Democracy, I Always Thought I'd See You Again

By Jamie Stiehm

August 1, 2018 5 min read

WASHINGTON — We've seen fire and we've seen rain this strange summer. Raging fires in California contrast with a biblical deluge on the East Coast for days on end.

What on earth — a sign from the heavens?

In pre-Revolutionary France in 1724, the sky went dark for two hours during a solar eclipse that terrified all from peasants to worldly Parisians. Was it God's warning? What had they done to deserve such foreboding? This could not be good.

Just think, the goddesses in the sky could be telling us something now. Sunny days that we thought would never end are sinking on the horizon. American democracy is being battered by gale force Hurricane Donald winds. We're not getting the message.

Fire and rain will soon be joined by "Fear," Bob Woodward's new book, based on deep secret reporting inside the "harrowing" Donald J. Trump White House.

What the epic Watergate investigative reporter found is that fear is the one tool this president uses relentlessly to get his way, inside and outside government, with friends and foes. A government shutdown is the next threat to fear.

There's no philosophy of democracy beyond fear. (The book will be published Sept. 11.)

Trump has changed the presidency; the presidency has not changed Trump. The White House is a "dump," he said. Before our eyes, the real estate titan turned it into a coarse, cruel platform of personal insult and public profanity. The NFL national anthem controversy was textbook Trump, a cheap brand of racism and patriotism.

Twitter is the first refuge of the scoundrel. That leads me to my own tribe. Trump's barrage of attacks on the "fake news" media started in the 2016 campaign and carries on to this day. Can you imagine a crowd chanting "CNN sucks" under any other president?

Trump bragged in a CIA visit that he was "at war" with the press on his first full day in office.

I bet the spies were shocked, spooks who'd been around the world and seen everything. No president attacks democracy's institutions on his first day of office, right? Wrong.

Trump's chorus — anti-constitutional chorus, I might add — that we are dishonest and "the enemy of the people" has done us more damage, to the Fourth Estate, than we know. Correspondents covering the White House have taken Trump's venom in stride, true to the neutral observer stance. Was that the right thing to do? I don't think so.

I think the press should have stood up to Trump even before he got to the White House, to defend itself vigorously. His army of tweets should have been covered with more skepticism, telling their untruths. Trump knows better than we: The one-way medium is the message. He always has the first and last word.

Fortunately, the wind is blowing back. Arthur G. Sulzberger, newly named publisher of the family-owned The New York Times, met with Trump in July. In a refreshing bolt of clarity, he declared, "I told the president that I thought his language was not just divisive, but increasingly dangerous ... (it) will lead to violence."

Holding steady in the storm is special counsel Robert Mueller, pursuing the Russian probe.

Meanwhile, the master of distraction has systematically pivoted the public gaze from the last outrage on his way to the next one.

The deadly Charlottesville, Virginia, race riot, with "very fine people" on both sides, Trump said, happened suddenly last summer. The public outrage over immigrant family separations at the Southern border rose in June, some time ago. The Puerto Rico humanitarian crisis seems like ancient history.

To mix it up, Trump will treat friends like foes, and foes like friends. Just ask NATO, the European Union or Russian President Vladimir Putin.

I know well Trump's sound and fury is a silencing mechanism for Republican senators on the ballot this fall. They dare not speak a critical word for fear of his vow to unseat them. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is locked in a tight re-election run. He has to put Trump's mocking nickname aside — "Lyin' Ted" — and act chummy with Trump out on the stump.

American democracy, I always thought that I'd see you again.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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