Published in The Moderate Voice on January 26, 2017
In February of 2009, just three weeks into his presidency, Barack Obama uttered the words, “I screwed up.” His nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, ex-Senator Tom Daschle had just withdrawn his candidacy after revelations that he was late paying $150,000 in taxes. For many, “I screwed up,” was an unheard of line from a Commander-in-Chief and the American people were taken aback that a president could be so humble in admitting of fault. Yet if the past week is any guide, it is likely to be unheard of for at least the next four years.
The purpose of this column is not to put Barack Obama on a pedestal or to wax poetic about the past administration. His reign was far from perfect. But six days into his tenure as leader of the free world, Donald Trump has made waves and, while some of it is policy-related (imagine that), an astonishingly high percentage is not. That’s disturbing for a new administration fresh off a hard-fought campaign with responsibilities of governing and uniting the American people.
First there’s the Trump-incited debate over the size of the inaugural crowds which started with the president castigating the media over footage that would seem to suggest that it was not well attended. That led White House Press secretary Sean Spicer to assert falsely (I’ll refrain from saying intentionally) that the inaugural crowds were the biggest on record, “period.”
After his claims were unequivocally debunked, Spicer appeared to back off though, he did not do what would have been the soundest, most moral and politically prudent strategy and apologize. Instead, Kelly Ann Conway appeared to double-down, even coining a new term for the American lexicon: “alternative facts.” But anecdotally, reports are that the President was upset about the crowd report because he wants to believe his administration and election is a movement.
It’s worth noting that of course the crowds for President Obama would have been bigger. While every inauguration of a new president is historic, the fact that Obama was the first African-American to win the position added to its importance. So it’s only natural that more people would have turned out to see him. Another important fact: Trump’s inaugural fell on a Friday. Obama’s was on a Tuesday but it happened to be the day after the holiday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which means people had more flexibility with their schedules.
Next is the president’s obsession with the notion that voter fraud cost him a popular vote win in the November election – never mind the fact that Trump was behind Hillary Clinton by almost 3 million votes. As a result, he is vowing to launch a Justice Department investigation into the matter.
To date, there have been four documented cases of voter fraud – in Iowa (by an avowed Trump supporter no less) Texas, Illinois and Florida. There has never been the remotest piece of evidence of anything more widespread, let alone the fact that three to five million undocumented voters cast ballots for Clinton.In fact, I’ve heard Clinton supporters actually joke that “it was a terrible tactical error to rig the election in California but not in the swing states” (one creative tweet read, “apparently millions (were) sophisticated enough to figure out how to vote illegally, but not sophisticated enough to vote in states where it’d matter”). Republicans are distancing themselves from the claim as well.
Now it’s one thing if Trump wants to look into voters being on the books in more than one state and have real and genuine election reform, but I’ll point out that Steve Bannon, Steve Mnuchin and the President’s own daughter Tiffany Trump are in that boat so I’m not sure what new revelations are going to come out of this new investigation. More importantly is his thin-skinned nature on relatively mundane matters. George W. Bush was pummeled by the press and if it bothered him, he showed few signs of it. Outvoted or not, this president should be grateful that the Constitution, by way of the Electoral College gives him the means to put his vision to work. When Trump wakes up in the morning, his first thoughts should be euphoria for being entrusted with opportunities to pursue his agenda because outvoted or not, each day gives him opportunities to do wonders for the American people (while of course debating the soundness and merits of the agenda).
This seems like an apt time to invoke John Lewis. The Georgia Congressman and pillar of the civil rights movement has been the subject of Donald Trump’s ire lately but, allow me to point to a part of Lewis’s own background to put this insecurity thing into perspective. Several times, Lewis received apologies from members of the police force who beat him, including one who left him in a pool of blood in an Atlanta bus station. 50 years later, that man made a surprise visit to Lewis’ Washington office, apologized and asked Lewis if he forgave him and accepted his apology. Lewis said yes and hugged him (the pair has had many friendly encounters since). If Lewis can let go of that, surely the President could let go of the fact that he lost the popular vote. After all, Lewis had no rights in those days. Trump on the other hand has won the right to lead the nation. How he leads it is literally in his hands at this point.
Yes, if Trump focuses on the issues that are important to the American people and does a good job, then in four years, he won’t have to claim voter fraud because he’ll win. The inverse is if he doesn’t, he may still raise it only next time, he won’t have the Electoral College to save him.