C’mon, Just Fess Up, Then Fix It

Terry H. Schwadron

March 22, 2018

Distressingly, recent events in our Trump government keep suggesting that there is no reason for people who do dumb things to fess up.

Rather, the best advice these days seems to be to hit back often and hard, to insult the opposition, to attack the system that brought about the problem or to simply ignore any allegation of wrong-doing. It is not one or two incidents; there are a flood of them:

— When President Trump calls Russian leader Vladimir Putin to congratulate him for his undemocratic re-election over the specific advice of aides, Trump’s response is to get angry that some aide leaked the fact that the president had ignored written advice to avoid congratulations for an autocratic ruler rather than own up to a possible misjudgment.

— When Ben Carson testified before Congress this week about ordering a $31,000 furniture set to replace worn office furniture at his Department of Housing and Urban Development, the easiest thing for him to do was to blame his wife’s catalog-leafing habit rather than to own the mistake.

— When Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testified before Congress this week to defend her recommended budget cuts for public schools while proposing a billion dollars for private choice, she did not take responsibility for the results. Instead, she said, she was following presidential advice to spend less.

— When Facebook came up red-faced this week for allowing the private data of 50 million users to end up in the hands of a Machiavellian data-manipulation company that was linked to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, company head Mark Zuckerberg was simply missing in action for a few days. Then he did show up to announced last night that Facebook should be doing a better job of maintaining privacy, but never really apologizing. As such, Facebook still faces problems with promises made to the Federal Trade Commission. Meanwhile, the ousted and outed personnel at Cambridge Analytica, the U.S. arm of that big data company, did not apologize; rather, they said voters should have been smart enough not to accept their manipulations.

I don’t know about you, but we brought up our kids to take responsibility, to be willing to do the time for any crime. That’s the start of a civil society, to be able to recognize that what serves your interests is ok only if it doesn’t intentionally hurt someone else. It matters how we treat and respect other people.

We seem to have a problem as a society being able both to show empathy in our apologies when then do come and then actually take effective action to stop what had gone wrong. Typically, United Airlines or some company who ends up in the news, goes through a forced acknowledgement that a dog was sent to the wrong city or that an employee ordered a pet placed in an overhead bin, resulting in its death, without really trying hard to feel the pain of the audience it otherwise counts on. People want sympathy, yes, but they crave some action to keep the bad thing from recurring. That’s why “thoughts and prayers” offered by public officials after mass shootings ring so hollow; the same folks never enact gun control legislation to address the main issue.

The problems being aired among the women again accusing President Trump of past harassment or other issues related to sexual relationships are myriad, from moral to legal to political. Apart from all else, the various alleged payments of hush-money in exchange for silence will be looked at as potential election financing law violations. But to me, the prime issue here is about Trump actually just owning up to whatever is alleged rather than dismissing what seems like building and inexorable challenges to his version of truth.

What’s wrong in the call to Putin is that we are at a point where we need to make clear to Putin that he can’t meddle in our elections, that he can’t guilelessly poison political enemies in Great Britain, that he can’t threaten the world with new nuclear-powered weapons, that he can’t grab territories in the Ukraine and in Syria. Instead, once the word got out that an aide had leaked to The Washington Post word that Trump ignored written advice not to congratulate Putin, Trump’s fury was focused on the leak rather than any other aspect.

Trump has not spoken about the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data manipulation, to the obvious conclusion that his campaign through Stephen K. Bannon relied on distribution of faked articles and doctored text and photos in their zeal to bring down opponents. Quite apart from any violation of law, isn’t there a basic violation of trust involved here? Is that only for Zuckerberg at Facebook, and not for the presidential candidate who used the manipulated data?

Don’t the Cabinet officers like Carson and DeVos have to take responsibility for their various missteps? The Cabinet is now littered with cases of the top departmental leaders feathering their own nests with luxury travel arrangements and other perks of office. The individuals involved never want to stand up and take responsibility.

In calling out Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, the FBI and Justice Department, President Trump relies on a personal code of justice: Help me, support me, praise me or I will bury you in insult and worse. The New Yorker cover illustration this week showing a naked Trump at a press conference was a refreshing reminder that this would-be Emperor is wearing no clothes, despite his resistance to fessing up.

Maybe his slogran should read #Make America Truthful Again.



Journalist, musician, community volunteer