Dis­tract­ing us to death

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - KATH­LEEN PARKER kath­leen­parker@wash­post.com

When Pres­i­dent Trump said a few days ago that now isn’t the time for a de­bate about gun con­trol, pre­sum­ably he meant that we should re­spect a de­cent in­ter­val of time for mourn­ing af­ter the Las Ve­gas shoot­ing be­fore launch­ing into a po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sion that his­tor­i­cally has led nowhere.

If that’s how he felt, it would have been easy enough (and sane) to say. But he didn’t.

More likely, Trump doesn’t want any dis­trac­tion from (a) his bril­liant PR idea to toss pa­per-towel rolls to thirsty, hur­ri­cane-sogged Puerto Ri­cans (cake to fol­low); (b) his photo-op Thurs­day even­ing with lead­ers of the armed forces and their spouses dur­ing which he teased the “fake news” me­dia he had sum­moned that the din­ner gath­er­ing with mil­i­tary brass could be “the calm be­fore the storm.”

“What storm, Mr. Pres­i­dent?” an in­trepid re­porter queried. “You’ll find out.” Whoa. Mr. Mys­tery Man has our at­ten­tion now. Oh, so clever. Are we go­ing to war? Will it be with the Is­lamic State? North Korea? Iran? Just you wait, fake newsies, just you wait.

Or per­haps he wants to keep the spot­light on (c) his sug­ges­tion that the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee in­ves­ti­gate the me­dia, with­out which his mil­i­tary cha­rade would have merely been the world’s widest-an­gle selfie.

No, ac­tu­ally, his ab­surd (un­con­sti­tu­tional) sug­ges­tion was, prob­a­bly, a smoke­screen it­self, as was the pa­per­towel toss, one hopes (surely no one’s mind is that in­ert), and the photo-op. Trump has mas­tered the Art of Dis­trac­tion, lately to keep our eyes off the fire­fight within the White House and the ever-ob­vi­ous fact this ad­min­is­tra­tion is star­ing at an eclipse with­out glasses and this pres­i­dent couldn’t lead a starv­ing dog to a ten­der­loin buf­fet.

The re­volv­ing door at 1600 Penn­syl­va­nia Ave. is like Saks at Christ­mas­time. Lat­est to the lineup is Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Tom Price. Oth­ers have in­cluded FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey, chief strate­gist Stephen K. Ban­non, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer, and na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn, to name a few.

Next up, most likely, is Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, not only be­cause the pres­i­dent rou­tinely un­der­mines and con­tra­dicts the na­tion’s top diplo­mat but also be­cause Tiller­son clearly holds Trump in con­tempt. Most im­por­tant, Tiller­son re­cently told the truth.

Trump re­port­edly was fu­ri­ous upon re­turn­ing from his diplo­matic coup in Puerto Rico, which he seemed to have thought was a Span­ish colony, only to see the face of his sec­re­tary of state on all his fa­vorite TV chan­nels.

Ac­cord­ing to NBC News, Tiller­son had said the pres­i­dent is a “mo­ron,” which caused most sen­tient hu­mans to shrug and roll their eyes as if to say, “No, re­ally?” But this slight prob­a­bly both­ered Trump less than the fact that Tiller­son’s face, and not his, was on all the ca­ble shows.

Trump’s fan base, of course, was un­fazed by Tiller­son’s re­ported in­sult, know­ing that this term could not pos­si­bly ap­ply to a pres­i­dent who re­cently had scolded Puerto Ri­cans for mess­ing up the U.S. bud­get and im­plied that they were a shift­less lot who “want ev­ery­thing to be done for them.” No, siree. That per­son would be a ge­nius.

As Amer­i­cans gnaw their nails won­der­ing which war this way comes — or when Tiller­son will be re­placed — Trump is fo­cused on de­cer­ti­fy­ing the nu­clear deal with Iran, con­tin­u­ing to taunt North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and try­ing to con­vince the rest of the world that he’s got ev­ery­thing un­der con­trol.

Thus, the very last thing Trump needs right now is a po­lit­i­cal shootout over guns.

Now’s not the time, he says. Ap­par­ently, how­ever, many if not most Amer­i­cans — about 90 per­cent of whom would sup­port ex­pand­ing back­ground checks — beg to dif­fer. If not now, when?

The pes­simist notes that if the mur­der of 20 6- and 7-year-olds at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School re­sulted in no sen­si­ble re­stric­tions on gun own­er­ship, then the slaugh­ter of 58 coun­try mu­sic fans isn’t likely to, ei­ther. But wait, we have a head­line: Even the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion has called for reg­u­lat­ing (not ban­ning or con­fis­cat­ing) “bump stocks” — the at­tach­ment used by the Las Ve­gas shooter to es­sen­tially con­vert a semi­au­to­matic into an au­to­matic weapon, the bet­ter to kill the most peo­ple. And Repub­li­cans are ex­press­ing a will­ing­ness to con­sider re­stric­tions.

You’d think by the re­ac­tions — this is re­ally, re­ally huge, ed­i­to­ri­al­ists have clam­ored — that the NRA de­cided to sup­port ban­ning from pri­vate own­er­ship all semi­au­to­matic weapons, which were cre­ated solely for the pur­pose of killing hu­man be­ings. But no. Like Coco Chanel, who al­ways re­moved one bauble be­fore leav­ing home, the NRA is of­fer­ing to elim­i­nate one ac­ces­sory from a ware­house of gaudy, blood­let­ting fash­ions.

Talk about dis­trac­tions. Or was this the ar­ti­fice of a deal?

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