A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: Trump’s volatile first two weeks — a word of advice — better steel yourself and get used to it


WASHINGTON – There comes a time in the affairs of man, as W.C. Fields once put it, when he must take the bull by the tail and face the situation.

Now is such a time.

Things aren’t going to get better, at least for four years. No, the situation will not improve over a few months. Hoping that the administration of President Donald J. Trump comes to a screeching halt through resignation, impeachment or sudden revelation that the country is falling apart is a fool’s errand.

This is reality. We are destined for a long, arduous trek across the desert without food or water and with no oasis in sight.

Welcome to the neo-Dark Ages. Abandon all hope ye who enter here. In a beautiful and haunting song for our sad times, it was Paul Simon who wrote in American Tune:

And I dreamed I was flying
And high up above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea.

Can’t say you weren’t warned. When you elect a bigot and a bully to serve as president, he is going to run the office like a bigot and a bully. Already, two weeks into his presidency, Trump has turned the foreign service sector on its head, issued a patently racist order prohibiting individuals from select Muslim-majority countries – those countries where the new president doesn’t have business ties – from entering the country, appointed an advisor with links to white supremacists to the National Security Council, kicking out the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary to do so, and, of course, there’s the infamous border war with Mexico.

Then consider the tantrum about the size of the crowd attending his inauguration, the insistence that the only reason Democrat Hillary Clinton outpolled him by 3 million votes was voter fraud, and, best of all, the “alternative facts’’ explanation for all the whoppers he’s been uttering.

Better steel yourself and get used to it. Soon after his unexpected victory on Nov. 8, his supporters and some guileless wishful thinkers expressed confidence that the racist, misogynistic, xenophobic traits Trump openly displayed during the campaign would magically disappear, along with the open hostility and name calling, once he entered the Oval Office and assumed a more presidential mantle. Besides, they maintained, he’ll be surrounded by level-headed advisors and serious policy wonks to stave off some of his loonier initiatives.

Yeah, well, we’re witnessing how well that worked out. The man who currently, at least, has the president’s ear, chief strategist Steve Bannon, is the same white nationalist who wormed his way on to the National Security Council. Together, they have, in the space of fewer than 14 days, insulted Muslims – the ban – Latinos – the wall — and Jews – failing to specifically cite them on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

That list doesn’t include his attack on Rep. John Lewis, D-GA, a civil rights icon who suffered severe beatings marching for freedom, asserting that his congressional district is “crime infested” and that he is “All talk, talk, talk – no action or results.” Those remarks came shortly before the inauguration but you can safely include African-Americans and other righteous Americans among those insulted.

Trump’s coarseness has continued unrestrained, referring to those who question his entreaties to Vladimir Putin and Russia – you know, the folks who heled him get elected? – as stupid people or fools.

There’s no stopping this runaway freight train. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-WI, is perfectly satisfied to roll with it as long as Trump supports his policies to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, essentially emasculating programs like Medicare and Social Security. In Ryan’s defense, there’s probably little he can actually achieve given some of the whackos he has to deal with, folks like Rep. Steven King, R-IA, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-TX and, of course, our own Wonderboy, Whiz Kid Rep. Thomas Massie, R-SomewhereorotherLewisCounty.

And you’ve got to be kidding if you think Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Louisville, is going to step into the breach. That would require him to place country over party and self, which McConnell is physiologically incapable of doing under the best of circumstances.

With a slim majority – the GOP holds 52 of the 100 Senate seats – McConnell isn’t about to rock the boat and pick a fight with his Republican president. McConnell is many things, perhaps the most amoral politician to hit DC in some time, and that’s saying something. But he is not stupid. He remembers after President Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace in August 1974, Republicans lost 49 House seats and three seats in the Senate. There’s no way he moves against the king.

So who’s going to step into the breach? Who has to serve as the watchman in the night in face of a volatile presence with nitroglycerin flowing through his veins who would rather climb up a tree and tell a lie than stand on the ground and tell the truth? It’s going to have to be that most hated of American institutions – the press.

Want proof? Rep. Tom Price, R-GA, a vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act, is Trump’s choice to serve as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Questions were raised during his confirmation hearing over a “friends-and-family” deal he received on stock shares in an Australian biomedical firm, Innate Immunotherapeutics LTD. Price testified that the discounted shares “were available to every single individual that was an investor at the time.”

Well, no. Company officials contradicted Price’s claim, noting that he was one of fewer than 20 U.S. investors who were invited last year to purchase the cheap company shares in a deal arranged by another congressman with ties to the Trump White House, Rep. Chris Collins, R-NY. Company stocks rose after the special purchase when Price helped secure legislation benefitting one of the outfit’s multiple sclerosis drugs.

Now one would think that might raise a flag or two. Democrats informed Sen. Orrin Hatch R-UT, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, that they intended to boycott Price’s confirmation vote until such time as he answered truthfully about the stock purchase. Under committee rules, a vote couldn’t be taken if no member of the minority showed up.

So majority Republicans simply changed the rule and voted 14-0 to send Price’s nomination to the Senate floor.

Did McConnell step in to say maybe Price would like to turn a uey and spill the beans about the purchase? That’s not the way McConnell operates and as long as a Republican holds the White House he’ll be as cuddly as a teddy bear.

So who’s going to step into the breach? Who has to serve as the watchman in the night in face of a volatile presence with nitroglycerin flowing through his veins who would rather climb up a tree and tell a lie than stand on the ground and tell the truth?

It’s going to have to be that most hated of American institutions – the press.

Folks seem to have a misunderstanding about the role of the press in society. It’s not there to elate you or confirm your preconceived notions. Rather it’s there, as Finley Peter Dunne famously said, to “comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable.’’ And tell the truth. And boy do we need some comfort afflicting and truth telling these days.

The press has been under constant attack for some years now and some of the jibes are obviously legitimate. But mostly the expressed contempt comes from those who stand to benefit from a weakened media. Trump exemplifies that process. Many people now maintain more faith in the dispatches of the powerful than the revelations of those purposed with keeping tabs on the powerful. So Trump can utter a boldfaced lie, the press will correct him, and people will continue to believe Trump.

That is not a healthy situation.

It’s up to the press to pick up its game now – it’s the only hope left. By doing so, it need only follow the dictum of John 8:32 — And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

Bannon, in an interview with The New York Times, recently utilized the attack-the-media ploy to bolster your own indefensible position by maintaining that the “media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country’’ He further opined, “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.’’

That merits only one response. In the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven, after the initial confrontation with Calvera’s thugs results in defeat, the seven are marched to the edge of town and ordered to turn tail. Griff, played by James Coburn, retrieves his arms as Calvera rides away.

“Nobody throws me my own guns and says run,’’ Griff said. “Nobody.’’

Bill_Straubz-343-281x300

Washington correspondent 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.


Related Posts

One Comment

  1. Robyn Coburn says:

    James Coburn’s character’s name was Britt, not Griff.

Leave a Comment