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A President Who Demands Gratitude for Doing His Job
LaVar Ball, father of one of the three UCLA basketball players who were recently released from Chinese custody after being charged with shoplifting, isn't so sure that President Trump was instrumental in his son's freedom. At least, that's what he told ESPN in an interview the other day:
"Who?" Ball responded when asked about the president's involvement in the release. "What was he over there for? Don't tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out."
But the president unquestionably did help the players out, during his trip to Asia, when he spoke to President Xi Jinping of China about their imprisonment. And upon their release, Trump was adamant that he be shown the proper gratitude for his involvement...by the players themselves.
"Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!" he tweeted last Wednesday.
Times sure have changed since the days when Ronald Reagan famously said, "There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit." Haven't they?
Regardless, the three young men indeed thanked our president after returning to the United States, in a joint news-conference. But as you can imagine, LaVar Ball's subsequent casting of doubt over Trump's role in the matter didn't sit well with our Commander in Chief.
The president took to Twitter on Sunday to respond:
"Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail!"
It was a petty and ugly display by the leader of the free world, but based on what we've learned about Trump in recent years, it shouldn't have surprised anyone.
Despite it being the job of the President of the United States, in circumstances like this, to pressure and appeal to foreign leaders for the return of detained Americans, Trump wanted high praise for the achievement. And when he didn't get it from the father of one of the released players, his instinct was to proclaim that he should have instead let the three boys remain in a Chinese prison.
The reality is that the job of an American president is almost always a thankless one, especially in times when our nation is deeply divided and partisan. That's the nature of the beast, and most people who run for the office understand and accept that. Some presidents even find a way to elevate the discourse and work to bring Americans together, for the sake of the country.
But that's not the person we elected a year ago.
Trump's ego always comes first, which is why he couldn't help but suggest that a determinant for whether or not Americans should rot in prison under a foreign dictatorship is the willingness of those individuals' families to demonstrate the proper gratitude toward him.
What exactly does Trump going after Ball do for the country or the American people? The answer is nothing. All it does is needlessly stir the culture-war pot (something that our previous president also did far too often).
But it's worse than that. This practice also makes it harder for Trump's own agenda to move forward.
Whenever the Republicans are close to passing major legislation (in this case, tax reform), Trump decides to wage a pointless public battle with someone or something, which reliably hijacks the news cycle, and draws attention away from the initiative at hand — an initiative that requires public support.
Rather than a case for reform being argued to potentially receptive ears, liberal and conservative media outlets focus on the Trump feud, which in turn compels the electorate to split up and head back to their partisan corners (if they ever really left). And when the legislation ends up failing, Trump (along with his pundit-pals on Fox News and talk radio) reliably blames "the swamp" or "the establishment."
This cycle is self-defeating and entirely avoidable, but we're unfortunately living in an era in which wielding a battle axe, and giving your "side" something to grind it over, takes precedence over public policy and governance...even when the only thing being fought over is one man's ego.
Our president's loyal defenders often say that we should pay attention to what he does, rather than what he says. The problem is that the things he says too often keep him and his party from getting things done. And unfortunately, that's not going to change.