Or the Love Song of J. Alfred Trump
In an administration running on threats, “alternative facts,” propaganda, divisiveness, and is fueled by the energy of an overweight septuagenarian and his flock of minions who seem to be straight out of a casting call for The Sopranos, The Mickey Mouse Club or Glee, this past week reached a new low.
Extensive rains caused a small sinkhole to open up outside of the press briefing room and reporters joked it was an exposed escape tunnel for fleeing staffers who were digging their way to freedom with coffee spoons. And as though they were pinned and wriggling against the wall preparing a face to meet the faces they meet or scuttling across the floor of the D.C. swamp, those same staffers who have lamented the administration they serve eagerly once again took up their ode to T.S. Eliot and headed to the network talk shows to tell us about “spies” and how great the president is though privately they continue to wring their hands, gnash their teeth and flail about with “insidious intent.”
The president these days is obsessed with the idea someone spied on his campaign. Mind you there is no evidence this occurred. There is only a report that a confidential informant – a long time Republican – shared information that had to do with Russian operatives (real spies) trying to undermine our election. Rep. Trey Gowdy even spoke out against this accusation saying the FBI did what every American wants the bureau to do when investigating possible crimes.
Getting follow ups, pertinent or pointed questions is next to impossible in the instances when the president is available
But the president doesn’t care about that. He tweets “Witch Hunt,” and he isn’t answering questions these days – unless he has tight control over the venue, time available and in some ways the questions reporters ask or in a smaller way the reporters who are present to ask him a question.
Getting follow ups, pertinent or pointed questions is next to impossible in the instances when the president is available. Last Tuesday afternoon in the stakeout area, mere feet from where the sinkhole opened up, I shouted a question to the president regarding the prospect of a North Korean summit scheduled in Singapore next month. It was the type of question he likes to answer. “Are you still going to Singapore?” I asked as the South Korean president pulled up to the West Wing in a limousine. “We’ll soon see,” Trump answered as he smiled and offered salutations to the South Korean president.
It was the “Stay Tuned” statement Trump likes. It was a tease that indicated the important meeting with South Korea could determine the outcome of this week’s exciting episode.
He didn’t stick around for follow ups. He doesn’t like to be questioned for too long or at any great depth – which makes any chance of Trump sitting down with Robert Mueller seem slimmer by the day. Many of his staffers I’ve spoken with have argued against him talking to Mueller.
Instead Trump likes to answer questions and conduct policy via his twitter litter. He likes to threaten, scorn, cheer and rant and rave like a pre-teen who just discovered social media. He limits his interactions with the country to his 280-character sermons or brief encounters with reporters that he can control.
Presidents in the past have also tried to some extent limit their interaction with the free press and there are humorous stories of reporters and photographers who’ve worked hard to get their attention to answer a few questions. Sam Donaldson, noticing Ronald Reagan limping to Marine One once shouted out that he saw the limp and asked if Reagan was a “lame duck.” Presidents often like to pretend they don’t hear shouted questions as they walk to helicopters, but Reagan heard that one and walked back to Donaldson. A photographer who covered Bush 43 routinely got the president’s attention when Bush walked into a room by saying, “Mr. President I’m over here.” Reporters and photographers who would mimic President Clinton were met with scorn and derision by Clinton when he saw their impersonations – but it got the president’s attention.
Another reporter famously got Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze to stop once when he asked, in a thick fake-Russian accent – “What about Moose and squirrel?”
But no one has been harder to lasso for some quality time than Donald Trump. He pushes hard against reporters so people won’t believe negative stories about him. He spends more time on the golf course than he does speaking to the press. When two reporters were roughed up at an EPA hearing this week Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in the briefing room she could not categorically state it was never permissible to lay hands on reporters. Perhaps that’s because press wranglers in the White House have laid hands on me and Jim Acosta among others. But at the same time the president said he would guarantee the safety of North Korean despot Kim Jon Ung. Safety for despots versus the free press is a priority in this administration.
Like a muskrat when cornered, the president is fighting hard, proving he will not go gentle into that good night. He lies about the press and he lies about the Department of Justice – weaponizing the “Deep State” striking fear and anger into his supporters, alienating others and pushing hard at his narrative to remain in power.
Last Monday I sent a letter to Sanders saying, “Continued inaccessibility to President Trump binds us and keeps us from reporting not only things you do not want to talk about - but things you wish to talk about. And ultimately that makes your life and the president's more difficult. Of course if your goal is to make us appear to be your enemy - then certainly the president is fulfilling that goal. . . The press and the president have a symbiotic relationship - that while contentious at times does not have to be that of combatants in a battle for the soul. We are the conduits through which information flows. By not availing himself of the OPEN press, the president himself is restricting his access to a great number of people - including a boat load of people who vote.”
Those who think the President will listen to this are far more optimistic than I am. A statement from the press office early last week titled “What you need to know about the violent animals of MS-13” more closely resembles something that rose from the depths of Hell into the White House sinkhole than anything remotely presidential. Vile and insulting to a variety of people and ignoring the economic, educational and societal problems we’ve yet to address or solve which enable street gangs to thrive, the president stained this country again without ever once answering a question about the highly offensive official statement. No reporter has ever been able to ask him a question about it. It is an important issue, but when you must prioritize your questions because of such little time with the president, many important issues sneak through without scrutiny.
The president is a bully and there is no other way to look at it. It isn’t about politics. It isn’t about some fine theory between smaller or larger government. It has nothing to do with checks and balances, theories of constitutional law or how best to govern.
Donald Trump doesn’t care. If you believe as he does, then he is your hero and everyone else is not only wrong, but perhaps and probably an enemy of the state or a member of the “Deep State.” He is relentless, volatile and divisive. He is the epitome of a system that pits neighbor against neighbor, stokes and foments violence by scaring people and convinces some of us the government is “coming for the guns.”
He fools a great many people by plucking at the same chords incessantly and he uses Sean Hannity and others to amplify the message. The press lies. Some immigrants are “animals.” The Deep State is out to get him. The DOJ plotted against him (somehow he became president. Never mind). He will drain the swamp. Government is corrupt. He is a knight in tarnished, soiled and incredibly rusty armor – but he’s the guy for the job!
Constitutional scholars say we are now in the middle of a Constitutional crisis.
As the noose around his political neck tightens with 22 indictments from the Mueller investigation, five plea deals and now with the “Taxi King” Russian-American Gene Freidman flipping on his business partner Michael Cohen (Trump’s fixer) the end game is in sight.
“Do you understand the nature of the benefit your attorneys have accomplished on your behalf?” Judge Peter Lynch reportedly asked Freidman last Tuesday.
The question probably sent a chill up and down the collective backs of Trump’s attorneys, staffers and the president himself.
Though Freidman’s prosecution is a mere sidebar to the Mueller investigation, the ominous words of the judge portend darker days to come.
Little wonder the president is retreating into his bunker, spewing invectives via Twitter, refusing to attend press briefings and attacking the Department of Justice.
Constitutional scholars say we are now in the middle of a Constitutional crisis.
We are, if nothing else, in the middle of a very divisive time in our history.
A staffer in the White House lamented last week, “Why is the press so against us?”
I reminded him the president began this little skirmish by declaring reporters to be “The enemy of the people,” and peddlers of “Fake News” while he himself peddled propaganda. The staffer nodded he understood.
I explained the best way to calm the waters was to put the president in the briefing room without advertising the appearance at least once a month. Let him answer some real questions.
Meanwhile, Tuesday night before the Don Lemon show on CNN I spoke with a national security expert who said our generation is forced with the reality of trying to bind the republic together with chewing gum and shoe strings. We can then hand it over to our children and pray they do a better job.
Few outside of the White House are listening to the real problems – merely demonizing those who think differently and not understanding we are all part of the problem. But the lack of understanding and listening start at the top.
At the end of the only briefing last week, FOX’s John Roberts stole the day again. He and I both tried to get Sarah Sanders to answer a question as she fled the podium after taking less than 11 minutes to answer reporters’ questions.
Sarah didn’t answer. But “Siri” on John Robert’s cellphone did.
“Great,” Roberts said. “My phone will answer my question, but Sarah won’t.”
And that is the very epitome of measuring out your life in coffee spoons.
J. Alfred Prufrock would understand.