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‘White lies’ at an apprentice White House

| Friday, March 2, 2018

Revelations broke this week that 29-year-old White House Communications Director Hope Hicks — the longest-serving staff member who abruptly resigned — admitted in her testimony to the Intelligence Committee that she told “white lies” on behalf of the president. In any other White House, the events surrounding her departure (the fourth communications director to serve to date) would have been the major explosive news of the week. But her story did not even rise to a mere 15-seconds-of-fame cycle in what has become a reality television show administration under Trump.

Thirteen months into his presidency, we see a routine that developed into a pattern of somewhat predictable episodes. Trump time is finely chopped into minuscule sound bites and simple slogans that are easily conveyed to the average apathetic American. The president will also simultaneously express multiple sides of issues, post short accusatory tweets, advocate contradictory bi-directional policy stands or torment opponents with confrontational statements. Whatever the topic, he consistently fills in the blanks of his rhetorical template, regardless of the issue.

Ask anyone on the street specifically, “Who is Kim Jong-un?” Many will know, but responses may incorrectly range from a cousin of rapper Lil’ Kim to a variation of Kung Pao chicken. Ask them instead to name the North Korean leader, and most would not know or fumble the name’s pronunciation. Yet, in Trump time, just about anyone who follows news knows that “Little Rocket Man” is the leader of North Korea.

Congressional Republicans have quickly learned that Trump’s real estate showmanship impulses do not tow party orthodoxy. For example, Wednesday, with curtains drawn to dim the room reminiscent of Trump’s “The Apprentice” reality television setting, the president hosted a roundtable discussion in the Cabinet Room. He and congressional Democrats and Republicans sat around the large boardroom table to discuss gun control policy in the wake of the shooting two weeks ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He stunned Republicans in the room as he enthusiastically advocated for several gun control measures that have longtime been the antithesis of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and GOP dogma.

Trump moderated the discussion around the table as though the master quizzing his apprentices. At one point, he chastised Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey for his fear of the NRA. To Representative Steve Scalise, who was shot last year at baseball practice, the president told him not to include a provision to allow reciprocity between states for holders of gun permits. In response to Vice President Mike Pence’s presentation of Indiana’s violence restraining order law that removed guns from citizens involved in violence towards others, Trump uttered his famous unconstitutional remark, “Or, Mike, take the firearms first and then go to court. Because that’s another system … I like taking the guns early. Like in this crazy man’s case that just took place in Florida.”

Throughout the session they discussed: 1.) strengthening background checks through the Fix NICS legislation and making those checks universal, 2.) arming persons in the schools, thus eliminating “Gun Free” zones, 3.) outlawing the “bump stock” device enhancement, 4.) raising the minimum age to purchase an AR-15 from 18 to 21 to mirror the age restriction on handguns, 5.) concealed carry reciprocity between states, 6.) violence restraining orders, and 7.) gun-free zones.

Overall, Trump assured the lawmakers that he would lead a successful bipartisan effort, saying, “I’m not worried about 60 votes. 60 percent, meaning, should be so easy. Should be 100 percent.”

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy cautioned, “I think you underestimate the power of the gun lobby.”

Trump countered, “I tell you what. The reason I had lunch with the NRA on Sunday — I called them and said you have to come over. Fellows, we’ve got to do something. They do have great points. I agree with that. They have great power over you people. They have less power over me. I don’t need it. What do I need?”

The president elaborated, “But I tell you, they are well meaning. I said to them very nicely, fellows, we’ve got to do something. We can’t keep restricting and we can’t keep — we have to do what’s right. When it comes to mental health and other issues, I said we have to do what’s right. I’m telling you, I think they’re there. I think they’re there. Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. You can’t be petrified. They want to do what’s right. They’re going to do what’s right. I really believe that. It was a very good lunch.”

On queue, Trump saturated his tried-and-true Trump time template — sans confrontation or torment during this special setting — answering California Senator Dianne Feinstein’s question about eliminating weapons of war currently easily accessible on our streets. The president favored strong gun control legislation by saying, “I believe it has to be very strong. I would rather have you come down on the strong side … I believe we’re on the road to something terrific.”

As a look of horror spread across the faces of the NRA-supported GOP lawmakers, the only thing obviously terrific at the moment was many little white lies.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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