For years, on PBS, Mr. Rogers gently talked children through the uncertainties of growing up. We may have thought of him as a semi-fictional character, but the movie — A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood — suggests that what we saw was real and that he was as genuine with adults as with children.
His chance encounter with Donald Trump in March, 2000, in New York City, a few weeks after Mr. Trump had abandoned his campaign to be the Reform Party’s Presidential candidate, reinforces Mr. Rogers’ image as eager to help, no matter who or what:
Excuse me, aren’t you Donald Trump?
Every sweet ounce of me. And who are you?
I’m Fred Rogers, but you may know me as Mr. Rogers.
Yeah, I think I’ve heard of you. You’re that sort of fairy-like guy on television who talks to kids.
That might be one way of expressing it.
And you sing about the beautiful neighborhood, which is something I’ve done a lot of. Not singing, but building wonderful buildings and resorts that are really, y’know, perfectly beautiful.
I’m sure you have and I’m sure they are, though my point is the beauty of the day, no matter what the neighborhood. But that’s of secondary importance. More important, you seem to be a bit down. Is anything the matter?
Naaah! Well … yes … in fact! The idiots in the Reform Party have decided they don’t want me as their Presidential candidate. Enormous mistake! Really enormous! But it’s their funeral!
And this makes you sad?
Are you kidding? No, it doesn’t make me sad. I don’t do sad. Never have. Sad is for suckers and losers! Sad is moping. I don’t mope. I get angry and I get even, and I am angry!
I’m sad that you’re so angry.
It makes me sad when anyone is upset. Being upset, being angry, is just sadness looking for a speedy way to be happy again.
What other way is there?
Well, in your case, since someone other than you will win your party’s nomination, you could be happy for him and, if he wins the election, you could be happy that your party and its principles have won. After all, that must be what you were hoping for your party and your country if you had won.
What planet did you say you’re from?
Pittsburgh, eh? This is New York. I’m a New Yorker. Ever seen West Side Story? Do you think the Sharks and the Jets sat down at tea and discussed how to make a better neighborhood, and who would do the better job? Is everybody in Pittsburgh a pansy like you?
Ha ha, I think you’re trying to get me to respond angrily, which, if I did, would prove that I’m a hypocrite. But let’s get back to your situation. Do you have someone to talk to about your feelings?
It appears that I have you … at least until I can escape.
Ha, yes! It’s important to have a sense of humor. But I mean, really, someone you trust, someone who will be with you no matter what. Your wife? Your children? Your friends?
It’s wives plural, which answers that part of the question. Kids? Maybe some day, but not now. And there’s Rudy Giuliani and Roger Stone. But, feelings? I’d be better off talking to my dog.
You have a dog? Dogs can help you relieve stress, though they’re not so good at offering advice.
Tell me something I don’t know. But, look, I’ve got to go. And, let me be frank. You’re a nice guy, but you know what they say about nice guys and finishing last. I’m not a nice guy and I’m not gonna finish last. I figure, the less nice I am, the more successful I am and, by the way, I’m gonna keep being successful. Just wait and see. I’ll be President, maybe not this time, but some time. Keep your eye out for me! Anyway, I’ve got to get going. So long. (To himself, as he walks away: Man, it’s a good thing that doofus isn’t running for President.)
(Mr. Rogers, to himself, as he walks away: It certainly is good fortune for the country that a dangerous egotist like him won’t be President.)