Alan Zendell, July 19, 2017
Americans often have conveniently short memories. We have to be reminded of things that should be part of our DNA by now. If honest journalists like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite hadn’t had the courage and integrity to speak out against the Joseph McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s and the duplicity of the Pentagon in the early years of Vietnam, imagine where we’d be today.
If annoying and persistent reporters like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein hadn’t hounded the Nixon White House over Watergate, we’d never have learned the truth that there was a concerted effort by Nixon’s people to compromise the 1972 presidential election. And while it was mostly politically motivated, only the consistent media barrage of Bill Clinton ultimately revealed a serious weakness in the president’s character.
We’ve seen this act before. As the smoke thickens and the denials become nastier and more strident, as the scapegoating and excuse making seem to take on a life of their own, the White House begins to retrench behind ever more defensive walls. Press briefings are no longer televised, and gradually, the Press Secretary, who obviously had trouble dealing with the cycle of lies and contradictions has been replaced with a more reliable hack who’s willing to say whatever is necessary with a straight face. And now we hear that there may not be any more daily press briefings – how’s that for transparency?
And all that smoke? It gets denser and more toxic every day suggesting that there may be a real conflagration behind it. The possibility that serious violations have occurred concerning Russian interference looks more likely every day. Whether it was deliberate collusion or just incompetence doesn’t matter. Neither is acceptable, in fact it’s not clear which is worse.
One commentator reported on cable news that an unnamed source close to the Trump family said the problem was that Donald Trump Jr just isn’t very bright. Even if it’s true, is that supposed to be a defense? How irresponsible would it be for the President to allow his not very bright son to have access to highly sensitive materials and put him in positions in which his naivete and incompetence could result in diplomatic crises and serious confrontations which both our allies and adversaries? And if DT Jr is actually pretty smart and as unprincipled as his father, then what?
So our illustrious leader, who among other things is supposed to be a moral leader and role model continues to dance around the truth and deny any wrongdoing, only to change his tune and contradict himself the next day, and the next day after. He protests that the media are out to get him except for that narrow portion of it that buys everything he says. William Shakespeare got it right four hundred years ago – “the Lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
Aside from the fact that the Trump administration isn’t even good theater any more, this drama is symptomatic of what many of us fear most. Remember what we owe the trusted journalists of past decades. Remember the signs of an unraveling administration, from Lyndon Johnson’s mishandling of Vietnam, to Richard Nixon’s attempts to cover up the crimes committed by his staff, to Clinton’s ever more unbelievable denials, to George W. Bush steadily losing the confidence of the country.
These signs are all clear. They’re not hard to read. Whether or not the FBI finds evidence of criminal wrongdoing, the Trump administration indicts itself every day. They have no idea what they’re doing. There is no leadership. Our diplomacy is a shambles. Instead of coming to grips with its failures, the White House constantly blames them on everyone else, from the Democrats, to fractious Republicans, the leakers, and the press.
Government is not a family-owned business, and security clearances can’t be passed out like birthday cards. This administration is unraveling and shedding credibility on a daily basis, just as surely as the failed administrations of the past did. We already see signs of defections among the more independent Republicans who are secure enough to speak the truth with nothing to lose. Lindsey Graham, John McCain (we wish him well), and the three female senators who Rush Limbaugh referred to yesterday as “Collins, Murkowski, Capito – [the] three female leftists in the Republican caucus.” What will it take for the rest of them to make it clear to the president that they won’t tolerate this any longer?
We can’t afford to ignore the lessons of history. There’s far too much at stake this time, and we need a moral principled leader steering the ship.