Democracy is not your plaything

Staff Columnist

“This will be unpleasantly earnest, but having witnessed the atmospherics the past 10 days it’s what I think needs saying:  Everyone, get serious. Democracy is not your plaything. This is not a game” (By Peggy Noonan in DECLARATIONS,  The Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday, May 20 – 21, 2017)

I’m working on this column three weeks after Ms Noonan’s thoughts were published in The Journal.  I must say that I was impressed.  I’ll also admit that I was hesitant to use them.  Regular readers will know that I have tried to walk that fine line concerning our President.  I did not support him in the nomination nor in the election. I think I’ve made it clear that I know, and proclaim, that Donald Trump is THE President of the United States.  I have, and do wish him well .

Since January and the Inauguration I have observed what I’ll call an unusual attempt by the ‘other side’ to destroy the new President.  I have been watching that other side on the air  – CNN and MSNBC in particular.  In sports we’d call their effort a full court press.  They cover little else.  While this has become almost boring, it is, I think, quite dangerous for our Nation.  So I’ll break my promise to myself, and to some of you.  With Peggy Noonan’s outstanding help, I’ll say what I think. The stakes are far too high for continued silence.  I still think that President Trump deserves a fair shot.  He might just make it, eh?

True, what is going on is not a game.  Aboard U.S. Naval vessels the word is passed to all hands from the bridge over an announcing circuit (the MC ONE), often by a Boatswain complete with pipe.  If appropriate he, or now often she, will say clearly, “This is NO Drill.”

Noonan: “The president of the United States has produced a building crisis that is unprecedented in our history.  The question, at bottom, is whether Donald Trump has demonstrated, in his first four months, that he is unfit for the presidency – wholly unsuited  in terms of judgment, knowledge, mental capacity, personal stability.  That epic question is then broken down into discrete and specific questions:  Did he improperly attempt to interfere with an FBI criminal investigation, did his presidential campaign collude with a foreign government, etc.

But the epic question underlies all.  It couldn’t be more consequential and will take time to resolve.  The sheer gravity of the drama will demand the best from all of us.  Are we up to it?

Mr. Trump’s longtime foes, especially Democrats and progressives, are in the throes of a kind of obsessive delight.  Every new blunder, every suggestion of illegality, gives them pleasure.  ‘He’ll be gone by autumn.’

But he was duly and legally elected by tens of millions of Americans who had legitimate reasons to support him, who knew they were throwing the long ball, and who polls suggest, continue to support him.  They believe the press is trying to kill him.  ‘He’s new, not a politician, give him a chance.’  What would it do to them, what would it say to them, to have him brusquely removed by his enemies after so little time?  Would it tell them democracy is a con, the swamp always wins, you nobodies can make your little choices but we’re in control?  What will that do to their faith in our institutions, in democracy itself?

These are wrenching questions.  But if Mr. Trump is truly unfit – if he has demonstrated already, so quickly, that he cannot competently perform the role, and that his drama will only get more dangerous and chaotic, how much time should pass to let him prove it?  And how dangerous will the proving get?

Again, wrenching questions.  So this is no time for blood lust and delight. Because democracy is not your plaything.”

More from Noonan: “And giving speeches, as he did this week at the Coast Guard Academy: ‘No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.’  Actually Lincoln got secession, civil war and a daily pounding from an abolitionist press that thought he didn’t go far enough and moderates who slammed his brutalist  pursuit of victory.  Then someone shot him in the head.  So he had his challenges.”

“Journalists on fire with the great story of their lives – the most bizarre presidency in U.S. history and the breaking news of its daily missteps – cheer when their scoop that could bring down a president gets more hits than the previous record holder, the scoop that could bring down the candidate.

Stop leaking, tweeting, cheering.  Democracy is not your plaything.”

“We’re chasing so many rabbits, we can’t keep track – Comey, FBI, memoranda; Russia, Flynn, the Trump campaign; Lavrov, indiscretions with intelligence.  It’s become a blur.

But there’s an emerging sense of tragedy, isnt there?  Crucially needed reforms in taxing, regulation and infrastructure – changes the country needs! – are thwarted, all momentum killed.”

“It is absurd to think the president can solve his problems by firing his staff.  They are not the problem.  He is the problem.  They’re not the A-Team, they’re not the counselors you’d want, experienced and wise. But they could function adequately if he could lead adequately.  For months he’s told friends he’s about to make big changes, and doesn’t.  Why?  Maybe because talented people  on the outside don’t want to enter a poisonous staff environment just for the joy of committing career suicide.  So he’s stuck, surrounded by people who increasingly resent him, who fear his unpredictability and pique and will surely one day begin to speak on the record.”

“A mystery: Why is the president never careful?  He doesn’t act as if he’s picking his way through a minefield every day, which he is.  He acts as if he’s gamboling through safe terrain.  Thus he indulges himself with strange claims, statements, tweets.  He comports himself as if he has a buffer of deep support.  He doesn’t.  Nationally his approval numbers are in the mid to high 30s.”

“History is going to judge us by how we comported ourselves in this murky time.  It will see who cared first for the country and who didn’t, who kept his head and who did not, who remained true and calm and played it straight.”

“Now there will be a special prosecutor.  In the short term this buys the White House time.

“The president needs to be told: Democracy is not your plaything.”

It’s time for that announcement from the bridge:  This is NO Drill.


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