It was wishful thinking, I guess, that the New Year would bring new energy to moving the wheels of government forward in positive directions. 2019 begins with a partial government shutdown, paralyzed by a battle that is purely political. As a Democratic House begins operation this week, it is not unreasonable to expect that the governmental goop that has us stuck can be replaced with more rational behavior, attuned to the real needs of all Americans and responsive to our position on the world stage. I do not expect a sea change, but incremental improvements do not seem out of the question.
But at his first cabinet meeting in the new year, this President chose to entertain sycophantic comments about his “Christmas sacrifice,” remaining in the White House during the shutdown, waiting for Democrats to see the light and bow to his wishes. He went on to deliver multiple rants about the good job he is doing domestically and internationally. He took no responsibility for challenges that confront us, nor did he reach out beyond his base to start 2019 in a conciliatory vein. Set aside the immediate crisis of 800,000 federal workers on furlough or working without pay—a topic that received little attention at the press conference—and still, the pessimist in me whispered that all of this should have been expected. Okay—I was disappointed, but not really surprised.
However, what I found astounding and beyond baffling was his display of a mock Game of Thrones movie poster right in the center of the conference table and in full view of the camera. It featured an adaptation of the ominous prediction of Household Stark—sanctions are coming—below a heroic looking Donald Trump, steeling himself against a coming onslaught. Perhaps we can overlook the ridiculous stunt of using a mock poster of himself at such an important meeting (why would anyone…anyone…who had graduated from, say, 8th grade, use such a childish move in such an important setting?), but even looking past the immaturity of it all, what does the poster mean?
Curiously, it is the same poster that the administration used in early November when Iran sanctions were announced. The date then was November 5. The date on the poster at the cabinet meeting was November 4. Someone had to take the time to make the change. What the..? Why? What does the new date signify? Who thought to do this? More importantly—what exactly is the reference and to whom is it being addressed—Iran? North Korea? Democrats? Robert Mueller? A quick review of commentators and foreign policy experts revealed a decided lack of agreement on this question. So, here we are: we have devolved to a place where even the President’s symbolic gestures have become so tortuous and obscure that they make no immediate sense.
The New Year’s holiday is symbolic of hope and promise; the most common greeting in this season is for a “happy and healthy” New Year. Alas, we are forced to face the reality that there will be nothing new out of Washington, just more of the same: a President who engages in shameless boasting, untethered to reality, blaming everyone but himself for obstacles to progress, rigidly focused on a physical wall to protect a southern border rife with an invading horde of migrants that blocks all efforts at bipartisan cooperation.
The New Year’s press conference demonstrated once again that the President will continue to deflect important issues with meaningless distractions and irrelevant symbols. More than ever, it is incumbent upon each of us to work for change so that those afflicted with real-world problems find solutions that improve the quality of their lives.