Appearances matter: Trump’s barroom talk no substitute for leadership

Most people know the 2018 Winter Olympics will soon begin. Few will know the difference between the two men’s 1500-meter speed skating gold medals.

Who cares? What’s important is what country wins medals and who wins the most. That’s one number many people will know.

They care about the medal count. If the U.S. does well, it will be a source of pride. And it may send a message about America’s leading role in the world. That’s why countries like Russia and, in the past, East Germany have cheated in the Olympics. They hope the results will enhance their prestige.

Appearances matter. How well a country does in speed skating says nothing about its place in the world, but some people believe medal count does. Russia, banned from this year’s Olympics, thought it could steal its way back to major power status.

Even more importantly, the prestige and respect for a country depends on the conduct of its leaders. When the president of the United States prefers barroom jibes to statesmanship, he costs the country the respect of both its own citizens and people across the world.

President Trump’s appeal for his so-called “core constituency” is supposedly based on his saying publicly what they think and may express only in bars or locker rooms. They may be entitled to feel that one of their own is now in power.

Add to that, congressional Republicans who support his denial of having used racist language, despite Trump’s poor record of truth telling.

They see him as a GOP president who is their conduit for passing their conservative program. He fails to lead and lacks a program of his own. The unsuccessful repeal of the ACA and the tax overhaul bill both came from congressional Republicans, not the White House.

Trump was glad to take personal credit for both legislative moves. So long as they control Congress and have an accommodating president, some right wing Republicans will forgive or ignore any tweets or White House outbursts.

We like to believe that the U.S. president, even after a highly partisan campaign, represents all Americans. But Trump remains faithful to his core and disdains the rest of the country, even though the majority did not support him.

Some congressional Republicans feel so strongly about their views that they are uncompromising. They spurn any cooperation with Democrats. They know this year’s elections could weaken their grip on government, so they will play hardball now and count on Trump to back them.

As part of his plan to pick up needed Democratic support in the Senate, Trump wants to resort to tactics consistent with his deal making in New York City real estate. For example, he wants to bring back “earmarks.”

Earmarks were tacked onto other legislation and provided tax-supported local projects designed for specific members of Congress. They ran into billions of dollars and were mostly eliminated by an embarrassed Congress.

But Trump seems to think he can buy Democratic votes by offering them earmarks. They would be financed by taxpayers, running up the deficit. The price we would pay is worth it, if Trump could pick up a rare legislative victory.

He demands Democratic support for his border wall (wasn’t Mexico supposed to pay for it?) by insisting on it as a condition for helping for DACA immigrants brought here as young kids decades ago. Obviously, he badly wants to notch a political victory on his border wall promise.

Trump’s anti-immigrant tactics appeal to his core, but the constituencies that voted for him are shrinking. His GOP allies support him for the party’s 2020 nomination, because they will stick with their incumbent president.

If the polls are even faintly right, he has no chance of reelection, provided the Democrats put up a decent candidate. He will probably be challenged for the GOP nomination, ripping the party apart. If a Romney or a Rubio tries again, the challenger could get the nomination. The GOP better get all they can from Trump now.

The worst part of Trump’s loose language about immigrants from countries whose inhabitants are not predominantly white is that he has made more Americans fearful of their government. If you are member of a group Trump doesn’t like, you may worry about actions by him and his compliant supporters.

South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsay Graham was at the meeting where Trump unloaded on immigration from Haiti and Africa. He objected, answering that this country is defined by its ideals, which do not support discrimination based on national origin.

Trump probably did not understand.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil is a former local, state, national and international organization official. He is an author and newspaper columnist.