Viewpoint: Presidential respect and deference

By Hugh Bowden


President Donald Trump is a liar. He is a bully. He supports racism and white supremacy. He routinely abuses the power of his office. He obstructs justice. He uses the authority and the global prestige of the presidency to enrich himself and his family, in violation of the United States Constitution. He denies the existence of climate change, thereby helping to put the entire planet at greater and greater risk of cataclysmic disaster with each passing day. The foregoing are not simply opinions. They are indisputable facts.

But to a large segment of the American population, these facts make no difference at all. One of the major news networks of our nation has willingly been co-opted by Trump. Its commentators fawn over his every utterance and parrot his assertions, however untruthful they may be, as gospel to his millions of supporters. To those Trump followers, nothing at all is true unless it comes to them via Fox News.

Sadly, almost every member of the White House press corps, and far too many members of Congress, are complicit in the dishonesty that emanates daily from the White House and the Trump administration. It’s not because they want to be, but because of a long-held notion in Washington that, no matter what, the president is entitled to a full measure of deference by virtue of the office. Just over a year ago, Trump stood on the White House lawn and threatened to revoke the press credentials of reporters unless they treated the White House — and by extension, him personally — with the respect he believes is deserved.

One might reasonably argue that, in normal circumstances, an expectation of respect is appropriate from a president. But these are not normal times, nor do we have a normal president. Many, if not most, of us grew from childhood with the understanding that respect does not mean bowing to or acquiescing to someone, no matter what that person may do or say. But Trump and, sadly, many of his followers clearly believe that no journalist has the right to directly challenge him on any matter, however blatant his lies or insults to or about others may be. The role of the White House press corps is seen as simply asking polite questions and recording whatever answers Trump chooses to give. God forbid that they challenge a response or, worse yet, question his truthfulness.

Some people believe respect should be earned. Others believe it is something one chooses to give, no matter the recipient’s personality, achievements or behavior. It is this writer’s belief that respect should never be demanded and that, if it is to be received, it must be returned to the giver. The present occupant of the Oval Office clearly does not grasp that concept.

This president has proven, time after time after time, that he is not entitled to respect or deference. The tradition, however dearly held it may be, should be abandoned. It is not enough for talk show hosts or editorial writers to call out Donald Trump from long distance when he lies or abuses his executive authority.

As long as he is not directly confronted, Trump will continue to lie, to bully, to spread what his senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, once called “alternative facts.” The policy of deference allows Trump to brand anyone he chooses to attack as a liar or a traitor with no fear that he will be directly challenged. Day after day, week after week, month after month we are force-fed a barrage of tweets, many of them replete with foul language, directed at anyone and everyone who may have disagreed with or otherwise aggrieved this president.

But no member of Congress, from either party, will call him out publicly when they are in his presence. And no White House reporter is willing to risk his or her credentials by confronting him as the liar he so frequently proves himself to be.

As long as presidential deference is bestowed to Donald Trump, he will continue to lie, to bully and to abuse the power of his office with impunity. It’s just that simple. And we will all pay the price.

Hugh Bowden is a retired journalist and political observer. He lives in Ellsworth.

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