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Riddle Me That

 Riddle Me That         Gerry OShea

Readers who followed Irish politics in the 1970s will remember John Healy, the distinguished journalist from County Mayo. He wrote for the Irish Times, and every Saturday, he authored a perceptive political article under the by-line Backbencher, which was widely read nationwide.

Healy, who died in 1991 at the young age of 61, highlighted the contradictions and compromises exhibited by political leaders as they tried to maintain a semblance of integrity while pleasing their constituents and obeying the party whip.

He would invite his readers to consider the options in any controversial quandary he was dealing with and then request their help in devising a suitable solution. His memorable wording in posing the knotty political questions still rattles around in my memory: “So now riddle me that.”

I think of these words when I try to make sense of Donald Trump’s ideas and approach to communication. I am not here interested in going over the traditional policy conflicts between Republicans and Democrats, with the former always highlighting themes that laud small government and favor blocking immigrants from Central or South America from crossing the southern border and, of course, always asserting their undying belief in ending the federal deficit.


These are cornerstone Republican convictions that all their candidates up and down the country pledge to promote at every opportunity. However, these vital policy matters are outside the ambit of this article.

The issues I want to highlight do not qualify as revealing party political differences. Instead, they are tied to Mr. Trump’s character and serious limitations as a candidate for the country's leadership. Also, I want to look sideways at his devoted followers and examine what makes them tick – again, without questioning their integrity or political beliefs.

At a recent rally, Trump attacked the late John McCain, denigrating his crucial July 2017 vote, which kept the Affordable Care Act on the books. He mocked the late Arizona Senator by highlighting his inability to raise his right arm. His point had nothing to do with policy disagreements regarding Obamacare; he wanted to play out his grudge against a man long dead whom he despised and who treated Trump as a political wolf barely camouflaged in sheep’s clothing.

Now, John McCain was captured by the North Vietnamese and tortured repeatedly, which explains his damaged arm.  At one point in his imprisonment, he was offered his freedom as part of some deal. John refused unless his comrades in captivity, the men he led, were also freed.

There are millions of veterans who know about McCain's captivity and his defiant story and admirable bravery. What kind of a twisted leadership mind led Trump to ridicule such an exemplary soldier while asking veterans to vote for him? Surely, basic common sense would have admonished him to stay away from mocking a war hero, especially when he himself avoided military service by claiming he had a defective heel! Riddle me that?

In speeches over the last year, he has warned his opponents that a new Trump administration will move to lock up his enemies. This is not a new or hyperbolic suggestion. He makes no bones that the Justice Department would be expected to act at his behest in the next administration.

When he heard that his Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, reflecting on his time in office, made a statement that “we don’t take an oath to a wannabe dictator,” nobody doubted who he was referring to, and Mr. Trump said Milley should be executed for such treacherous talk.

General John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff for eighteen months from the middle of 2017 and a highly respected military man, made the most damning assessment of his former boss: “A person who admires aristocrats and murderous dictators. A guy with nothing but contempt for our democratic institutions, our Constitution, and the rule of law.”

Most of all, vice-president Mike Pence refused to overturn the results of the 2018 presidential election, telling the president that his first obligation was to the Constitution and not to him. Mr. Trump was so irate with this response that he said that he understood the legitimate gripes moving the wild crowd who were calling for Pence to be hanged.

It is difficult to comprehend how supposedly serious people in the Republican Party at every level have put their own political careers on the line supporting a man with such a discredited and disgraceful record and with zero regard for the Constitution. Riddle me that!

The Republican Party presents itself as representing traditional values, especially regarding strict adherence to a strong law and order platform. They cast doubts on the reliability of Democrats in this area with their dependence on non-white voters, who they suggest must be heavily policed and severely punished for lawbreaking.

Mr. Trump led an insurrection for which over a hundred people are serving time, and he himself has been indicted for over ninety felonies, many of them related to the events in the Capitol on January 6th. In addition, he has been found guilty of a sexual attack on a woman, which the judge classified as rape after the jury found him guilty.

 The Evangelical community provides his most reliable supporters. It is hard to believe that they can square their declared devotion to the New Testament with Mr. Trump’s history of blatant disregard for respectful sexual behavior.

It is unfair to blame anybody for falling short of meeting high moral standards. Still, some Evangelical leaders express disgust at the incongruity between Trump’s lifestyle and character and the minimum requirements of adhering to Christian values.

There is a glaring dividing hole between the moral pretensions of the Evangelical community and the reality of supporting a leader who applauds licentiousness and promotes a trickle-down economic system that spawns widespread poverty while cosseting those in the millionaire class. Riddle me that!

During the New Hampshire Primary, he demeaned his opponent’s Indian heritage and waded into sophomoric claims that he knew damaging “secrets” about her. Angry that she plans to continue her campaign for the nomination, he quizzed the obsequious Senator Scott about his hatred for the governor who appointed him to the Senate.

Imagine if, realizing that he will depend on the 40% of the Haley voters to come through for him in November, he chose to show some graciousness in his victory speech. Has it ever dawned on him that his inability to rise above petty and insulting grudges is draining millions of voters from his side? Riddle me that.

Gerry OShea blogs at wemustbetalking.


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