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Bill Straub: Hail, hail Fredonia; America is mired in Duck Soup under President Donald J. Trump


Perhaps the time has come to consider changing the name of the United States of America to Freedonia.

For the uninitiated, Freedonia, land of the free and brave, is the country ruled by Rufus T. Firefly, as played by Groucho Marx, in the classic 1933 film, Duck Soup.

Groucho Marx (courtesy of Wikipedia)

The manner in which Firefly operated, it seems, serves as a precursor to the administration of President Donald J. Trump, and the similarities extend well beyond the penchant of both men to affect strange hair styles.

Neither man, for instance, exhibits much propensity for policy. Trump famously pays little attention to his advisors and reads only those items that sing his praises. In one exchange in Duck Soup, the Minister of Finance hands Firefly a document and offers the hope that the President will “find it clear.’’

“Clear? Huh. Why a four-year-old child could understand this report,’’ Firefly responds before turning to his aide, Bob Roland. “Run out and find me a four-year-old child, I can’t make head or tail of it.’’

Both Trump and Firefly blame their predecessors for the dire conditions found in the nations they inherited. Trump maintains former President Barack left him a mess. Firefly preferred singing his complaint:

“The last man nearly ruined this place
He didn’t know what to do with it
If you think this country’s bad off now
Just wait till I get through with it.’’

Trump is famous for insulting his rivals. Firefly harassed Trentino, the ambassador from neighboring Sylvania, to the extend that both nations went to war. At one point he told Trentino, “Maybe you can suggest something. As a matter of fact, you do suggest something. To me you suggest a baboon.’’

Trump’s cabinet is historically inept and has seen several departures as a result of questionable ethical conduct. Meanwhile Firefly relied on Chicolini and Pinky, Groucho’s brothers Chico and Harpo Marx respectively.

That should tell you all you need to know. Faced with a prison term of 10 years in Leavenworth or 11 years in Twelveworth, Chicolini replied, “I’ll take five and 10 in Woolworth.’’

And, of course, both Trump and Firefly place growing personally wealthy above all, including serving their respective countries.

Trump is collecting millions off the properties he refused to place in a blind trust. Firefly, meanwhile, had this exchange with Mrs. Teasdale, a widow, whose money kept Freedonia afloat:

President Donald J. Trump (official photo)

Firefly: Will you marry me? Did he leave you any money? Answer the second question first.
Teasdale: He left me his entire fortune.
Firefly: Is that so? Can’t you see what I’m trying to tell you? I love you.

It seems the main difference between the Firefly and Trump administrations is that Duck Soup is a comedy – it was meant to be funny.

Trump doesn’t intend to be a joke, at least as far as we know, but he most certainly is – hugging and dancing with an American flag to the strains of “God Bless the USA’’ at the outset of a bizarre two-hour presentation at the Conservative Political Action Committee convention, an address that even veteran Trump watchers considered more addled than usual.

Just in the past few weeks Trump expressed his affection for a murderous dictator, North Korea Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. He made a mockery of the U.S. Constitution yet again by shifting funds from projects allocated by Congress to build a wall along the southern border for spurious reasons.

He was identified by his former lawyer, Michael Cohn, as an active participant in a scheme to pay-off a porn star with whom he had sexual relations to keep the news from going public and damaging his ultimately successful 2016 presidential campaign operation – an endeavor they may have violated campaign finance laws.

In the past he has bragged about fondling unsuspecting women, characterized Mexicans as rapists and gangsters, referred to African nations as s—thole countries and played pat-a-cake with white supremists. His campaign remains under the watchful eye of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to determine if it “colluded’’ – Trump’s term – with the Russian government to aid in his victory. His tweets are so childish most of the time it’s hard to believe they came from an adult.

Sen. Rand Paul

And, according to the latest count from The Washington Post, Trump uttered 9,014 false or misleading claims during the first 773 days of his administration. That comes down to 5.9 whoppers per day.

These statements are often referred to as lies.

Taken all together, Donald J. Trump makes Rufus T. Firefly look like Abraham Lincoln.

Yet slightly more than four out of 10 Americans think Trump is doing a good or excellent job, which is rather like maintaining the 13-51 New York Knicks (the team I grew up rooting for) deserve to be in the NBA finals this season.

And he has a roster full of Republican collaborators who enable him along the way, whispering their admiration in his waiting ear while complaining bitterly about his forays behind his back. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Louisville, remains the most significant figure in that regard – he votes with Trump 94.7 percent of the time, according to a tally kept by the website fivethirtyeight.com – but he is hardly alone.

Fivethirtyeight.com found that Rep. James Comer, R-Tompkinsville, has voted with Trump 93.8 percent of the time during his career, 100 percent during the 116th Congress based on 16 votes. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, has voted the Trump way 96.4 percent of the time during the extent of the administration.

Those with the lowest such scores, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green and Rep. Thomas Massie, R-SomewhereorotherLewisCounty, are libertarians who occasionally break with Trump on foreign affairs or, in the most recent event, his commandeering of funds for the wall.

Still, it’s curious to witness Republicans with proven records of level-headedness in the past going full Trump. One of those lawmakers familiar to folks in Northern Kentucky is Sen. Rob Portman, R-OH, from just across the Ohio River in Cincinnati.

I got to know Portman pretty well during my tenure as Washington correspondent for the late, lamented Cincinnati Post and always found him smart, thoughtful and generous, a cut above most on Capitol Hill. He did, in fact, represent his constituents well.

Sen. Rob Portman

But over the past two years he has gone almost full Trump, voting with him 93.5 percent of the time in the two-plus years of his presidency and going against him once in eight votes during the 116th Congress. He remains uncommitted on Trump’s wall robbery.

Portman has gone so far as to already endorse Trump for re-election in 2020, paying little heed to his well-documented legal and ethical dilemmas.

I’m not the only one to notice Portman’s peculiar devotion to a man of few if any principles. It is particularly odd since Portman served for a time as director of the Office of Management and Budget under former President George W. Bush, who has felt Trump’s sting.

Howard Wilkinson, the longtime political writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer who just retired from his position as commentator for WVXU-FM, (congratulations, Howard) whose work I have long admired, recently wrote that Portman has “been, for the most part, almost slavishly obedient to President Trump.’’

So, like so many others before him, Portman has abandoned the Republican Party most of us recognized, for the Trump Party and its lies, shady dealings, belligerence, willful ignorance and lack of concern over right and wrong, all accomplished with the principles of a sewer rat.

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.


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