybe the fact that Mr Trump seldom tells the truth,” she said. “If he does, it’s just a fluke, I think. But the fact [is] that I can’t believe anything he says, not even the simplest thing.”
She was speaking what she feels is the simple truth when she said, “This man is pathologically ill. Mentally ill.”
She is equally forthright in her admiration for Trump’s opponent.
“I am a very big Biden fan,” she said.
Biden strikes her as not only honest, but also something else that is sorely needed in these terrible times.
“I think he’s kind,” Joanna Rogers said. “I think we all need somebody like Biden who can give us little pats on the back.”
She was not happy when people criticized Biden for giving too many hugs.
“I said, ‘Listen, I understand that completely, I’m a hugger, and I would certainly want a hug from him,’” she told The Daily Beast.
And, being 92, she is not troubled by Biden’s age.
“Seventy-seven seems still pretty young to me,” she said.
She suspects that Biden’s occasional difficulties in public speaking have less to do with mental acuity than a past struggle.
“Sometimes when Biden gets in trouble with his speech, I think it has to do with that old stutter,” she said.
That led her to recall the video aired during the Democratic National Convention that featured Biden giving a big pat on the back to a fellow stutterer, 13-year-old Brayden Harrington. She said that segment reminded her of episode 4 of season 11 of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
“That was Fred’s favorite,” Joanna Rogers said. “It is just a fabulous segment.”
That 1981 episode began with 10-year-old Jeff Erlanger rolling onto the set in an electric wheelchair.
“Hey, Jeff, I’m glad to see you,” Fred Rogers said. “Thank you very much for coming by.”
Rogers displayed much the same warm kindness with Jeff that Biden would later demonstrate with Brayden.
“Very fancy machine,” Rogers said.
Rogers asked Jeff how long it had taken him to learn how to operate it and the boy replied just a day.
“Your parents must be very proud of you,” Rogers said.
“They are,” Jeff replied.
Rogers asked Jeff if he could explain to the children in the audience how he came to need the wheelchair.
“Sure,” Jeff said.
He reported that when he was just 7 months old, a tumor affected the nerves that governed his hands and legs.
“And I became handicapped,” he said.
He added that he had recently undergone additional surgery.
“It shows you a lot of things happen to you when you’re handicapped,” the boy said. “And sometimes when you’re not handicapped.”
Rogers praised Jeff for helping those who are. Rogers then said he wanted to sing a song both with and for Jeff. The boy joined in.
“It’s you I like
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair
But it’s you I like
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you.”
Of course that was not politics. Nor did Fred Rogers engage in politics, even when he testified before a U.S. Senate Committee in 1969.
“One of the first things a child learns in the family is trust,” he said. “I’m very much concerned, as I know you are, about what is being delivered to our children in this country.”
But if you put it all together, you know what Fred Rogers would think of the president who held a rally in Rogers’ hometown on Thursday evening. Trump was sure to talk politics. He was also almost certain to tell more lies.
Trump was 22 when Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood debuted in 1968, so he never had even a chance to learn another little song from the show.
“I’m learning to know the truth
I’m learning to tell the truth
Discovering the truth will make me free.”