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Abusing the Oval Office

Terry H. Schwadron

Aug. 27, 2020

Sure, I am reacting poorly to seeing Donald Trump using the powers and trappings of his White House job to blur any distinction between governing and political appeal.

In fact, it’s why we have the Hatch Act in black law to sever these ties, though all acknowledge that the president and his number two are personally exempt from the practice, though not staffers doing the organizing. Still, you’d think the Law & Order candidate would have more respect for the law he wants enforced for everyone else, but then he seems to be reveling in depicting a bad boy breaking rules for overall good.

What I’m more concerned about, however, is if there is no difference in Trump’s mind between the two, we ought to be getting a lot more good work from our hired government employee as we see him at “work” during this Republican National Convention.

As the convention shows it, this is a president who gives a second chance to a bank robber through a televised pardon, who welcomes immigrants of diverse backgrounds in a public naturalization ceremony, whose Secretary of State can claim foreign triumphs around the globe for international peace, and whose wife can say in a straight face that cares about dignity for women. This doesn’t even reflect screwing with postal delivery in a time of pandemic mail delivery and threatening an army of monitors to influence in-person voting.

Columnist Frank Bruni in The New York Times sees the blurring of government t and political jobs as “shamelessness,” adding that Trump “and his loyalists will claim whatever they think they can get away with claiming. They will flout whichever rules don’t suit them. They will stage any stunt.”

The Washington Post’s Mark A. Thiessen decries any criticism, saying that both former president Barack Obama and vice president, Joe Biden, launched political criticisms against Trump campaign positions on overseas trips. Of course, those were single comments to questions asked of them rather than staged events for a convention, but okay.

Another Post columnist, Alyssa Rosenberg, said, “Trump still hasn’t learned that governing is different from entertaining, and that his self-interest is not the same as his country’s.”

The point is, all parties agree, that using the White House and government settings as a backdrop for an outwardly political event is breaking a previous no-no and that staging events that are part of the job as political theater is tacky.

Pretend Government

Yes, seeing Trump using what should be his daily job in a convention is troubling, But worse is the opposite — if it is good enough to hold a respectful attitude towards immigrants, say, during a convention, why not in real life?

If Trump truly wants us to believe that he cares about coronavirus deaths and spread, why is it so difficult to get White House focus on actual national coordination plans for testing and contact tracing rather than the drumbeat of misleading endorsements and conclusions about instant cures? If he really wants us to believe he wants energy independence, why fight the use of solar and alternative fuel sources, or a health care policy that actually adds people to coverage rather than cut them off?

Amid all the attempts to use stagecraft of a Potemkin-village view of government that aims to help those left behind by systemic practices that favor mostly wealthy, mostly white, mostly big business concerns, why not do those in his actual job.

I vote as if I am hiring someone for the White House job, not for a spiritual guru.

Were Trump a company employee trying to use the trappings of a job for his personal advancement, that would be reason alone to call him in for a serious discussion about a shortened job lifespan. I’ve had such situations as a manager — an employee using company connections for personal gain, a situation that the employee needed reminding that it violated company rules and put that employee’s job at risk.

Right now, I would say the same to Trump.

Worse, I would point out that it was part of a pattern of ignoring or flouting this governmental job’s rules and norms.

What to Make of It

In fairness, Donald Trump has told us repeatedly that he is a bull in a china shop, willing and eager, even, to break all that has passed as protocol.

What he did not tell us is that he would lie consistently about what he is doing. I’m not talking now about the 20,000 or so daily lies that news outlets have tracked. I’m focusing on the big lie here.

If he wants to use his government job as a political theater presentation, he ought at least to show us accurately how he is using it.

The reason: Candidate Trump wants to use his actual record as rationale for re-election, But rather than present accurately what he has done in most areas, the convention is using imagery of Trump at work to show a completely sanitized and inaccurate portrait of Trump at work.

In that spirit, hauling out a couple of nurses to offer public political raise for his coronavirus efforts without discussing the bumpy road that has led to 180,000 virus deaths in this country is a pretend use of government. To salute five immigrants who outlasted his anti-immigrant ordeals is an inaccurate reflection about how we should judge his policies.

Democrats last week used imagery of Joe Biden in office over 50 years, but also owned up to what amount to mistakes seen over the course of time.

Bruni, the columnist, described this week’s efforts to enshrine Trump as “Me, me, me, me. And the speakers at this convention dare to praise his outward focus, generosity of spirit, compassion and tenderness? They are standing — no, grandstanding — at the confluence of audacity and absurdity.”

My question: If that is how Trump sees himself, why can’t we see it in his work?

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Meanwhile, in Kenosha

The more we learn about violence in Kenosha, WI, the worse it seems — with complications about who’s who not reflected in the screeds being aired at the Republican National Convention against unidentified “leftist” protesters.

From witness accounts, including journalists on the ground, the most severe violence Tuesday night resulted from confrontation between armed, white vigilantes who said they were prepared to back police and protesters, the county sheriff said. Two protesters were killed by gunfire, apparently from these armed civilians.

The Kenosha police and Wisconsin National Guardsmen were caught in the middle.

The narrative at the convention blames only protesters, with plenty of supporting tweets to denounce “agitators” arriving from nearby Chicago.

A 17-year-old white man, who was recorded walking away from police, was arrested later on murder charges after fleeing Kenosha for Illinois.

Since Sunday, when Jacob Blake, 29, was shot in the back seven times by police reporting to reported domestic fight, Kenosha has seen peaceful protest turned violent in the early morning hours, with looting and fires. Blake is paralyzed and in serious condition, the police are investigating but releasing no information about either the fire or those involved in the violence.

And the Republican speakers taking the stage to decry Democratic mayors and governors for letting looting run amok have yet to acknowledge that there are armed anti-protesters on the streets — apparently the ones doing at least some of the shooting.

It’s a reminder that politicians need to check some facts before opening their mouths.

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