House Speaker Paul Ryan offered the excuse “He’s just new to this” for Donald Trump after former FBI chief James Comey’s testimony that the president has done and said things that were inappropriate, even if they don’t turn out to be illegal. It sounded like something you would say in defense of a toddler who dives face-first into the birthday cake because he hasn’t yet learned what a fork is for.
President Trump is that guy — and it’s a guy 99 percent of the time — who doesn’t bother to read the book but tries to bluff his way through the oral report. Sometimes that guy is funny. When he is in a position to weaken long-held European alliances, jeopardize troops on a base in the Middle East or shred America’s safety net as well as ethical guidelines set by the founders in the U.S. Constitution, no one should be laughing. A “gentleman’s C” won’t cut it when so much is at stake.
Yet leading Republicans are looking the other way, hoping they can achieve their agenda and conservative court picks while accommodating the whims and tantrums of their leader, a man no one would say spent a second preparing for the top job he believed he so richly deserved.
When Ryan says Trump “probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, the FBI and White Houses,” he is saying that the president of the United States either doesn’t know what he doesn’t know or doesn’t care enough about the people of America to catch up on all the things he missed while goofing off in history class.
Trump and his enablers are illustrating what women and people of color (and those of us who fall into both categories) have known since forever — that what many of those guys say about affirmative action is dead wrong. The path is smoothest to the great school or the cool job or the White House if you have money, connections and an entitled attitude. Trump has attitude to spare, and his supporters — the same people who saw educated family man President Barack Obama as “arrogant” — love it.
Trump knows he can spend hours on the golf courses in his own resorts after endlessly criticizing his predecessor for playing a few rounds. He pointed to the citizenship and Ivy League achievements of “44” as suspect, knowing a President Trump would never have to endure such scrutiny.
Trump promised he alone could fix the nation’s problems, and had months to prepare. Now, after messes of his own making since he got the top prize he wanted, Trump complains daily about not getting his way. The tragedy of the shooting in Alexandria, Virginia, prompted a presidential statement of unity before Trump soon returned to politics by Twitter. He is Exhibit No. 45, you might say: The billionaire white guy who has set the bar so low there is no space between it and the ground.
Follow the leader
Others who fit the profile are taking advantage of that standard. There is the newest congressman-to-be from Montana, Greg “Thug Life” Gianforte, the Republican who eventually pleaded guilty to body-slamming a reporter who asked a question.
In its initial statement, the Gianforte camp talked tough, describing “aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist,” implying that the reporter deserved it.
But Gianforte meekly accepted what his privilege afforded him, a penalty of community service, anger management and the payment of a few hundred dollars in fees. Not a second of jail time for this “gangsta,” who knew he could eventually slide away from trouble he caused.
His colleagues either excused the behavior or side-stepped it. Ryan — him again — said he should apologize but added, “If he wins, he has been chosen by the people of Montana.” For the voters of Montana, violence was not a deal-breaker. Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, lent his support, saying “we all make mistakes.” I have the feeling not everyone would fall into that “we all” category.
But then, different rules — or no rules — for different people.
There are consequences, on full display in last week’s Cabinet meeting that featured the astounding sights and sounds of fealty and praise for a flawed “Dear Leader.” Trump has not signed any major legislation and his great plans are stalled in the midst of testimony by those in his orbit, past and present.
But he got his participation trophy, and then some, as those taking turns around the table laid bare the American myth that hard work is all that matters.
Maybe Trump was paying attention in American history.
Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and The Charlotte Observer. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.