No Crisis Here

Praying for the president.

I remember the first time I was confronted with the raw truth about adults, religion and hypocrisy.

It was in the church parking lot of St. James Roman Catholic Church and I was about ten years old. I was a public school student who went to religion classes on Saturday mornings taught by the sisters and the priests of my parish. I looked up to all the adults associated with my church, because my parents taught me to respect my elders and people in positions of authority.

One of the men I looked up to was a lay member of the church who offered the first and second readings from the Bible each Sunday before the priest delivered the gospel and a sermon. I considered this lay server a minor celebrity of my church and someone who set a good example, until one Sunday morning.

As my father slowly drove our car through the packed church parking lot after mass that day, I saw this man, who had just shared with the congregation the Word of the Lord, in another car. I jumped up to wave to him through the back window and at just that instant he erupted in anger with a string of obscenities at another driver he felt was blocking his quick exit from church.

I sunk down slowly in disbelief, forced to question all I had been taught by the religious leaders of my parish about doing onto others and all the rest. Although the word hypocrisy was not part of my vocabulary at ten years old, I did recognize the man’s behavior was at odds with the ideals of the church, which until then I thought everyone practiced all the time. When I told my parents what I had just seen and asked for an explanation, all they could do was shrug their shoulders.

This scene came to mind last week as I listened to a White House press briefing conducted by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the daughter of a Baptist preacher. Sanders was asked to explain a photo of President Trump at a White House meeting of his Faith Advisory Board. The photo showed members of the board laying their hands on Trump in prayer. Was this a moment of prayer meant to give the president strength in the midst of the current political crisis, a reporter asked?

The suggestion that the White House is in crisis was met with a strong rebuke from Sanders who then went on to lecture the reporter and the entire White House press corps about the true nature of prayer.

“The idea that somebody would only pray when they’re in crisis I think makes you miss the entire point of what prayer is about. You should do that every day, and that’s — I think you can do that in the best of times and the worst of times. So I think it would be ridiculous to suggest the only time you might do that is in a time of crisis,” Sanders said.

Sanders’ answer was not responsive to the question. It was a deflection used to avoid the issue of whether the White House is indeed in crisis. Her tone and choice of words was meant to put the reporter in his place and question his own devotion to religion and God. This is not the first time Sanders has invoked religiosity in defense of the president. Her answer on the prayer question was a sharp correction and a signal to the president’s base of supporters in the evangelical community that the president’s enemies — in the press — are non-believers.

The hypocrisy of her indignant tone is heavy since almost every Sanders led news briefing is filled with lies, lies of omission and deliberate deception. None of those tactics is endorsed by the Bible, or any religion I am familiar with. Is her father proud of her? Former Governor Mike Huckabee has long been known for laying on thick his syrupy devotion to a higher power in public speeches and television appearances. Is he not concerned that his daughter’s current employer requires her to deceive the American people on his behalf? Or does the fact that she finds herself so close to power outweigh concerns about truth and decency? When a public figure cloaks himself with religion he is usually looking for protection.

The daily White House press briefings have become as useless as the “5 o’clock follies” of the Vietnam War. Every bit of the strategy behind the events is meant to obstruct the press from doing its job and therefore meant to keep the truth from the American people. The briefings usually begin with a member of the administration detailing a Trump policy being implemented elsewhere in government, followed by Sanders reading off several pages of scheduling information about activities taking place at the agency level or on Capitol Hill. It is not the job of the White House press corps to cover any of it and the administration knows that. Both tactics are a way to filibuster the press and run out the clock to limit the number of questions. The strategy is deceitful.

Questions receive responses, but no answers. A favorite response is: I will have to get back to you because I have not discussed that specific issue with the president. Of course there is no intent by Sanders, or anyone else in the White House, to get back with an answer to any question, so the promise is a lie.

The Trump White House is infected with dishonesty and it starts at the top. The president has proven himself unable to tell the truth in almost any circumstance. He reacts in any conversation with lies, deception and exaggeration as instinctually as a bee stings. His claim about the influence of corporate sponsored fake news is hypocritical since he primarily peddles in falsehood himself.

The last week has been dominated by news that Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, met with several Russian intermediaries last summer to discuss sharing information — developed by the Russian government — that would have been damaging to Hillary Clinton. While the news media focuses on the smoking gun of collusion, the revelations prove a larger point that should concern all Americans. Evidence of this meeting has been deliberately concealed for more than a year and as recently as last weekend, President Trump was in on the cover-up.

This is the second time the president has been linked directly to a big lie. The first came back in February when it became clear Trump knew former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had lied to the vice-president and others. Trump did nothing to correct the situation for more than two weeks. He allowed the vice-president to perpetuate the lie by defending Flynn in public, even though the president knew the truth.

Countless times since last summer, the president, his chief of staff, former campaign chairman Manafort, his top spokesmen, the vice-president and others have denied there was ever any attempt to work with the Russians to influence the 2016 elections. The denials went beyond the issue of collusion. The denials covered meetings like the one arranged by Trump, Jr.

Trump’s efforts to be transparent are no more than translucent. Flying home from the G-20 last weekend, President Trump personally approved a statement that attempted to describe the topic of his son’s Russia meeting as; the adoption of Russian children by American citizens. Three days later, reporting by the New York Times, revealed that was not true. At mid-week, Trump, Jr. went on Fox News and told Trump apologist Sean Hannity that there was nothing more to reveal about the meeting. By the end of the week, further reporting showed that too was a lie. With so much deception coming from the Trump team there is no reason to believe anything anyone close to the administration has to say about the matter. It is impossible to know when the lies have been exhausted.

While Trump Jr. has been caught red-handed, others are guilty by association. Kushner, who the president trusts to bring peace to the Middle East, has engaged in deception around the Russia meeting for more than a year. If Kushner knew, it is reasonable to think that Ivanka Trump knew. Both are senior advisers inside the White House. If Kushner, Trump Jr. and Manafort were all in the meeting, it is hard to believe none of them told the president in real time. Then there is the long list of characters who routinely lie on the president’s behalf. Have they been defending the president only because they have been kept in the dark, or have they been in on the strategy of deceit from the beginning?

Ever since the president took office observers have been confused about why he seems to exert so much energy denying any evidence of collusion between his campaign and the Russian government. Until this week it was believed to be a matter of ego. It was believed the president saw every attempt to give the Russians any credit for his victory as an attempt to de-legitimize his presidency. Now the reason appears more basic. The president’s attempts to kill the Russia story, and the formal investigations into collusion, may be driven by his desire to protect his family and himself from the truth.

In the process, the president has destroyed his own credibility and severely damaged the credibility of the American government. Anyone would be foolish to take the president, or his subordinates at their word, because they have proven themselves to be consistent liars. Politicians are often accused of hypocrisy, because to be successful as a politician you must seek compromise. That point is debatable on a case by case basis. The Trump White House however is far beyond the common hypocrisy borne of inconsistency. The president has made lying the order of the day and very few are standing up to say stop. I wonder how many ten year olds are watching and what they make of the example we are setting?



Photojournalism for Brands and Ideas.

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