Monday, January 22, 2018

Like having no president at all

As Senate deliberations and the federal government ground to a halt, Donald Trump was doing what he does best: watching TV.

That's what the White House reported. Thanks for the advisory.

Trump was watching Fox News, most certainly. Or maybe something better was on Netflix.

Nah, he watched cable as he always does. Watched and did nothing to avert that which he had the power to do – keep the government operating.

If Trump had been watching MSNBC, he would have heard historian Jon Meacham, author of "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power," say that the scene looked like this nation had no president at all.

Remarked Meacham, what he was witnessing was more like a parliamentary system where two factions were at an impasse with no deal-maker to resolve it.

Indeed, when the matter was settled two days later, Trump was more of a spectator than the deal-maker he advertised himself to be.

Trump gave of consistently conflicting signals to both Democrats and Republicans on the budget and immigration. The result was a debacle and costly spectacle that would have been resolved if he only knew what he wanted.

In this case, the Republicans, believing they had complete control of the process, strapped the Children's Health Insurance Program and the unsettled fate of DACA to the grill of their limo, and told the Democrats to stand by and watch.

It turns out that this is still a two-party system. It turns out that an arrogant president and arrogant party leaders who have a razor-slim majority still have to negotiate in good faith with the opposition to get something done.

They had better enjoy that majority, because as a second Women's March demonstrated Saturday, people are coming for their jobs.

Oh, my goodness, how Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell mourned the interruption of the Children's Health Insurance Program. Were those real tears? Mitch, this is as convincing as the president's claims to be the least racist person, well, on the planet.

With the unnecessary tax cuts they engineered, McConnell and Trump have set in motion a whole bunch of budget dramas with the $1.5 trillion in debt those cuts will cause.

The result will be the perceived necessity to toss things like CHIP out the window, along with perceived necessity for dramatic cuts in Medicaid and Social Security.

Then the tears will be real, but they won't be shed by Republican power-brokers. They'll be shed by mothers and fathers, and actual children.

Speaking of actual children. The Dreamers arrived as children, but most aren't children any more. They have graduated from our high schools, from our colleges. Many have served in our military. They are among the best of the best. They are our investment in a better world. For Republicans to leave them out to dry until – what, March? -- is a disgrace, a slap in the face.

That's what happens when a president is more fixated on the TV screen, or on his smart phone, than on doing his job of leading.

In the 1979 film "Being There," a simple gardener who knows nothing about governing gets all of his wisdom from TV. His favorite phrase is, "I like to watch." Ultimately he is seen as a political savior and savant – presidential material.

We have that impostor in the White House now.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


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