The Year of Living Embarrassingly

The Year of Living Embarrassingly
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<p>James Buchanan </p>

James Buchanan

Miller Center

The Trump presidency: It is worse than feared.

The United States has had its share of awful presidents. James Buchanan dithered while the South seceded; Warren Harding had his way with his mistress in a White House closet while his poker-playing buddies had their way with the national treasury; Richard Nixon disregarded the Constitution in pursuit of his public ambitions and his private demons; and I have not even mentioned Millard Fillmore.

But, President Donald Trump is in a class of his own. His ignorance; his racist, xenophobic, misogynistic tweets and statements, full of bile and lies; his nepotism, exhibited by putting his daughter and son-in-law in positions of trust and power for which they have absolutely no qualifications or experience; his willingness to use the government for his personal enrichment and aggrandizement; his berating of traditional allies and his insults of enemies; his toadying up to dictators around the world; and his narcissism combined to make 2017 the most embarrassing year in American political history. Will 2018 be worse? Stay tuned.

The embarrassments began on Inauguration Day when the newly sworn-in president gave a depressingly dark speech invoking the phrase “American carnage.” No Lincolnesque soaring rhetoric appealing to “the better angels of our nature.” Day two of the reign of Trump was memorable for the president ordering Press Secretary Sean Spicer into the White House briefing room to declare falsely that the previous day’s audience “was the largest crowd to witness an inauguration, period.” Trump reiterated that pictorially demonstrable falsehood in an appearance in front of the CIA’s wall memorializing agents killed in the line of duty.

Trump is not the only author of embarrassments in his administration. Day three brought Kellyanne Conway’s memorable “alternative facts,” the beginning of the White House’s assault on truth. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who replaced Spicer as press secretary, joined the attack on facts when she defended Trump’s retweet of misleading but racist anti-Muslim videos because the threat posed by Muslims is “real.” According to Sanders, “I’m not talking about the nature of the video. I think you’re focusing on the wrong thing. The threat is real, and that’s what the president is talking about.”

The White House staff is only following Trump’s lead. He spent the year decrying “fake news.” Trump’s attacks on the media are not only embarrassing, they also undermine the nation’s democratic values. Yet, while he references “fake news” the president apparently spends hours each day watching cable news, particularly shows that blindly support him, such as “Fox & Friends,” “Hannity,” and a few others on Fox News.

For me, the most embarrassing presidential moment came when Trump defended neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia, as “very fine people.” The image of the president of the United States praising the heirs of history’s most brutal regime is beyond embarrassing; it is appalling. But, then, so is Trump’s unwillingness to recognize the brutality of Russia’s Vladimir Putin as well as Moscow’s interference in American elections. Putin is not the only autocrat for whom Trump has expressed fond feelings. The president of the United States has also heaped praise on Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Xi Jinping of China, Abdel-Fatth el-Sissi of Egypt, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. At the same time, Trump embarrassingly has picked fights with the leaders of such staunch American allies as Great Britain, Germany, and Australia.

Trump’s narcissistic need for praise forces those around him into excruciatingly embarrassing moments. Number one on display is the cringe-filled Cabinet meeting the president held in June. First, Trump lavishly praised himelf: “Never has there been a president… who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than I have.” Then, aides and secretaries had their turn. Former chief of staff Reince Priebus thanked Trump “for the opportunity and blessing to serve your agenda.” Vice President Mike Pence, who may have set the record for most toadying statements ever, called serving under Trump “the greatest privilege of my life.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said law enforcement officials were “so thrilled” about Trump’s leadership, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry said, “My hat’s off to you.” And, so it went.

Those around Trump apparently know that feeding the boss’s ego is a prerequisite for staying in office. The obsequiousness now has extended to Republicans in Congress. Following the recent passage of the awful GOP tax bill, party leaders fell all over themselves in praise of Trump. House Speaker Paul Ryan referred to Trump’s “exquisite presidential leadership.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell boasted of the “extraordinary accomplishment [referring to the tax bill] of the Trump administration,” while the king of lickspittle, Vice President Pence, said the president “has been making history since the first day of his administration.” But, the champion sycophant has to be Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who looked Trump in the eye and declared, “You’re one heck of a leader” before adding that Trump may be the greatest president ever. Paging Abraham Lincoln….

Trump is beyond embarrassment, and so, evidently, are many of those around him. The president’s narcissism, which has been on display from the beginning, was shown again in the recent unveiling of the commemorative presidential coin. These things, which have been around for a few decades, are usually simple copper-and-silver designs. Not Trump’s! The just-issued coin is thicker and made of bright gold with a stand. It mocks the presidential seal: The eagle looks right instead of left and no longer holds 13 arrows. The national motto, “E pluribus unum “ (Out of many, one), has been replaced with “Make America Great Again.” Trump’s name appears four times.

All this suggests a Stalinist cult of personality. Comrade Trump, you have embarrassed the nation countless times in 2017. What are you going to do to our republican experiment in 2018?

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