A new year, but it’s all get­ting old fast

The Buffalo News - - WASHINGTON NEWS - By Dan Balz

Pres­i­dent Trump does more dam­age to him­self than his op­po­nents ever man­age to do

WASH­ING­TON – As the New Year heads to its third week, Pres­i­dent Trump re­mains on a per­sonal, po­lit­i­cal los­ing streak. None of his op­po­nents – not the Democrats, not the Never Trumpers, not any of the oth­ers – can dam­age him as badly as he hurts him­self.

It was only a few days ago when he opened up an im­mi­gra­tion ne­go­ti­at­ing ses­sion with bi­par­ti­san mem­bers of Congress to the cam­eras and was lauded in some quar­ters for do­ing so. He was de­scribed in some ac­counts as a pres­i­dent do­ing the real busi­ness of the coun­try. That proved to be a one-off mo­ment.

Be­fore and af­ter, the con­ver­sa­tion around the pres­i­dency – the con­ver­sa­tion at times forced by the pres­i­dent – in­volved top­ics that were al­ter­nately dis­qui­et­ing and shock­ing, from ques­tions about his mental fit­ness and sta­bil­ity to serve as pres­i­dent (which he helped to el­e­vate with tweets) to the racist and vul­gar com­ment he made about African and other na­tions in a pri­vate meeting.

To­gether they reinforce a por­trait of a pres­i­dent who doesn’t ap­pear to un­der­stand or ap­pre­ci­ate the im­por­tance of the im­mi­grant ex­pe­ri­ence, of­ten lacks clar­ity of his own views or the de­tails of is­sues he is ne­go­ti­at­ing, and who projects an im­age that reg­u­larly flies in the face of stan­dards long ap­plied to those who oc­cupy the Oval Of­fice.

Trump has tried to wig­gle away from ask­ing why the United States must take im­mi­grants from what he called “s... hole coun­tries.” Amid the firestorm set off by Post re­porter Josh Dawsey’s ac­count of the meeting, Trump ac­knowl­edged he used some “tough” lan­guage dur­ing the meeting at the White House but said he never used the ex­act words at­trib­uted to him.

His claim was quickly un­der­cut by oth­ers. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., one of the at­ten­dees, di­rectly con­tra­dicted the pres­i­dent’s state­ment, say­ing the pres­i­dent used words that were “hate­filled, vile and racist.” Sen. Lindsey Gra­ham, R-S.C., who has been courted by the pres­i­dent, is­sued a state­ment of his own that im­plic­itly backed up Durbin. Gra­ham said he had con­veyed his feel­ings about what was said at the meeting di­rectly to the pres­i­dent at the time. Gra­ham no­tably did not side with Trump’s ver­sion of events.

Two other sen­a­tors at the meeting, Sens. Tom Cot­ton, R-Ark., and David Per­due, R-Ga., both of whom op­posed the bi­par­ti­san deal Durbin and Gra­ham had brought to the pres­i­dent for his con­sid­er­a­tion, claimed they could not re­call the lan­guage “specif­i­cally,” which is hardly an af­fir­ma­tion of the pres­i­dent’s ex­pla­na­tion.

Trump has been at this place be­fore on the is­sue of race. In 2011, as he was toy­ing with run­ning for pres­i­dent, he traf­ficked in the false al­le­ga­tion that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was not born in the United States, claim­ing at one point that he had sent pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tors to Hawaii to find the ev­i­dence.

Obama punc­tured that ca­nard by pro­duc­ing his long-form birth cer­tifi­cate. But the overt at­tempt to profit from the birther is­sue paid div­i­dends po­lit­i­cally for Trump and set him on a path that even­tu­ally put him in the Oval Of­fice.

Through the course of the 2016 cam­paign, he at­tacked Mex­i­can im­mi­grants as rapists and crim­i­nals. He at­tacked a fed­eral judge born in the United States of Mex­i­can her­itage, a judge who hap­pened to be over­see­ing a law­suit against Trump Univer­sity. He got into a fight with a Gold Star fam­ily, who hap­pened to be Mus­lim and whose son was killed in the Iraq War.

As pres­i­dent, he twice of­fered kind words for the white su­prem­a­cists who marched in Char­lottesville, Va., say­ing that among them were some “very fine peo­ple.” Later he called Na­tional Foot­ball League play­ers who knelt dur­ing the na­tional an­them, in protest of polic­ing prac­tices in some African-Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties, “sons of bi .... s” and said the own­ers should fire them.

Now he has used a hor­ri­ble vul­gar­ity to den­i­grate na­tions whose im­mi­grants to the United States have made valu­able con­tri­bu­tions to the coun­try. He com­pounded his dis­missal of those coun­tries by ask­ing why the United States can­not take more im­mi­grants from places like Nor­way, which is pre­dom­i­nantly white.

Con­dem­na­tions came quickly from different parts of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. A United Na­tions hu­man rights spokesman said there was no other word than “racist” to de­scribe Trump’s com­ment. The episode once again left the pres­i­dent po­lit­i­cally iso­lated, save for those who ei­ther agree with him or are will­ing to set aside their dis­com­fort, as many vot­ers did when he was elected.

What the pres­i­dent said in the Oval Of­fice on Thurs­day was only the most shock­ing of the com­ments that have marked the early days of 2018. He has con­tin­ued his at­tacks on the First Amend­ment and free­dom of the press. He has ques­tioned the li­bel laws of the coun­try, which pro­tect the press in cov­er­ing pub­lic fig­ures, ex­cept in cases of reck­less­ness and mal­ice.

His re­sponse to events that go against him is to lash out by declar­ing that the pro­cesses of our demo­cratic sys­tem are rigged or bro­ken. His perspective on demo­cratic gov­er­nance is viewed al­most en­tirely through the lens of whether he, per­son­ally, is win­ning or los­ing.

For some Trump ad­vis­ers and for many Repub­li­can elected of­fi­cials, there is an al­most au­to­matic re­ac­tion to turn away when things like this oc­cur, ei­ther to pre­tend what hap­pened did not hap­pen or to dis­miss them as a pres­i­dent blow­ing off steam, like some­body rant­ing in a bar.

The con­se­quences are far greater. As these kinds of com­ments pile one on top of an­other, they de­fine the Trump pres­i­dency – and, in the eyes of much of the world, the cur­rent state of the United States and the Repub­li­can Party it­self – as much as the poli­cies he and party lead­ers are pur­su­ing.

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