The father of one of the three UCLA basketball players arrested for shoplifting in China did something dumb. He questioned whether Trump did anything to get his son out of a Chinese jail. LaVar Ball is a nitwit, and has been for quite a while. All three of the players thanked the president when they apologized on TV the other day.
Meanwhile, the president of our whole country, Donald J. Trump, responded to LaVar Ball today by saying “I should have left them in jail.” No, you shouldn’t have done that. And you shouldn’t stoop to the level you did, but you apparently can’t help yourself.
The bigger issue is that we have a president who can be played by foreign adversaries. Maybe that is not completely new. Maybe previous presidents were also taken advantage of. But this one is so transparently hungering for flattery all day every day that he makes China’s job and Russia’s job and Iran’s job and pretty much every foreign leader’s job much too easy. They ought to at least have to work a little in order to manipulate the United States government. Well, actually Russia seems to have done just that, over years if not decades, with Trump. And if and when Donald Trump and/or his family members are incarcerated, should we leave them in jail? Should we forgive and pardon them? Will they ever ask for our forgiveness?
Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions spoke some truth yesterday in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. He remarked that while the Trump campaign was sometimes “brilliant,” it was also “a form of chaos every day from day one.” He did not say and hardly needed to say that the chaos has not yet stopped and is unlikely to stop so long as Trump is president. The chaos has taken a particularly ominous form: judicial integrity and independence are clearly unacceptable to our president. Corollary to that: Trump seems unable to either imagine or accept that we Americans are citizens, not his vassals or supplicants. The Fourteenth Amendment spoke of the “privileges and immunities” that everyone born in the United States possesses, but Trump has apparently either not heard of this part of the US Constitution or not accepted that it is more than “flotsam” (as Scalia flippantly and disgracefully claimed). Will the “system” work, that is, will legitimate moral and political authority be able to reestablish itself? That depends on hard choices being made by members of the legislative and judicial branches to check Trump’s abuses, and also on the capacity of principal players within the executive branch (Rod Rosenstein comes to mind) to act with integrity and compel Trump to acquiesce to their integrity or else fire them. And then the survival of our republic will depend on Congress and the people, very likely in public protests, to denounce and oppose Trump with enough force to restore just order from chaos.
One reality of chaos in 2017 America is that we all risk whiplash from Trump’s daily assertion that his personal will and whim must be obeyed. Our duty as citizens is to do our part to preserve, protect, and defend our Constitutional democracy and our republican, little r, form of government. Trump’s agenda is personal arbitrary rule. He claimed that he would put his business expertise and dealmaking excellence to work on behalf of the “forgotten men and women.” Well, the stock market is certainly up, so some have benefited (so far) but Trump’s focus and happiness and glee seems mostly about being head of a crime family, as far as I can tell. If I get arrested for shoplifting in China and he personally intervenes on my behalf (see the UCLA team members who returned to California today) I would owe him a personal thank you. Otherwise, I owe him no special loyalty and no thanks until he actually does his job as a public servant. My debt, like his, is to the principles and ideals of our “lively experiment,” as historian Sidney Mead put it. And as M.L. King wrote in his last book, “where do we go from here: chaos or community?” We are capable of better, capable of moving toward community, and there are some reasons for hope, but I expect our president (and his enablers, including foreign bots) will exploit every last opportunity to increase grievances and rub salt in wounds. It will be up to us to keep our sense of proportion and good will towards one another, and resist the false choices and poison chalices Trump will surely place before us.