“To announce that there must be no criticism of the President is morally treasonable to the American public.”
After Trump delivered a statement to a joint session of Congress on February 28th, the media and pundits unleashed a torrent of praises, calling Trump “presidential.” Even CNN’s Van Jones stated, “This is when Trump became President.” In his address, Trump was, for the most part, measured and calculated. His speech called for a unification and compromise, stating that “the time for trivial fights is behind us.” Realistically, his speech was just okay. It wasn’t eloquent. And outside of the time he spent honoring Navy SEAL Owens’ wife, it wasn’t emotionally powerful. Despite what some have said, this isn’t a speech that we will remember years from now. In short, Trump’s congressional address is wholly incomparable to truly great speeches, such as JFK’s Inaugural Address (aka the “Ask not what your country can do for you” speech- click here to listen to the address and read the transcript). To even suggest the comparison is a disservice to the spirits and legacies of our truly great Presidents and orators.
Nor was his speech the mythical pivot point that many political experts have been predicting. Trump’s pivot is no more real than lazy immigrants who also steal American jobs. That’s to say, it is a contradiction of terms. How can I be sure that Trump won’t pivot? After all, we are less than two months into his presidency. Maybe, as his presidency matures, so to will Trump’s behavior? Certainly, that is a possibility. However, Trump just passed up his first real opportunity to showcase any meaningful degree of willingness to do so after calling for an end to trivial fights.
No sooner was Trump being praised by the media (including the terribly biased liberal media) than a story broke about meetings between Jeff Sessions and the Russian ambassador at the height of the campaign season. How did Trump respond? Initially, he expressed complete faith in Sessions and asserted that Sessions had not lied – gotta give the man credit for being loyal to a fault. The administration’s next move was to attack Democrats and allege that they had their own Russian ties. It’s as if Trump thought that one’s own wrongdoing could be made right if someone else might have acted that way. For the record, they don’t. And there’s no evidence that the meetings Democrats had with Russian officials were tainted by illegalities, not that I should even have to say that.
It’s as if Trump thought that one’s own wrongdoing could be made right if someone else might have acted that way.
How should a President handle such a situation? I cannot fault a President for demonstrating loyalty to an individual who supported them when few others believed in them (at least, I cannot fault the principle). However, the allegations brought against Sessions are serious and are related to evidence that the Russians attempted (succeeded?) at influencing the 2016 presidential election. These charges strike at the heart of democracy. If the People are unable to freely decide who to elect based on reasonable, factual statements and an understanding of the issues that truly matter, then we do not truly live in a democracy – at least not an open and honest democracy). A President, so long as they truly care about the continuation of our democracy, would do everything in their power to ensure that confidence in our system was maintained.
The simplest way to maintain the public’s confidence in our democracy in the face of controversies and allegations of Russian influence would be for the President to support a thorough and independent investigation of the issues. Assuming that the allegations are wholly false and the President did nothing wrong (and had no first hand knowledge of any wrongdoing), the only loss would be that of the special prosecutor’s time and a minimal loss of taxpayer money. When compared with the immense benefit of ensuring that the People, the foundation of our democracy, can have full confidence in our political system, the loss is minuscule and not worth the mention. But if any of the allegations are true; if the Russians did exert influence over the election and/or anyone associated with the Trump campaign illegally met with Russian officials, then it is imperative that the truth and the full details be made known to the public, so that the public can ensure that corrective measures are taken and those at fault are held responsible.
Trump, of course, did not do these things. Nor did he let the story run its course and slip away quietly. Instead, he apparently decided to create news of his own. On March 4, Trump accused Obama and his administration of wiretapping the phones at Trump Tower in an effort to keep Trump from being elected. He provided no evidence, no basis for his claims. The only apparent foundation for this incredibly serious allegation was a Breitbart article. An article which itself had no substantive sources or justification for the serious allegations it contained (ironically, a charge that Trump consistently levels at the liberal media; aka nearly all of the media excluding Fox News and Breitbart). Not to let that stand in his way, Trump shot off a series of 4 tweets alleging that Obama had wiretapped his phones a la Richard Nixon ordering a break-in at the Watergate.
FBI Director James Comey made a public statement pointedly denying the use of wiretaps at Trump Tower or on Trump or his campaign.
Let’s acknowledge the absurdity of the allegations, irrespective of their source (which in and of itself should set off alarm bells about the probability of it being fake news). While it is theoretically possible for a President to instruct government agents to seek a wiretap, in practice it does not happen. The FBI and DOJ have autonomy to conduct and carry out investigations. Wiretapping a phone is something the FBI can do, only after receiving a warrant from a court, which means that the judge was convinced that the FBI had probable cause of a crime and that a wiretap could confirm this and provide additional evidence. In case anyone thought this was possible, both FBI Director James Comey and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made public statements pointedly denying the use of wiretaps at Trump Tower or on Trump or his campaign.
All of this demonstrates that the President of the United States is willing to throw around incredibly serious, yet unsubstantiated and (very likely false) false accusations. Arguably, this is the “best” of the now possible scenarios. Because if Trump’s allegations actually are true, that his phones were wiretapped on President Obama’s orders, he would have every reason to declassify and release the official files. Of course, this won’t happen because there are no files, because there was no wiretap. The only other alternative is that the allegations are true and Trump has good reason to ensure that the files remain classified. The only justification I can conjure in defense of such action is that the files are personally incriminating. That is probably the most frightening possibility.
If you disagree with any of my previous analysis, I invite you to engage me on the matter. All that I ask is you be prepared to defend your views with logic and evidence. For the record, that requires more than a response along the lines of: “Give him a chance! We aren’t even two months into his presidency!” That response doesn’t fly. And it hasn’t going back at least as far as his inauguration, if not back to his election. This man has held the Office of the President of the United States for 48 days. That’s exactly how long he should have been “presidential.” What should be painfully obvious at this point is that Trump has no intentions to be presidential, or even respectful, on a consistent basis. It’s time for people to stop asking others to give him a chance. The time is to either defend his actions and manner of handling sensitive issues, or admit that he is not behaving appropriately and join the calls for him to change.