Alan Zendell, September 15, 2017
Winston Churchill famously changed parties twice during his political career. Both times it was on differences of principle: free trade, tariffs, equal treatment of social classes. When he was accused of being disloyal and untrustworthy he said he would never “refuse[d] to do right because the devil prompted [me]. Neither shall I be deterred from doing what I am convinced is right by the fact that I have thought differently about it in some distant, or even in some recent, past.”
To many of us who revered Churchill, his ability and willingness to revisit long-held beliefs and change his mind in a clearly disciplined manner was one of his most admirable traits. He always stuck to his principles, but they were never so mired in concrete that he couldn’t budge when circumstances warranted. Moreover, few ever accused him of lying.
That is in stark contrast to Donald Trump, who sways with the wind whenever it suits him. While Churchill’s party switches may have luckily predicted changes in national sentiment, they were never ego driven. Churchill was arrogant and strong-willed, but he was not the kind of narcissistic, self-aggrandizing leader who thinks unpredictably turning on his allies enhances his power.
Compare that with Donald Trump, who throughout his long career has never demonstrated loyalty to anyone but himself, though he demanded it uncompromisingly from everyone else. Trump’s only guiding principle has ever been money, which he lavished on whichever party suited him at the time. He continually bragged about that during the campaign.
He began his political career by trashing the Republican establishment and usurping the Grand Old Party, which had become so splintered and unorganized that it was ripe for the taking. For all that Trump held no real ideology of his own, he might as well have preyed on the Democrats, but he calculated that Hillary Clinton’s party leadership would be harder to unseat. So Trump the faux-Republican, formed an ideological alliance with millions of people who felt betrayed by both parties and were susceptible to his populist, nationalist, anti-immigrant rhetoric; with extreme right wing conservatives whose principles were not and never will be his; and with various alt-right hate groups whose common goal is maintaining the United States as white male dominated nation.
When the Republican-controlled Congress began its ill-fated attempt to govern in secrecy and exclude every voice they couldn’t control, Trump endorsed their approach, though it was surely anathema to him. And as he came to realize that the strange cast of people he’d fallen into bed with didn’t represent the sense of the country he’d sworn to lead, instead of acting like a leader and attempting to change the dialogue, he simply attacked his own party mercilessly so he wouldn’t have to accept blame for their failure.
His lack of loyalty to any cause got him in serious trouble in Charlottesville. His inability to distinguish and articulate right from wrong even in so obvious a situation reflected more than anything that Trump’s lack of commitment to anything not tied to profit seriously handicaps him as leader. And in the wakes of devastating Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, while he has been paraded around visiting scenes of destruction, contrast his approach to that of his Vice President. Like him or not, Mike Pence understands the role of Consoler-in-Chief, because at his roots he understands compassion, something Donald Trump does not and never will.
We have now arrived at the intersection of two issues which were lynch pins of Trump’s presidential campaign. One is Jeff Sessions, who was the first sitting senator to endorse him, largely because the staunchly anti-immigration senator saw in Trump the opportunity exercise control over a subject he’d fought for for decades. Trump touted Sessions wherever he went as evidence that the Republican infrastructure was crumbling to his will. In truth, Trump and Sessions never had anything in common, as evidenced by their relationship since the election. Had their interests not coincided over attacking immigrants, they would have had no relationship at all.
And now it all comes to a head over DACA, and once again, close to million young people attempting to live as law-abiding Americans in the only country they’ve ever known have become the political pawns of a cynical system and a president who loves to leave both allies and enemies swinging in the wind so they always know who’s boss.
Some people would love to believe that appearing to strike a deal with the Democrats over DACA represents a welcome change in the partisan gridlock in Washington, but don’t be fooled. Trump’s relationship with the truth is whatever he wants it to be at the moment. It’s not clear that there will even be a deal, as Trump’s tweets contradict themselves hourly. As Ashley Parker wrote in today’s Washington Post, “Often, Trump’s underlings, friends, foes and allies never know quite where he stands — in part because of the president’s penchant for telling his immediate audience exactly what they want to hear in any given moment. People who meet with the president frequently leave buoyed, an optimism punctured by a nagging question mere hours later: What just happened?”
What happened is what always happens with Trump. They got played by the master of misdirection and obfuscation. And that, my friends, is our president.