Donald Trump is not going to “grow” into the job. No one does. There’s a cliché for that – as there seems to be a cliché for everything. No one rises to the occasion. Crises – and the presidency is not much more than one crisis after other – don’t build character. Crises reveal character. What doesn’t kill you doesn’t make you stronger. You were either strong in the first place or you were not. A good crisis will reveal which it is – but nothing changes, even if you surprise yourself. And once a jerk, always a jerk – a good crisis will reveal that too. Donald Trump is who he is.
And there are the ongoing crises. Donald Trump created some of those when he hired the white nationalist Steve Bannon as his “chief strategist” late in the campaign and kept him on in the White House – his very own Karl Rove, setting the direction of everything. African-Americans didn’t like that much. Hispanics didn’t like that much. Muslim-Americans didn’t like that much – and now it’s Jewish-Americans. No one likes to be demonized, especially if they consider themselves citizens like everyone else – and the sudden nationwide spike in bomb threats and vandalism at synagogues and Jewish community centers, and the toppling of tombstones in Jewish cemeteries, can be seen as a crisis. This isn’t Germany in the thirties. It only feels like it – and Trump really ought to do something about that. Crises reveal character.
Trump has said nothing about this, which speaks to his character, or lack of it. That won’t do. He’ll have to say something nice about black folks and Jews. He did tweet out a picture of himself eating a “taco bowl” on Cinco de Mayo. They’re not all rapists and murderers and drug dealers – their food is tasty. Something like that might help, and so he decided it was time to kill two birds with one stone, and say supportive things about Jews at a black history museum, which is just what he did:
President Trump on Tuesday denounced racism and anti-Semitic violence after weeks of struggling to offer clear statements of solidarity and support for racial and religious minorities.
During a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Trump read carefully from prepared remarks decrying bigotry and specifically condemning a wave of recent threats against Jewish centers across the country.
“This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms,” Trump said. “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”
Scanning the piece of paper with his finger as he read, Trump praised the museum on the Mall for its popularity and said the exhibitions had left their mark on his wife, Melania, who had visited the museum a week earlier.
Scanning the piece of paper with his finger as he read was telling – this wasn’t natural to him and he didn’t want to blow it, or someone told him not to blow it. He’d eat the damned taco bowl:
The appearance stood in stark contrast to the flashes of irritation he showed at a news conference last week at the White House, when he dismissed questions from reporters about his outreach to African American political leaders in Washington and his lack of response to a sharp increase in anti-Semitic incidents across the country… Calls have been growing for Trump to respond to a wave of bomb threats directed against Jewish community centers in multiple states on Monday, the fourth in a series of such threats this year, according to the Anti-Defamation League. More than 170 Jewish gravestones were found toppled at a cemetery in suburban St. Louis, over the weekend.
That did the trick, sort of:
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, called Trump’s statement “as welcome as it is overdue.”
“President Trump has been inexcusably silent as this trend of anti-Semitism has continued and arguably accelerated,” Pesner said. “The president of the United States must always be a voice against hate and for the values of religious freedom and inclusion that are the nation’s highest ideals.”
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer dismissed the idea that Trump has been slow to address anti-Semitism and racism.
“I think it’s ironic that no matter how many times he talks about this, that it’s never good enough,” Spicer said.
Sean Spicer has a hard job, as there is reality:
In the past week, Trump seemed to bat aside opportunities to address anti-Semitism. And when asked by a reporter whether he would meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Trump asked the reporter, who is African American, whether she would arrange the meeting with the lawmakers, implying that they were her “friends.”
After a campaign in which Trump was criticized for appealing primarily to white Christians while strongly criticizing Mexican immigrants, Muslims and urban African American communities, the president has said little to assuage concerns that he would govern in a similar fashion, his critics say.
His critics did pile on:
“I get that Trump never expected to be president, but now that he is president, he has to act like he’s president for all of us,” said Benjamin Jealous, a former president of the NAACP. “If he wants to be seen as a healer, he’s going to have to atone for his own sins, starting with his race-baiting on President Obama.”
Yeah, Trump did spend eight or more years on a crusade to prove that Obama was born in Kenya and thus not our president, really. Obama was just not one “of us” – a crusade he gave up in a one-sentence announcement late in his campaign. It was like pulling teeth, but he had to admit that Obama was an actual American all along. He took no questions. That was that. He hoped to get at least a few black votes. He got seven percent.
And now it’s this:
Trump has been particularly sensitive to any suggestion that his administration is anti-Jewish. During the presidential campaign, chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon was accused of having used the conservative news site Breitbart, when he ran it, as a platform for the “alternative right.” The alt-right, as it is commonly called, is a far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state and whose adherents are known for espousing racist, anti-Semitic and sexist points of view.
Asked during a news conference last Wednesday to respond to a wave of anti-Semitic incidents across the country, Trump first launched into a defense of his Electoral College victory instead of addressing the issue. The next day, Trump was given a second opportunity to address the problem at another news conference but seemed to take the question as a personal affront, declaring that the journalist who posed the question – who worked for a Jewish publication – was not being “fair” to him.
Yes, he was the VICTIM here. He went to say that “he was the least anti-Semitic person and the least racist person you’ll ever meet in your entire life” – and he likes to point out that his daughter married an Orthodox Jew and converted. So there! He hasn’t said that some of his best friends are black, or at least Ben Carson is. That’s no doubt coming soon, but there was this:
The White House released a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day that did not mention the Jewish people or anti-Semitism. Instead of acknowledging any error, the White House defended the wording, prompting criticism from several Republican-leaning Jewish groups and the ADL.
The House Republicans did the same thing in their statement with the same defense – Hitler was mean to everyone – there’s no need to mention the Jews. Steve Bannon got his way, but there’s this:
Trump’s critics point to a larger pattern, including his hesitation at denouncing former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who has repeatedly pledged his support to Trump since Trump began his campaign in June 2015. Trump’s comments Tuesday on anti-Semitism also came only after his daughter, Ivanka Trump, tweeted a broad condemnation of the recent attacks and threats Monday evening.
He may have to have a talk with Ivanka, but this was devastating:
The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect called President Donald Trump’s comments denouncing anti-Semitism Tuesday “a pathetic asterisk of condescension.”
“The President’s sudden acknowledgement is a Band-Aid on the cancer of Antisemitism that has infected his own Administration,” a statement posted to the Anne Frank Center’s Facebook page read. “His statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting Antisemitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record.”
“Make no mistake: The Antisemitism coming out of this Administration is the worst we have ever seen from any Administration,” the Anne Frank Center’s statement added. “The White House repeatedly refused to mention Jews in its Holocaust remembrance, and had the audacity to take offense when the world pointed out the ramifications of Holocaust denial.”
“And it was only yesterday, President’s Day, that Jewish Community Centers across the nation received bomb threats, and the President said absolutely nothing. When President Trump responds to Antisemitism proactively and in real time, and without pleas and pressure, that’s when we’ll be able to say this President has turned a corner. This is not that moment,” the group said.
That deserved a response:
White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded to a harshly worded comment from the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect Tuesday by saying he wished the center had recognized the President’s “leadership” in combating anti-Semitism.
It was the same thing. Trump is the VICTIM here. He tries so hard. No one give him any credit, and Philip Bump comments on a curious exchange on CNN:
When a reporter who profiled Melania Trump was attacked by anti-Semitic Trump supporters, Trump told Wolf Blitzer that “I don’t have a message to the fans. A woman wrote a – an article that was inaccurate. Now, I’m used to it. I get such bad articles. I get such – the press is so dishonest, Wolf, I can’t even tell you. It’s so dishonest.”
That’s the first main problem for Trump: He has consistently been squishy about replying to questions about racism and anti-Semitism. The second problem? Many of his policy proposals – on immigration, for example – overlap with the stated aims of racist groups, and the rationalizations for those proposals often use language that reinforces negative or erroneous claims about minority groups.
Dahlia Lithwick adds this:
The White House’s statement on the Jewish Community Center threats read in full:
“Hatred and hate-motivated violence of any kind have no place in a country founded on the promise of individual freedom. The President has made it abundantly clear that these actions are unacceptable.”
It’s worth noting that terrorism and vandalism have absolutely nothing to do with “individual freedom” and that threatening to kill small babies and elderly people is an affront to human safety and dignity, not just “freedom.” The White House statement, you also might have noticed, did not contain the words Jewish, Jewish Community Center, or terrorism or anti-Semitism.
This has become something of a tradition for the Trump administration, which failed to mention the existence of Jewish victims in a message issued on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
And there’s this:
Last week, Trump fielded a question about the rise in anti-Semitic incidents during a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by making another rambling reference to his Electoral College victory and his Jewish daughter and by dismissing the question as unfair. And on Thursday, in the strangest performance to date, Trump told a Jewish reporter to sit down and accused him of lying when he was asked a softball question about the rise of anti-Jewish hate.
That won’t do:
To be grateful that Trump finally said the bare minimum at the latest possible moment he could say it is to miss what was most horrifying about his assorted romps with anti-Semitism. You may have missed it amid the distraction of Trump’s insult to a Jewish reporter, but in the same press conference, SiriusXM’s Jared Rizzi circled back to the hate crimes question. “I’ll follow up on my colleague’s question about anti-Semitism,” Rizzi said. “It’s not about your personality or your beliefs. We’re talking about a rise in anti-Semitism around the country – some of it by supporters in your name. What can you do to deter that?”
Trump’s reply: “Some of it is written by our opponents. You do know that? Do you understand that? You don’t think anybody would do a thing like that?”
In case he wasn’t being sufficiently clear, he added, “Some of the signs you’ll see are not put up by the people that love or live Donald Trump. They’re put up by the other side, and you think it’s like playing it straight? No. But you have some of those signs, and some of that anger is caused by the other side. They’ll do signs, and they’ll do drawings that are inappropriate. It won’t be my people. It will be the people on the other side to anger people like you.”
Again, he’s the victim here:
Allison Kaplan Sommer, commenting at Haaretz, explained over the weekend that this – and not the insults directed to a Jewish reporter – was the real story about Trump and anti-Jewish hate speech: “Trump’s words echoed the theory that the threats to Jewish community centers and other anti-Semitic incidents have been contrived to support the premise that Trump’s presidency is ushering in greater racism.” These “false flag” claims are rampant among anti-Semites and have been pushed by David Duke himself. “I wonder who could be placing all those calls?” Duke tweeted recently, referencing the threats to Jewish community centers…
So please don’t be too grateful that President Trump has finally said that anti-Semitism is “horrible.” It’s more notable and more telling that he has also given voice and cover to the vile argument that these attacks and threats are not really happening to Jews or, worse, that Jews are doing this to their own communities in an effort to delegitimize Trump. The real question we should be asking Donald Trump today isn’t whether he deplores episodes of racial hatred. It should be whether he even believes they are happening or whether he truly thinks they are staged by his enemies to malign him.
And no one should panic about that other matter:
The Trump administration on Tuesday sought to allay growing fears among immigrant communities over wide-ranging new directives to ramp up enforcement against illegal immigrants, insisting the measures are not intended to produce “mass deportations.”
Federal officials cautioned that many of the changes detailed in a pair of memos from Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly will take time to implement because of costs and logistical challenges and that border patrol agents and immigration officers will use their expanded powers with care and discretion.
Yet the official public rollout of Kelly’s directives, first disclosed in media reports over the weekend, was met with outrage from immigrant rights advocates over concerns the new policies will result in widespread abuses as authorities attempt to fulfill President Trump’s goals of tightening border control.
Trump took a hard line against illegal immigration during his campaign, at times suggesting he would seek to create a nationwide “deportation force” to expel as many of the nation’s estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants as possible.
In a conference call with reporters, a senior Department of Homeland Security official moved to avert what he called a “sense of panic” among immigrant communities.
“We do not have the personnel, time or resources to go into communities and round up people and do all kinds of mass throwing folks on buses. That’s entirely a figment of folks’ imagination,” said the official, who was joined on the call by two others, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to answer questions. “This is not intended to produce mass roundups, mass deportations.”
They don’t have the resources for that yet, so relax, for now, or don’t:
Kelly’s new DHS policies considerably broaden the pool of undocumented immigrants prioritized for removal, including those who have been charged with crimes but not convicted, those who commit acts that constitute a “chargeable criminal offense,” and those who an immigration officer concludes pose “a risk to public safety or national security.”
That’s a bit broad, and the world is beginning to wonder about us:
Trump’s early attempts to crackdown on immigration, including his executive order banning travel of citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations, have drawn criticism both in the United States and abroad. Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plan to visit Mexico later this week where tensions over the president’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border are sure to be on display. Around the same time, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) will be leading a delegation of lawmakers to the border as Congress wrestles with how to actually implement Trump’s signature campaign promise.
It was time for another taco bowl:
Kelly’s implementation memos do not overturn one important directive from the Obama administration: a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that has provided work permits to more than 750,000 immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.
Trump had promised during his campaign to “immediately terminate” the program, calling it an unconstitutional “executive amnesty,” but he has wavered since then. Last week, he said he would “show great heart” in determining the fate of that program.
Maybe he is the least racist person you’ll ever meet in your entire life, but the New York Times’ editorial board points out the obvious:
Mr. Kelly included a catchall provision allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers or Border Patrol agents – or local police officers or sheriff’s deputies – to take in anyone they think could be “a risk to public safety or national security.” That is a recipe for policing abuses and racial profiling, a possibility that Mr. Kelly will vastly expand if Congress gives him the huge sums required to hire 10,000 ICE officers and 5,000 Border Patrol agents.
He wants to “surge,” his verb, the hiring of immigration judges and asylum officers. He wants to add processing and detention centers, which surely has the private-prison industry salivating at the profits to come.
He wants to ramp up programs deputizing state and local law enforcement officers as immigration enforcers. He calls them “a highly successful force multiplier,” which is true if you want a dragnet. It’s not true if you want to fight crime effectively and keep communities safe. When every local law enforcement encounter can be a prelude to deportation, unauthorized immigrants will fear and avoid the police. And when state and local officers untrained in immigration law suddenly get to decide who stays and who goes, the risk of injustice is profound.
So is the danger to due process. Current procedure allows for swiftly deporting, without a hearing, immigrants who are caught near the border and who entered very recently. But Mr. Kelly notes that the law allows him to fast-track the removal of immigrants caught anywhere in the country who cannot prove they have been here “continuously” for at least two years. He’s keeping his options open about whether to short-circuit due process with a coast-to-coast show-me-your-papers policy.
And so on and so forth – this is nasty stuff – but this is from a man who didn’t rise to the occasion. Crises – even if this doesn’t seem to be a crisis at all – reveal character.
That’s the problem. Donald Trump is always the victim, as Jena McGregor notes here:
He’s blamed the Democrats for delaying his Cabinet picks. The “low-life leakers” are a “big problem,” Trump tweeted. It was during the Obama administration that “Crimea was TAKEN by Russia,” asking “was Obama too soft on Russia?” amid inquiries into his own team’s contacts with Russian officials. Massive voter fraud is to blame for him losing the popular vote, Trump has claimed, despite no evidence to support it.
The press, meanwhile, has taken the brunt of his ire, as he blames the “FAKE NEWS” media he now calls “the enemy of the people” for characterizing his transition as chaotic or revealing details about his phone calls with world leaders. In a bizarre and combative news conference last week, Trump repeatedly said he “inherited” a “mess.”
For Trump, it began on day one, when he declared in a dark inaugural address that “the crime, and the gangs, and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” That description seemed to depict a gutted America that had been led until then by the “establishment” in Washington that had “reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.”
It has continued on Twitter, as Trump has taken turns blaming the media for their coverage of his administration, a Democratic senator for “misrepresenting what [Supreme Court nominee] Judge Gorsuch told him,” and the department store Nordstrom for treating his daughter “unfairly.” He has even told his followers where to put the blame for future events: On Feb. 5, after U.S. District Judge James L. Robart put Trump’s executive order on immigration on hold, the president wrote on Twitter that he “just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens, blame him and the court system. People pouring in. Bad!”
The finger pointing showed up in force during a grievance-filled news conference last week, when Trump repeated how he “inherited a mess”: “It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess. Jobs are pouring out of the country.” When pressed on his false claim that he had the largest Electoral College victory margin since Reagan, Trump even blamed his aides. “Well, I don’t know, I was given that information,” he said.
It’s always someone else, which is not what the job calls for:
One of the most universally touted tenets of business management advice is that taking responsibility when things go wrong and giving credit to others when things go right is a hallmark of strong leadership. Casting blame doesn’t just hurt outside relationships; it sets a tone at the top that impedes risk-taking and creates a climate of fear that can slow down progress.
It should come as no surprise that a man who has ignored so many other management and leadership maxims would look past this one. From the value of dissent to the need for getting buy-in from senior team members to the importance of nurturing the morale of front-line workers, the president who was supposed to bring a businessman’s sensibilities simply isn’t using the same playbook most CEOs today espouse.
That’s another way of saying that he’s not going to grow into the job. Add another cliché – when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Sure, but they have to be tough in the first place. No whining. Life isn’t fair. You’re no more a victim than anyone else is – deal with it. Crises reveal character. Now we know this guy’s character – too late.