When it comes to recognition for supporting all things Donald Trump, both during last year’s campaign and Trump’s first four months in office, it is hard to find a more dedicated, aggressive, or over-exposed advocate than would-be stockbroker and 27th District Congressman Chris Collins. He proudly wears the mantel of cheerleader-in-chief. This has often found Collins twisting himself like a pretzel as he tries to explain what he perceives as the intelligence and foresight of fearless leader.
This is not to say that Collins has not expressed his differences with Trump about a few things. Chris is for Meals-on-Wheels and seems to realize that the administration’s crackdown on immigration might have a negative impact on farmers in his district. We will have to see where he stands when it actually gets to voting on a Trump budget.
Collins’ defenses of Trump rival the activities of people who actually get paid to carry Donald’s water – Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, Mike Pence and Sarah Huckabee Sanders being the most prominent of that crew. (Whatever happened to Stephan – “the President’s authority will not be questioned” – Miller?) Every administration from time-to-time needs to defend and explain itself. When you’re explaining you’re losing, the expression goes. These guys must be getting tired of losing.
The New York Times recently got into the issue of what the Trump surrogates go through. The headline on the story was “’Looking Like a Liar or a Fool’: What It Means to Work for Trump.”
“Trump is putting a lot on the backs of his spokespeople, while simultaneously cutting their legs out from underneath them,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and a former adviser to Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida. “There is nothing more discouraging or embarrassing for a spokesman than to have your boss contradict you. In political communications, you’re only as good as your credibility.”
Said Trump loyalist, former House Speaker and evidently frustrated former ESPN football analyst Newt Gingrich: The president “resembles a quarterback who doesn’t call a huddle and gets ahead of his offensive line so nobody can block him and defend him because nobody knows what the play is.”
The Bills have had coaches who ran the team like that. But I digress.
In the midst of the fury that was the Comey-canning story last week, where in the world was Chris Collins? Surely he could have offered some encouraging words. But that would have required Chris to have been able to: (1) figure out what the administration-defined true Comey story was, to the extent that was possible; and (2) choose the timing of his support of Trump for the best effect, also kind of iffy. Actually in Trumpland those things are basically impossible.
How could Collins resist the opportunity to get his face on national television for the hundredth (thousandth?) time? Could it possibly have been that he realized that this plan of attack wasn’t going to go well? Okay, that doesn’t make sense. Was he lost among the White House bushes with Sean Spicer?
Former Buffalo News editor Margaret Sullivan, who is now the media columnist for the Washington Post, puts some of this in perspective:
Journalism has been called the first rough draft of history, but last week it felt more like an adrenaline-fueled doodle on Snapchat — scribbled in one frantic instant only to disappear the next.
The media world was blown off its axis as President Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey on Tuesday, unleashing a hurricane of assertions, counterclaims, obfuscations and threats.
The news cycle, once a stately 24 hours, was reduced to mere seconds. It was hard for dizzied news consumers to know what, or whom, to believe.
Donald Trump doesn’t bother looking for the truth or telling the truth. Nothing is more important to him that self-aggrandizement and avoiding responsibility for anything. A commentator for the National Review has put it best, suggesting that Trump’s boasts demonstrate “narcissistic incontinence.”
Trump-paid spokespersons must pledge loyalty to that method of operating, knowing full well that the odds are pretty good that they will be thrown under the bus at any moment that is convenient to do so. Chris Collins, not being on the Trump payroll, can pick his shots without being ordered to say something – that is, I think he can.
You would want to think that there would be people, lots of people, working in the White House who are comfortable with speaking truth to power. Like Diogenes searching with a lantern for a truthful person, news people assigned to the White House have tried and repeatedly failed to find such a person.
Those who hope that there are at least some people in the administration who are truth-tellers look toward someone like National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster as the adult in the room, unafraid to speak the truth. One had to wonder what McMaster made of all this.
But then there was McMaster this past Monday night and again on Tuesday, after Trump had leaked classified information to the Russians, standing before the microphones parsing words so cleverly that you might think that at any moment he would say that things depend on what the word “is” means. He looked very uncomfortable. McMaster did his best to imitate Sean Spicer’s performances, but Melissa McCarthy is much better at it.
About twenty years ago McMaster wrote about all the foolish decisions and actions that led to the Vietnam War. I’m reading the book, Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam. As a writer of history McMaster is not the greatest, but as a chronicler of what happened in 1960’s America as it moved toward war, he does a decent job.
The book includes a quote from Thomas Jefferson that seems like Jefferson speaking about Donald Trump. “He who permits himself to tell a lie often finds it much easier to do it a second or a third time, til at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world’s believing him.”
McMaster ended his book with this comment about Vietnam which has relevance today: “The failings were many and reinforcing; arrogance, weakness, lying in the pursuit of self-interest, and above all, the abdication of responsibility to the American people.”
McMaster’s Spicer-like performances have not been very good. I would suggest that he not quit his day job to go into political punditry, but it seems very likely that he will quit. He will be gone one way or another before the end of the year, as will many others. After Trump’s “best and brightest” depart, where will they find replacements willing to work for this weird and scary chief executive?