Donald Trump is using Hurricane Harvey to distract attention from his shameful actions

As Hurricane Harvey whirled into Texas and America held its breath for literal breaking news, the President got on with the business of confirming yet again his unfitness for office

Saturday 26 August 2017 17:00
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Donald Trump has been working on divisive issues during Hurricane Harvey
Donald Trump has been working on divisive issues during Hurricane Harvey

One feature of populists is that they express a special loathing for the devices of conventional politicians. Not for the populist the weasely dodging of journalists’ questions or the tricks of media management. What you see with Donald Trump is what you get. Straight answers to questions, even from the crooked media, and even if liberal America is horrified by his telling it like it is. And direct, unfiltered communication, straight from the great man’s Twitter account.

So President Trump’s supporters ought to feel a little uncomfortable, then, that the great unspun leader has resorted to one of the oldest tricks in the public-relations book: using a big event to distract from news he wants to bury.

As Hurricane Harvey whirled into Texas and America held its breath for literal breaking news, the President got on with the business of confirming yet again his unfitness for office. Not mentioned on Mr Trump’s personal Twitter account yesterday was a direction issued by the White House instructing the US military to maintain the ban on recruiting transgender people. And then, in a the middle of a stream of tweets about hurricane preparedness late last night the President said: “I am pleased to inform you that I have just granted a full pardon to 85-year-old American patriot Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He kept Arizona safe!”

Each of these is a regrettable decision. The Obama administration had been working on a policy of allowing transgender individuals to serve openly in the military. Yesterday’s memorandum directs the military not to go ahead with the plan, and bans the Department of Defense from spending money on medical regimens for transgender individuals currently serving in the military.

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This is a mean-spirited and intolerant measure that has nothing to do with military effectiveness and everything to do with President Trump trying to send a signal to his core supporters. Military chiefs had accepted the policy change, and a Rand study commissioned by the Defense Department concluded last year that letting transgender people serve openly would have a “minimal impact” on readiness and health care costs.

As for President Trump’s pardon for Sheriff Arpaio, as Senator John McCain said, it “undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law”. Sheriff Arpaio ignored a 2011 court ruling that blocked him from racially profiling Latino residents and was convicted of contempt of court last month.

The brutality and racism of Sheriff Arpaio’s jail regime ought to have ruled out the prospect of any leniency for the man himself, but the most shocking factor might be Sheriff Arpaio’s support for Mr Trump’s shameful and dishonest campaign to suggest that Barack Obama was not born in the US.

The best that can be said of President Trump’s apparent attempt to hide these two deplorable actions is that it suggests he is sensitive to pressure from moderate Republican opinion. The Republican Party has its eye on next year’s mid-term elections, and it knows that President Trump’s stoking of his right-wing base is not helpful in this campaign.

For that reason, it is all the more important that journalists do not allow themselves to be distracted from the true nature of the Trump presidency.

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