Last week Donald Trump failed to stand at attention during a military ceremony. He just sat around talking and telling jokes. My question for today is: Do we need to dwell on this?
Stop jumping up and down and cheering.
Policy-wise, it was a particularly dreadful week in Washington. The president trashed the health care act and washed his hands of the nuclear agreement with Iran.
Attention must be paid. But there has also been a bumper crop of Ridiculous Events. And it seems only fair to mention a few of them, given that the president himself doesn’t seem to have enough stable thoughts for a serious policy debate. He never did understand the Affordable Care Act. During one top-level discussion with his foreign affairs advisers, he reportedly compared the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan to the remodeling of the 21 Club in Manhattan.
Once again I am sinking to his level.
Let’s get back to the flag. Trump was doing an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, sitting in a hangar used by the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. A bugle began playing "Retreat," marking the end of the day and, often, the lowering of the flag. The military tradition is that when you hear the music, you rise and put your hand on your heart. Or salute. Trump kept sitting and talking. He joked to the crowd that the bugle was in honor of Hannity’s ratings.
Well, maybe he had no idea what "Retreat" was. And to be fair, only people outdoors are really obliged to stand for the ceremony. But if you’re a president who went to a military high school, sitting in a military facility, near people who suddenly get to their feet, there ought to be an inkling that some attention should be paid.
Trump was in Pennsylvania, by the way, to promote his tax plan. In recent days he was also in North Carolina for a dinner with the Republican National Committee. He played golf with Lindsey Graham and met with the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Do we have any right to ask why he hasn’t dropped into California to check up on the wildfire disaster? He couldn’t do anything to help, and most Californians wouldn’t vote for him if he showed up wielding a hose and rescuing trapped bunnies. But it would still be a nice, leaderlike gesture.
If we comment on the Twittering President with a list of symbolic failures and punch lines, are we just aping his fecklessness? Nah.
The bugle thing is definitely fair game, since Trump’s been on a rampage against black National Football League players who kneel during the national anthem. Which is worse, people? Athletes staging a somber protest about racial injustice or a president sitting around joshing during a ceremony about the flag?
Trump’s whole crusade against the football demonstrators has been mean, a play to that fabled base of his. He’s even been cruel to Mike Pence, who was directed to walk out of an Indianapolis Colts game when some players knelt down. And Pence really wanted to see that game! They were retiring Peyton Manning’s jersey!
It seems only fair to take the occasional low road against a president who loves nothing more than getting up in the morning to launch a meaningless-divisive-symbolic crusade. For instance, we’re going to be spending the next 10 weeks listening to Trump talk about bringing back Christmas. It’s hard to believe that in his New York real estate days he didn’t occasionally say “Happy holidays!” But in this presidency, it’s as bad as, um, ignoring the flag.
“We’re saying Merry Christmas again,” he told the Values Voters Summit. It’s important, he explained, because it’s a season that “people don’t talk about anymore.”
We are now going to have 2½ months to point out that in a land surrounded by Christmas sales, carpeted by Christmas trees and bathed in the broadcast of Christmas carols, the last thing we really need to worry about is the failure to mention the word “Christmas.”
If we were going to cruise down the highway of political virtue, talking policy and watching the climate change, we’d discuss health care. Trump is deliberately undermining a program that many working and middle-class Americans rely on to pay for their coverage.
On Oct. 13, the president talked about it very briefly with reporters. But he managed to explain, in a nanosecond, why he hates the subsidies: “Take a look at who those insurance companies support and I guarantee you one thing. It’s not Donald Trump.”
Low road beckons. Really, it’s waving its hand in desperation. So let’s just mention that at the signing ceremony held to celebrate one of the new health-care-wrecking changes, Trump forgot to sign. Pence had to drag him back to the little bitty table to write down his name.
There are good reasons the most influential commentators on this administration are the late-night comedians.