“Who’s the more foolish: the fool, or the fool who follows him?”
–Alec Guiness (as Obi Wan Kenobi)
Back in my days as a newspaper reporter, editors were the heartbeat of the newsroom. Any story worth looking into came across their desks, and it was their job to pick and choose which topics were given attention and what amount of coverage would be assigned to the beat reporters. The ultimate arbitrator of stories was the managing editor who was the linchpin on which the newspaper survived or withered on the vine. It is their responsibility to be part seer/part social prognosticator with the ability to stay two steps ahead of a story to anticipate future developments to ensure cohesive coverage of all aspects of current stories covered by the publication.
Of course, this was 20 years ago when the world was a different place. There was a certain stability in the news business that was nurtured and protected by both the news makers and the people who covered them. A person in a political office was expected to follow certain rules of conduct that reflected both a modicum of decorum, as well as, a relatively sane approach to the office and how they conducted themselves. Writers respected what was a unique symbiotic relationship much like the one of the tiny pilot fish shares with the great sharks. They live on the morsels left after a shark feeds and moves on.
Those were the pre-Donald Trump days. Gone is the camaraderie, no matter how distant at times, that news makers and those who tell their stories shared. Gone is even the pretense of decorum. Gone is the respect for the news industry and the people who dedicate their lives to pursuit of the almighty story. Trump has replaced the norms of the business and given it a twisted, grotesque tone that smacks of insincerity, deceit, partisanship, and even lunacy. The one thing Trump does well is control the news cycles by constantly throwing the news industry, the public, and politicians of all stripes curve balls meant, as often as not, to muddy the waters to relieve pressure on the administration from the newest scandal or horrifying policy stance.
It is impossible to understand the stress placed on managing editors who woke up this past weekend to this tease of George Stephanopoulos’ extended interview of the president for a special edition of 20/20.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?
TRUMP: I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen, I don’t, there’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, “We have information on your opponent.” Oh, I think I’d want to hear it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You want that kind of interference in our elections?
TRUMP: It’s not an interference, they have information. I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI. If I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, that they come up with oppo research. Oh, let’s call the FBI. The FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it, but you go and talk honestly to congressmen, they all do it, they always have. And that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research. ABCNews
Normally sane and grounded Americans who have a modicum of intelligence and understanding our democratic process know the president voiced something so taboo that the Founding Fathers must have been spinning gangnam style in their graves. The strength of a democracy depends on the foundation of allegiance to the country first at the exclusion of foreign influence into one of our most sacred institutions: the election process. So egregious were his statements that the Chair of the Federal Election Commission, Ellen L. Wientraub, felt compelled to issue this statement, “Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.” Strong, but appropriate words that would make a normal human cringe in humiliation at the Chairwoman’s admonishment. Not Trump though.
It is almost a given that managing editors across the nation in newsrooms far and wide lost several hours off their expected lifespans simply trying to figure out where this story was headed. After all, the 20/20 story wouldn’t air until Sunday night which left nearly a full day of speculation on Trump’s words and his intent. Yet, at 6:39 a.m. Sunday morning, Trump spits out yet another of his ubiquitous Tweets that can only be seen as hyperbole of a madman. He wrote,
Not the typical Father’s Day salutation one would expect from the president of the United States, but it did take some of the heat off of him personally due to the Stephanopoulos tease backlash. It is hard not to see Trump’s modus operandi as that of an elaborate shell game where he constantly keeps shifting the shells to confuse and/or distract from his latest political faux pas. The crass audacity of his question “(do you think the people would demand that I stay longer? KEEP AMERICA GREAT)” defies not only logic but a sense of mental health that most people expect from their commander in chief. Yet, it is almost a certainty that his shallow and delusional base will eat this idea up. Again, Trump never plays for the fun of it. He has a method to his madness: Always play the angle that makes him look like he is doing the rest of us a favor.
The day, however, was not over. As more of the interview came to light, Americans found Trump trashing his former White House Counsel, Don McGhan, saying he lied to Robert Mueller under oath about being asked by Trump to fire Mueller. When asked by Stephanopoulos why McGhan would lie, Trump’s response was a classic. He said, “Because he wanted to make himself look like a good person. C&L”
Regardless, the president maintained, he didn’t fire Mueller, even though he had the right and power to do so. His next statement should sends chills down the spine of all Americans. Claiming Article II gave him the power to do whatever he wants, he maintained he could have fired Mueller, and it would be legal. He didn’t mention that firing Mueller would surely have been found to be obstruction of justice. Something, he claims, Mueller’s report exonerated him on any charges of obstruction or collusion. Collusion, maybe; obstruction, no.
So, over the course of the weekend, Trump affirmed he would gladly listen to foreign governments who want to give him dirt on his opponent. He suggested if the next election doesn’t have the outcome he wants that his base may demand to keep him in power, and that Article II of the Constitution gives him unlimited power to do whatever he wants with no regard to the will of the majority of the American people. These three statements are the things Kings are made of, not a freely elected president of a democracy.
Trump has long ago stopped being cute or funny in his actions or deeds. He has proven himself to be a loose cannon who has little regard to history, the law, or the great institutions of the nation. Still, he is only one man with a anemic base of crazies who will gladly stand by him no matter how outlandish his demands might be. It’s been this way since day one.
The real fear that Americans should be aware of is the Republican Party. The party has lost what semblance of a soul it once had. Time after time, Republican Senators and Representatives have shown just how craven and afraid they are of the president. They refuse to stand up to him regardless how off the wall his statements may be. A case in point is the Stephanopoulos tease where Trump said he would gladly accept “oppo” information from a foreign power, clearly an illegal act that demands outrage by everyone serving in government.
At first, Republicans were vocal in their “mock” horror that anyone, especially Trump, would make such an overtly provocative statement. Yet, as the days have past, the commitments coming from Republicans morphed into a tacit defense of the president and switched from “mock” horror to bait and switch statements to cover for the president in an attempt to draw fire away from him and blame just about everyone but Trump and his statements.
This is the obvious issue Americans should be concerned about in the coming election. If Trump does declare the election null and void, and his rabble rises up to support him, what will run of the mill Republicans do? Will they stand firm in their sworn allegiance to the Constitution and their offices? Or will they seize the opportunity to remain in power and throw their support behind the president? Americans will surely get a better sense of the Republicans’ resolve in the next year and a half as the 2020 election seasons heats up. The question will remain just how far they will go to support a president who is beginning to look like crazy King George III that our Forefathers stood up to in the nascent days of American democracy. We all know how that turned out.