Originally published in Paste Magazine.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty
Donald Trump has officially been the President of the United States for what feels like the longest month of all time. When he accepted this role, with his 306 electoral college votes that we’ve heard about time and time again (it actually wound up being 304, as two electoral college voters did not cast their ballots for him in states that he won), he said, “I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all of Americans, and this is so important to me.” It would be rad if this turned out to be one of the campaign promises he kept, but it doesn’t seem likely.
In February, Trump went three press conferences without answering a single question from a news source that didn’t identify as conservative. On Feb. 10, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he took questions from The New York Post and Fox Business. On Feb. 13, with Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, Trump called upon WJLA and The Daily Caller. Then, on Feb. 15, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he allowed reporters from the Christian Broadcasting Network and Townhall.com to ask questions.
This, we can assume, was an effort to make himself look good in front of other world leaders, since he tends to stumble over the simplest questions if they challenge his way of thinking. These were probably some of the smoothest press conferences this month, so maybe he made an OK call. Granted, each one was quick and only consisted of two questions.
On Feb. 16, the President held a more traditional press conference to announce Alexander Acosta as Labor Secretary, and everything reverted back to normal. During this one, he mocked reporters. In one instance, he asked Jake Turx of Ami magazine if he was friendly before allowing him to ask a question. It would be funny and cheeky if literally anyone else in the country did this, but not with Trump. He later cut the reporter off by saying, “He said he was going to ask a very simple, easy question. And it’s not. It’s not—not a simple question, not a fair question. OK sit down, I understand the rest of your question.”
He didn’t understand the rest of the question, and he definitely didn’t answer it. Instead, he took the opportunity to berate the reporter and claim to be the “least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.” The reporter was trying to ask how he was going to address the recent rise in anti-Semitism.
It’s Not Just Trump
We knew getting into this mess that Trump wasn’t necessarily cut out for this job. Not even because of the fact that he can’t seem to string together a coherent thought, or feels the need to play the victim every time a person or news outlet has some criticism for him, but because he just isn’t a politician. As a businessman, he never really had to rub shoulders with anyone whose views didn’t align with his. And even if he did, he was able to buy himself into or out of any situation.
Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, however, is a seasoned politician. He’s represented Wisconsin’s 1st District since 1998, and ran alongside Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race before taking over as Speaker in 2015. He’s played nice with each side of the political spectrum, but for some reason, was unable to accept petitions from Planned Parenthood volunteers on Jan. 6.
It’s no secret that Ryan has been in full support of defunding Planned Parenthood, especially now that he’s helping get the ball rolling to repeal the Affordable Care Act. According to Teen Vogue, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund delivered 87,000 petitions to Ryan’s office in an effort to express the overwhelming support for the healthcare facility. Rather than speaking to the volunteers and accepting the petitions—whether or not he planned to do anything with them—he sent six security guards out instead.
On Feb. 10, controversial new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was blocked from entering Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington, and immediately got back into her SUV. While DeVos did eventually get into the school, rather than telling the protestors that she hears them, she simply released a statement saying, “I respect peaceful protest, and I will not be deterred in executing the vital mission of the Department of Education,” according to CNN.
Of course, we can’t talk about tone-deaf politicians without mentioning the fact that Mike Pence walked out on the curtain call of Hamilton in November while actor Brandon Victor Dixon said, “We are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights.”
Though Trump launched a firestorm of tweets demanding an apology from the “rude” cast, Pence claimed to be unbothered by what they had to say. In fact, he claimed, “that’s what freedom sounds like,” and reiterated that Donald Trump was going to be a president of the people. This is one of the most civil examples of a member of Trump’s entourage coming in contact with opposition, but again, it would have made a much bigger impact had he said this to, you know, the people talking to him.
In politics, you’re bound to come under fire at one point or another for your practices or policies. The proper way to bridge that divide though, is not to dip out of the situation like a celebrity evading the paparazzi. We need politicians who are willing to have a discourse with their opponents. Can you imagine what would happen if any of these people leading our country actually made an attempt to have a thoughtful discussion, or at the very least, listened to a protestor?
But Still, Trump
If the President and his administration want to make any actual effort to bridge the divide in this country, they need to start putting their money where their mouth is. A great way to start would be talking to opposition or even just reading letters sent to the White House. When an African-American reporter at Trump’s Feb. 16 news conference asked if he would be discussing his latest executive order with the Congressional Black Caucus, he told her to set up the meeting for him. Come to find out, the CBC had already reached out to him and never received a response. If he digs around the Oval Office, he may probably find it lying around somewhere.