Exposing Our Greed and Venality, Trump Distracts From Damage to Our Protections

By now we should be used to his excessive vulgarity, his racism, his lying, his cheating. It should roll off our consciousness like water off a duck’s back.

Surely Melania must know about his sleaziness. No doubt, she has made a Faustian compact to live in a gilded palace, and now the White House, in return for accepting his casual infidelities, if not in actual deed, for certain in lewdness.

The rest of us, and the world, have to endure a considerably less than perfect projected presidential image of America.

The real tragedy of Trump is that he has exposed the venal selfishness and bias inside too, too many of our citizens and the men and women chosen to represent us in the legislative and administrative arenas intended to benefit us all.

Trump’s characterization of Haitians and Africans squares effortlessly with the persona recognized by anyone who has followed his career. The surprise from this incident is the failure of public officials and ordinary citizens to emulate Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) to express revulsion in the face of racism, bigotry and the denigration of the standards of the office of the president. (One wonders what was Trump’s response when challenged by Graham. Bullies usually back down. Did he express remorse or did he continue to violate proper decorum?)

Reminiscent of the “I cannot recall” testimony of Republican operatives in the Nixon White House during the 1973 Watergate hearings, and 14 years later by Rear Admiral John Poindexter during the Iran-Contra hearings, Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA), astonishingly claimed they heard nothing. Surely if Graham admonished Trump, as he said he did, it could not have been in whispers. Nor in private. Were Cotton and Perdue, along with other attendees House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-VA), and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) sleeping through this meeting? Or playing with a fidget spinner?

Cotton and Perdue have tried to blunt the report on Trump’s language by casting doubts on Durbin’s integrity. “I’m saying that this is a gross misrepresentation, it’s not the first time Sen. Durbin has done it,” Perdue said on ABC’s This Week. But Graham, recently thought to have a close relationship with Trump, has not denied Trump’s vulgar language (http://www.cnn.com/2018/01/13/politics/trump-remark-reaction/index.html).

Trump has declared he is not a racist, but his actions (against black athletes, minority voters, Hispanic immigrants, Muslims and Jews) and at times silence in the face of White Nationalist provocations have been more affirmative than any rejection of the appellation.

Those Americans who voted for Trump are a mixed bag. The true believers, among them evangelicals of all religions who have abandoned their respective god’s principles to idolize a vengeful, egotistical leader devoid of compassion, absolve him of any wrongdoing regardless of its accuracy or provenance. Theirs is a belief grounded in zealotry and intolerance (https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2018/01/12/politics/trump-supporters-react/index.html).

Economics drives those who held their noses and voted for Trump. They might not like what he says or how he acts but they like the rise in their stock portfolios. They have sold their principles, along with environmental protections and American world leadership, in exchange for riches. But as Jesus told his followers in Matthew 6:24, “You cannot serve God and mammon.”

As a nation we have aged beyond the time when a Walter Cronkite could express on the CBS Evening News disenchantment with the war in Vietnam and a president (Lyndon Johnson) could reportedly have said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” Today we tune into cable telecasts (hard to call them newscasts) that reinforce our prejudices (https://apnews.com/2761a6d6cedc4b91b739a6db93a3a236). There is little opportunity to build a national consensus of truth and facts.

A duck gliding smoothly across a lake is an image of tranquility. As is often noted, however, the real action is below the surface where the duck’s legs are busily paddling away.

Trump is no serene image but he is a distraction to the destructive activity underway in the halls of government, not the chambers of Congress, rather the offices of agencies and departments now supervised by men and women dedicated to dismantling regulations that protect consumers, workers, voters, the environment, international agreements and other initiatives intended to balance the greed of the wealthy and empowered with the needs of the common populace (Here’s the latest in Politico’s weekly review of five things Trump did while you weren’t looking: https://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2018/01/12/trump-policy-medicaid-immigration-trade-000619.)

Trump garners our attention. He galvanizes the resistance. He will bring voters to the polls, against and for him, in numbers a Mike Pence or any other Republican would not. But, in substance, he is no worse than what any other conservative Republican would be doing.

Except, in the cult of personality he is generating and in his in evocation of powers, real and imagined, presidents before him rarely, if ever, espoused, Trump is a dangerous political phenomenon.

Which leads me to conclude with an excerpt from a reflection written by Jules Harlow contained in the Lev Shalem (whole heart) prayer book read during an ecumenical service Sunday night honoring The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Temple Israel Center of White Plains.

“Help us, Eternal, to honor humility.

Too often we follow the foolish and the wicked;

Too often we follow mockers and the arrogant.

“Protect us, Sovereign, from ourselves as from others.

Too often we speak slander and violence;

Too often we falter in our faithfulness.”

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