Parents should be repulsed by Trump's playing of the father card
WASHINGTON -- "The president weighed in just as any father would, based on the limited information that he had," said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, effectively confirming The Washington Post's report that President Trump personally drafted Donald Trump Jr.'s misleading statement about his meeting with a Russian lawyer proffering dirt on Hillary Clinton.
"As any father would." That phrase contains so much -- so much, indeed, that Sanders invoked it twice. The president, she continued, "offered suggestions like any father would do." The paternal invocation seeks to harness -- it hijacks -- the primal ferocity of parental love in the service of political self-preservation. Your kid's in a bit of trouble -- no matter that he's a 39-year-old man, he is still your child -- so he turns to you for help: "Hey, pop, what should I say?"
He needs advice, not really any different from deciding how much life insurance to buy, or whether this stock looks like a good investment. In well-functioning families, sons turn to their fathers for guidance; fathers are the fount of wisdom and judgment. Who can fault a parent for rising to a child's defense?
But of course for all of Sanders's treacly effort to Hallmarkize this touching family moment, it was anything but. This was less "Father Knows Best" than "Father Stonewalls Best." Parents everywhere, fathers and mothers alike, should be repulsed by this playing of the parent card.
"As any father would." Fathers are supposed to teach their children the difference between right and wrong. My father taught me not to lie. Donald Trump Jr.'s father taught him to shade the truth -- in this case, so much that it was in total eclipse. "The statement that Don Jr. issued is true. There's no inaccuracy in the statement," Sanders said. No technical inaccuracy, perhaps, but little actual truth.
"We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up," Trump Jr.'s statement read. In fact, and it took multiple iterations for the full facts to emerge, Trump Jr. eagerly accepted the meeting, and invited top campaign officials, in hopes of getting the goods on Clinton. "Primarily'' was the tell, the classic Trumpian hedge behind which Sanders so unconvincingly hid.
"As any father would." Fathers are supposed to put their children's well-being above their own; that selflessness is the essence of being a parent. Trump Jr.'s attorney, Alan Futerfas, told The Post that he and his client had been "fully prepared and absolutely prepared to make a fulsome statement" about the meeting. Then the president intervened, dictating edits in the statement to his aide Hope Hicks, and gambling foolishly that the real facts wouldn't emerge.
When, inevitably, they did, it made Trump Jr. look bad -- "If it's what you say, I love it," he told the Russian attorney of her Clinton offer -- but also provided evidence of some willingness on the part of the Trump campaign to collude with the Russians. Whose interest was the president so frantically scrambling to protect here, his son's or his own?
Ruth Marcus' email address is email@example.com.
(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group