Some­thing is not right

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - RUTH MAR­CUS ruth­mar­cus@wash­post.com

In the mid­dle of one night Miss Clavel turned on the light And said, “Some­thing is not right!” — “Made­line,” by Lud­wig Bemel­mans, 1939

Many of us these days find our­selves chan­nel­ing our in­ner Miss Clavel. De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis, for one. In Dex­ter Filkins’s pro­file of Mat­tis for the New Yorker, the most strik­ing mo­ment comes when Mat­tis is asked what wor­ries him most in his new role. Filkins ex­pected to hear about the Is­lamic State, or Rus­sia, or the de­fense bud­get.

In­stead, Mat­tis went to a deeper, more un­set­tling prob­lem: “The lack of po­lit­i­cal unity in Amer­ica. The lack of a fun­da­men­tal friend­li­ness. It seems like an aw­ful lot of peo­ple in Amer­ica and around the world feel spir­i­tu­ally and per­son­ally alien­ated, whether it be from or­ga­nized re­li­gion or from lo­cal com­mu­nity school dis­tricts or from their gov­ern­ments.”

Some­thing is not right. If any­thing, Mat­tis’s di­ag­no­sis seems un­der­stated. This na­tional dis­tem­per, the sour, an­gry mood in­fect­ing the body politic, was ev­i­dent be­fore Mon­tana con­gres­sional can­di­date Greg Gian­forte body-slammed a re­porter for dar­ing to ask a ques­tion; then had his cam­paign lie about it; then failed to apol­o­gize — un­til af­ter he won the elec­tion.

It was ev­i­dent be­fore Gian­forte’s cur­rent al­lies and fu­ture col­leagues were muted, to put it mildly, in the face of his au­dio-taped as­sault. “We all make mis­takes,” said Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), who chairs the House Re­pub­li­cans’ cam­paign arm. This was not a mis­take; it was an as­sault on a re­porter do­ing his con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected job.

Some­thing is not right — and Gian­forte’s at­tack is sim­ply a well­doc­u­mented illustration of this larger ill. The events of a sin­gle week serve to un­der­score the grav­ity of the mal­ady.

Some­thing is not right when the griev­ing par­ents of mur­dered Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee staffer Seth Rich are forced to suf­fer the fur­ther in­jury of see­ing their son’s death hi­jacked for po­lit­i­cal pur­pose, base­lessly linked to Wik­iLeaked DNC emails.

Some­thing is not right when Pres­i­dent Trump’s com­merce sec­re­tary, Wil­bur Ross, mar­vels, af­ter trav­el­ing with the pres­i­dent to Saudi Ara­bia, that “there was not a sin­gle hint of a pro­tester any­where there dur­ing the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad plac­ard.” Note to Ross: The ab­sence of protest is not good news — it is ev­i­dence of the ab­sence of democ­racy.

Some­thing is not right when Trump’s hous­ing sec­re­tary, Ben Car­son, as­serts that “poverty to a large ex­tent is also a state of mind. You take some­body that has the right mind-set, you can take ev­ery­thing from them and put them on the street, and I guar­an­tee in a lit­tle while they’ll be right back up there.” As if the poor have only them­selves to blame for their con­di­tion. How can this man be en­trusted with the task of en­sur­ing af­ford­able hous­ing when he seems to be­lieve that the in­abil­ity to pay for hous­ing stems from lack of will and moral back­bone?

This is not sim­ply about dis­agree­ing with Trump’s ide­ol­ogy, such as it is, or even with more ortho­dox Repub­li­can views. It is about the in­creas­ing dis­trust of the other, whether a refugee or a po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent, and the emer­gence of a fun­da­men­tal mean-spirit­ed­ness in­con­sis­tent with Amer­i­can val­ues.

About those Amer­i­can val­ues: Some­thing is not right when, as the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice found, the House Repub­li­can health-care bill would re­sult in 23 mil­lion more Amer­i­cans with­out health cov­er­age, in­flict­ing the great­est harm on the old­est, sick­est and least well-off.

Some­thing is not right when Trump pro­poses a bud­get that would slash fund­ing for the Pres­i­dent’s Emer­gency Plan for AIDS Re­lief, the pro­gram launched by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush in 2003 that has saved nearly 12 mil­lion lives in Africa and else­where by pro­vid­ing an­tiretro­vi­ral drugs. Trump’s bud­get would cut the pro­gram by nearly one-fifth — and re­sult in the deaths of at least 1 mil­lion peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers.

And that is just one par­tic­u­larly poignant ex­am­ple. Some­thing is not right when Trump’s bud­get would cut food stamps and hous­ing vouch­ers for needy fam­i­lies; health care for poor chil­dren — this on top of cuts al­ready en­vi­sioned in the health-care bill — heat­ing as­sis­tance for the low-in­come el­derly; and job train­ing pro­grams to help the very Amer­i­cans whose in­ter­ests Trump vowed to cham­pion.

Some­thing is re­ally not right when all this is done to help pay for tril­lions of dol­lars in tax cuts for the rich­est Amer­i­cans. When it is built on an ed­i­fice of fairy-tale growth pro­jec­tions ex­ac­er­bated by fraud­u­lent ac­count­ing, dou­ble-count­ing sav­ings from this sup­posed growth.

We are all Miss Clavel now, or should be.

JUSTIN SUL­LI­VAN/GETTY IM­AGES

Greg Gian­forte at a cam­paign meet-and-greet in Great Falls, Mont., on Tues­day.

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