Chattanooga Times Free Press - - OPINION -

WASH­ING­TON — “Please stop smil­ing,” I po­litely asked Barack Obama as I passed him in Bos­ton’s air­port.

It wasn’t just any smile. It was that in­fec­tious, mag­i­cal grin that helped him de­flate the Clin­ton ma­chine and win the White House as a novice se­na­tor, a smile full of charm and prom­ise that we didn’t see all that of­ten af­ter 2008.

No an­swer was forth­com­ing since I was only talk­ing to the former pres­i­dent’s glossy image, cud­dling with the glam­orous Michelle on the cover of Peo­ple.

But there is some­thing dis­ori­ent­ing about see­ing Obama look so gen­uinely bliss­ful, ca­vort­ing around the world with celebri­ties and bil­lion­aires, while so many oth­ers freak out about his suc­ces­sor.

If ev­ery­thing is as dire as Democrats say, if the very Repub­lic is in peril and the leader of the free world is un­sta­ble, if Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is try­ing to tram­ple on Obama’s legacy and gut Med­i­caid and rip up the so­cial safety net, why is Obama act­ing so jolly and care­free? While Obama cer­tainly ruf­fled feath­ers in Wash­ing­ton as pres­i­dent, it seems like noth­ing com­pared to the daily emo­tional trau­mas, fam­ily soap op­eras and Byzan­tine Rus­sian scan­dal twists and turns gush­ing out of the Trump White House.

It looks like the three hap­pi­est guys in a jan­gled, coars­ened, bel­liger­ent, riven coun­try are Barack Obama, Ge­orge W. Bush and John Boehner.

At a re­cent Texas Rangers game, there was W., play­fully pho­to­bomb­ing a Fox Sports re­porter do­ing her standup. And at an en­ergy con­fer­ence in Hous­ton Wed­nes­day, “Drunk-on-Life” Boehner, as Van­ity Fair dubs him, gushed, “I wake up ev­ery day, drink my morn­ing cof­fee and say, ‘Hal­lelu­jah, hal­lelu­jah, hal­lelu­jah.’”

Un­like Obama and W., Boehner is will­ing to speak out about Trump’s know-noth­ing and hurt-ev­ery­one do­mes­tic poli­cies, call­ing them “a com­plete dis­as­ter.”

Ax­el­rod de­fended 43 and 44 on their ret­i­cence, say­ing it will help if they just em­anate op­ti­mism and “an al­ter­na­tive mes­sage,” as Obama did with a beam­ing Angela Merkel in Ber­lin last week. But will we be OK?

Trump thinks the way to rep­re­sent Amer­ica is with a car­i­ca­ture of strength, with­out un­der­stand­ing it comes across as weak­ness and boor­ish­ness. Even with the weight­i­est job in the world, he can’t seem to ma­ture be­yond the school­yard bully. Where are you, Me­la­nia, anti-bul­ly­ing spokes­woman and Don­ald-hand-slap­per?

Things have got­ten into such danger­ous ter­ri­tory with ver­bal and phys­i­cal vi­o­lence that in Montana Greg Gian­forte body-slammed a re­porter hours be­fore win­ning a House seat, and Turkey’s pres­i­dent, Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, watched as his se­cu­rity goons roughed up pro­test­ers in front of the Turk­ish Em­bassy dur­ing his re­cent visit here. And that brings us to Trump’s strange love of dictators.

This is a treach­er­ous spi­ral, as con­ser­va­tive au­thor Char­lie Sykes told The Post, be­cause “ev­ery time some­thing like Montana hap­pens, Repub­li­cans ad­just their stan­dards and put an em­pha­sis on team loy­alty. They nor­mal­ize and ac­cept pre­vi­ously un­ac­cept­able be­hav­ior.”

Sum­mits are al­ways elab­o­rately chore­ographed, but never be­fore have al­lies had pre-emp­tive plans on how to coun­ter­act a U.S. pres­i­dent’s hand­shake. Trump’s are more like dom­i­nance tests than greet­ings. First Justin Trudeau in Wash­ing­ton and then Em­manuel Macron in Brus­sels pre­pared to out-grip him on his patented “I’ll-rip-your-shoul­der-outand-show-you-who’s-boss” hand­shake.

When Trump pushed aside Dusko Markovic, the prime min­is­ter of Mon­tene­gro, to get in front of the NATO pack in Brus­sels and then straight­ened his jacket with pri­mate panache, J.K. Rowl­ing tweeted: “You tiny, tiny, tiny lit­tle man.”

Don­ald Trump is not a tough guy. He’s a faux tough guy. That is not even in the Amer­i­can tra­di­tion. All of our fa­mously tough icons, on screen and in life, were able to ex­ude strength with­out us­ing brute force. And they did it while stand­ing up for peo­ple, not smack­ing them down.

Mau­reen Dowd

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