Okay, sports fans. I know that, at this point, I’m risking a 10-yard late-hit penalty for writing about President Trump and the mess he’s created for our country by fumbling Charlottesville so badly.
But Trump’s behavior shows, unfortunately, how right I was two weeks ago when I wrote that he’s making a classic business mistake — by surrounding himself with flunkies who kiss up to him and by not listening to the handful of strong subordinates whom he’s appointed.
If you’re a competent chief executive, you try to surround yourself with competent subordinates who don’t shrink from telling you when they think you’re wrong. You put them in a room and let them duke it out. And if you’re smart, you pay attention to what they say, because you’re secure enough to realize that they may know more about certain things than you do.
As we’ve seen from Charlottesville, Trump isn’t remotely like that.
As a business columnist, I know that I’m expected to write how some CEOs bailed on two presidential advisory committees that Trump created. And how Trump, true to form, disbanded the committees and embarrassed the CEOs who had stood by him, just so he could claim to get the last word.
But when it comes to analyzing the big picture, which is what I’m trying to do here, the advisory committees debacle isn’t even a rounding error. What really matters is that Trump is exhibiting the same behavior that led businesses he controlled into six Chapter 11 bankruptcies (which is why I call him Donald 66 Trump) as his casino-real estate empire collapsed in the 1980s and 1990s.
But that’s just business. What makes me truly angry about Donald 66 — who, like me, has Jewish children and grandchildren — is that he can’t be bothered to defend his own family. Unbelievable, isn’t it? But true.
It’s inconceivable to me that Trump, whose daughter Ivanka joined the Jewish people, married a Jew and has produced three Jewish grandchildren, can’t bring himself to tweet (let alone say) that he has a problem with a crowd chanting “Jew will not replace us.” Or with them chanting “Heil, Trump”— the Nazi salute — while wearing Trump gear.
What is wrong with this man? You can argue politics and taxes and health care and other bones of contention 100 different ways. But for God’s sake — pun intended — Trump isn’t even defending members of his own family, two of whom are among his closest advisers, against religious bigotry.
I’m especially sensitive to this because I’m an American who’s Jewish. Please note that “American” comes first; I loathe identity politics. Trump and I are from the same generation. I know, as Trump must know, what the Nazis were about. One of the many reasons that I love this country is that without America, I think the Nazis would have won World War II and murdered every Jew on Earth.
It’s one thing for Trump to use “America First” — a phrase that evokes 1930s Nazi sympathizers like Charles Lindbergh (a onetime aviation hero) and Father Charles Coughlin (the “radio priest” from Royal Oak, Mich., who spewed hate, was finally silenced by the pope, and whose Shrine of the Little Flower I passed twice daily during my first year at the Detroit Free Press). I’ll give Trump the benefit of the doubt on that one, and say he didn’t know what “America First” evoked before he started using it.
But for Trump to not tweet that he doesn’t want to see “heil” and “Trump” in the same sentence? To not come to the defense of the Jewish members of his family? Or the Jews among his presidential appointees? What the hell is wrong with this man?
The best thing I’ve read since Charlottesville erupted was what Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said. To wit, “My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged.” That’s exactly right. And my late father-in-law, who was a total mensch, didn’t spend five of the prime years of his life in the Seabees for Nazi ideals to go unchallenged. Nor did the millions of other Americans who took up arms to defend our country against overwhelming evil.
The Charlottesville counter-demonstrators were fools who fell into the demonstrators’ trap. (That’s one thing that Trump has gotten right. As the saying goes, “Even a blind pig can find an acorn.”)
But the counter-demonstrators, however foolish and out of control, aren’t remotely equivalent to swastika-toting provocateurs and Ku Klux Klan Kreeps demonizing blacks and Jews and immigrants, praising Hitler’s evil crew and by implication demeaning the Americans who fought to subdue the Nazi menace.
To return to sports analogies, you deal with these trolls by using what the late Muhammad Ali called “rope a dope” strategy. You let them march, you don’t physically confront them, you don’t help them get the attention they crave, you let them punch themselves into exhaustion. No harm, no foul, no mainstream publicity. They’re publicized by the Daily Stormer, today’s iteration of the Nazis’ anti-Semitic Der Sturmer newspaper? Who cares? Let it go.
At this point, unfortunately, I don’t think Donald 66 can change enough to become a competent chief executive instead of a faux CEO, even if he wants to. But maybe he can learn to be a decent father and grandfather, and stand up for his kids and grandkids. We need a lot more from him than that, but I’ll take what little I can get.