“What is integrity?” a human resources professional moderating a seminar asked long ago. After letting the audience squirm for a few minutes, she answered her own question: “Integrity is doing what you say you will do.” Now deep into retirement, I get my definitions from other sources. Rachel Maddow, one of my favorite cable pundits, has steadfastly refused to expend any energy showcasing what President Donald Trump says. Instead she advises viewers to watch what Trump does.
Unfortunately, Trump’s perpetual campaign rally format suggests that a lot of his base still see him as a reality TV star and not a serious world leader. For them he is a Globetrotter, spinning a basketball on one finger to distract from his other hand, which is stabbing at political opponents a weird homage to Vlad Putin. Trump’s base (I just love that word and its many connotations) isn’t cowed by the fact that the man holds the keys to their clown car also has access to our nuclear defense codes.
I’ve never seen one episode of “The Apprentice, but I’m all too familiar with Trump’s signature phrase, “You’re fired.” Some friends tell me he is a breath of fresh air because “he tells it like it is.” Unfortunately, Trump’s “it” is narcissistic bombast and the “is” is the silly name-calling of a schoolyard bully; great TV, but poor statesmanship.
Trump’s nasty digs are reserved for the media, which he calls “the enemy of the people.” This is right out of the Totalitarian for Dummies playbook, of course, but his supposed coup de grace is proclaiming a newspaper or TV show to have “low ratings.” Like most egomaniacs, it is all about how many eyes are glued on him. His dubious relationship with the “National Enquirer” says much about what he values in reading material. He dismisses more literate publications as “Fake News.” Even Fox News, which is complicit in his general lie mongering, gets hit with laser barbs from his twitter-sphere when they do not properly parrot his talking points.
“But he’s done so much,” you say. Ah those promises kept. He was going to be “so presidential.” When? He said he’d be too busy doing great presidential things to play golf, then sets a record for presidential rounds played, not to mention the millions his obsession costs us taxpayers in security. The fact that the golfing costs go into his own resort is just nuisance collateral damage. His trade wars were going to be so easy to win but economists say that they have been a complete bust for “the greatest negotiator of all time.” He loves the military but has a running feud with Gold Star families, parents who have lost a child in combat. He also loves warriors like the SEAL who killed a 12-year-old girl and took selfies holding up the severed head of the ISIS 17-year-old boy he stabbed to death on a whim. The pardoned soldier was later exposed to have a reputation among his fellow soldiers for being “pure evil,” but the man and his wife were feted in December at a Mar-a-Logo Christmas party.
After promising to work hard for the common folk, his signature first-term accomplishment was a tax break that only benefitted himself and the super wealthy. He was going to make Mexico pay for a great wall to keep out the illegal “invasion of criminals into our country,” but had to try to divert illegal misappropriation schemes to get the money when Congress refused to cave on his pathetic demands. What of the barbarians at our southern border? They were just another political distraction (what he said) created to take the heat off his administration’s revolving door of corrupt officials (what he does).
The list goes on and the fact-checked “pants-on-fire” lies coming out Trump’s White House number in the thousands. But his base loves every minute of it. Every slur from the rally stage is a delight, every ugly nickname good for a communal chuckle. Trump’s wife’s one social crusade, the “Be Best” program, is supposed to deter bullying, but her husband undercuts it when he locks babies in border cages and has a renowned public row with a 15-year-old climate activist. The First Lady’s reply? Cue Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence.”
If this all sounds schizophrenic to you, then you could be right. Washington D.C. is famous for the left-hand, right-hand magic trick. That is most definitely what is happening today, only the president doesn’t realize he is Charlie McCarthy and the Republicans are Edgar Bergen. If that doesn’t strike a bell, Bergen was a ventriloquist and Charlie was the puppet perched on his puppet master’s lap. As they like to say in old Tinsel Town, “That’s entertainment.”