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Hobbling along with a bully president

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

Where is first lady Melania Trump's anti-cyberbullying campaign when Jeff Sessions needs it?

That question came to mind as her husband used Twitter last week to beat his attorney general like a Zulu drum.

And I also wondered, if President Donald J. Trump focused as much on his party's health care policy as he has on Twitter, would his party's failed Senate health care overhaul have passed?

Since Democrats also want fixes to help Obamacare, officially the Affordable Care Act, work better, a knowledgeable and engaged president might have urged both parties to huddle together and come up with a workable compromise. Instead, Trump threw up his hands and advised "let it fail," as if Democrats might be bullied into compliance by holding health care for millions of people hostage.

That's not the way things usually work in the nation's capital, but in Trump's Washington, he seems to think that anything goes. The result has been a failure by the Republican-controlled Congress to send any major legislation to the White House for the president's signature.

Instead we have seen the president achieve new lows in recent days as a king of chaos and bully-in-chief.

--He castigated his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, with waves of Twitter tweets calling him "VERY weak" and "beleaguered" for recusing himself from investigations into Russian meddling in last year's presidential election.

He attacked Sessions for not firing the acting FBI director (even though Trump has the power to do that himself) and not pursuing criminal charges against Hillary Clinton (even though Sessions announced during his confirmation hearings that he would recuse himself from Clinton investigations).

How ironic that the man whose brand was built largely around the phrase "You're fired" would rather drive Sessions into firing himself -- which Sessions was not all interested in doing.

--He ad-libbed a speech to the National Scout Jamboree that sounded like recycled applause lines from his campaign speeches -- mockery of others, glorification of himself, political spin and just-a-little raunchy yarns about high finance and high living in New York. Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh later apologized to all who were offended.

 

But White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dutifully said she saw "nothing but roughly 40-45,000 Boy Scouts cheering the president on throughout his remarks."

--Without warning, the president tweeted a Wednesday declaration that transgender troops will no longer be allowed to serve openly in the military. Despite his claims to have spoken with "my generals and military experts," Pentagon brass responded that they only follow official directives, not tweets.

--On that same day, Trump tweeted that fellow Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska "really let the Republicans and our country down yesterday" with her opposition to the latest Obamacare repeal bill. Hours later, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke called her and fellow Alaskan Sen. Dan Sullivan, who voted the other way, to say her vote "had put Alaska's future with the administration in jeopardy," according to the Alaska Dispatch News.

But bullying can't entirely make up for Trump's inexperience. Murkowski, for example, chairs two committees that make her the top appropriator for the Department of the Interior -- and she doesn't have to run again until 2022. On Capitol Hill, she who controls the purse carries the clout.

That's how the balance of powers between the three branches of our government is supposed to work. The Framers of the Constitution knew that concentration of too much power in the executive branch would invite despotism and dictatorship.

Yet the bullying approach to governance is so baked into Trump's style that it reappeared quickly in his new communications director Anthony Scaramucci. His first sit-down with The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza began with his threatening to fire his entire White House staff if he was not told who leaked a piece of inside gossip to Lizza. Welcome aboard, Mooch. You'll fit right in.

In some ways, then, I am relieved when Trump's attempts to bully his way to autocracy are stymied by his own incompetence. But our government should function well because of its leaders, not in spite of them.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

(c) 2017 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

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