By Dr Dhanpaul Narine
In the land of petty Donald Trump is King. This President, who tweets at all hours, could not find the right words to say to the widow of a fallen American hero. On October 4, 2017 four Special Services soldiers were killed at the border of Niger and Mali.
It took twelve days for President Trump to publicly comment on the incident. In the meantime, he was busy calling out the press for reporting fake news, criticizing Bob Corker, the Puerto Rican administration, the NFL and Kim-un-Jong of North Korea. Trump finally called the widow of one of the soldiers. She was Myeshia Johnson.
In a bizarre ‘he said, she said’ episode it was stated that Trump disrespected the memory of fallen soldier Sgt. La David Johnson. What is sad and baffling is that Trump wouldn’t let the matter go; he tweets frequently about it to prove his point and ends up causing more grief to the family.
This is not the first time that Trump has run into trouble for choosing the wrong words to describe a Gold Star family. One recalls that during the campaign Trump spoke negatively about the family of Capt. Humayun Khan. The soldier, of Pakistani origin, gave his life for the United States but Trump sought to score political points by attacking the parents of Capt. Khan.
Critics pointed out during the campaign that Trump should ‘knock off the petty stuff’ and should instead focus on substantive issues. But Trump wasn’t listening. He attacked Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, among others. Some may argue that attacks are part of the political landscape and are to be expected in a competitive election season.
But Trump crossed the line many times with ‘petty stuff.’ He described the way some of the candidates looked and his personal and suggestive confrontation with Marco Rubio about ‘small hands’ were fit for the gutter. The personal twitter attacks led Robert Reich, a former Secretary of Labor, to directly appeal to Trump.
Mr. Reich said, ‘Let me just say with all respect, Mr. Trump, you are the president-elect of the United States, you are looking and acting as if you are mean and petty, thin-skinned and vindictive. Stop this. This is not a fireside chat. This is not what FDR did. This isn’t lifting people up. This is actually penalizing people for speaking their minds.’ Reich concluded that Trump’s vindictiveness could see America in a lot of trouble.
These comments were made before the swearing in ceremony. What has been the behavior of Trump since? One will recall that immediately after the ceremony there was a big debate as to the size of the crowd. The Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, created a controversy that lasted for days as to which president got the bigger crowds at his inauguration.
Trump insisted that his crowd was one of the biggest in modern times when the pictures showed the opposite. His press office invented the term ‘alternative news’ to support the fake reporting.
In his first few weeks in office Trump got into a twitter exchange with Arnold Schwarzenneger over ratings, attacked Judge Robart for temporarily stopping the travel ban and took on Nordstrom for dropping Ivanka’s fashion line.
In what was a new level of petty Trump launched into an attack on sporting personalities. Stephen Curry and the Warriors refused to visit the White House in protest of Trump’s policies. The team decided to visit Washington instead to celebrate inclusion.
Who can forget Trump’s attacks on Joe Scarborough and his co-host Mika Brzezinski? Trump responded to their criticisms of his presidency by describing them as ‘Low I.Q Crazy Mika’ and ‘Psycho Joe.’ He accused Brzezinski of ‘bleeding badly from a face-lift.’ This was reminiscent of his comments about Megyn Kelly. During the debates he said about Kelly, ‘You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her whatever.’
Trump’s pettiness and refusal to ignore the trivial things has put his defenders in an uncomfortable and oftentimes embarrassing position. Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Sean Spicer, have at various times, scrambled to play catch up to Trump. There are senior figures in the Republican Party that wouldn’t support the politics of pettiness and have told Trump about it.
John McCain has let it be known that he was against aggressive interrogation techniques as was suggested by Trump. In May 2017, McCain said that the many scandals that were rocking the White House were reaching ‘Watergate proportions.’ In mid-October 2017, McCain attacked the half-baked nationalism ‘that were cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.’
George W. Bush, the former President, spoke recently about the new and serious threats that democracies are facing. He makes the point that ‘discourses are degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together.’ Bush also spoke out against the recent surge of violence in America.
He said, ‘Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.’ McCain praised the speech but it did not go down well with Steve Bannon. In an address to the California Republican Party Convention Bannon said that, ‘ there has not been a more destructive presidency than George Bush’s.’ But Bush was not the only veiled attack on Trump.
Barack Obama spoke in Virginia in October 2017 and accused politicians of riling up the people and making them angry. According to Obama, ‘Instead of our politics reflecting our values, we’ve got politics infecting our communities.’ He suggested that people should learn from the past and listen to each other. The latest poll shows that 51 per cent of Americans say that they have a favorable opinion of Obama.
Historians have compared the pettiness of Trump to that of Richard Nixon, a former President. How Nixonian is Donald Trump? Nixon wanted to secure personal advantage and could not ignore the small stuff. Trump does the same. Nixon thought that people were out to get him and this was even before Watergate; Trump has a fixation that there are enemies out to derail his agenda.
What about foreign influence in American elections? According to released documents, Nixon asked a surrogate Anna Chennault in 1968 to manipulate the talks with Vietnam to give the impression that the Democrats were not interested in negotiation. The Vietnamese appeared to help Nixon and the Russians in 2015 is said to influence America’s elections. After the 1968 elections Nixon accused former President Johnson of spying on him. After the 2015 elections Trump accused former President Obama of spying on him. Nixon fired Archibald Cox; Trump fired James Comey.
Nixon resigned as a result of Watergate and there are talks about Trump being impeached. It is early days yet for Trump. He prizes a letter from Nixon that speaks glowingly about his future ambitions. But, as Nixon found, personal ambition that goes unchecked can be dangerous for democracy.
Dr. DHANPAUL NARINE IS AN INDEPENDENT COLUMNIST.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.