If Donald Trump truly is, as he claims, a member of the Presbyterian Church, then he should know that the quotation above is one of the guiding principles of our denomination. It comes from a directive from St. Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth on how the business of the church should be conducted. If it is unfamiliar to him, it can be found in “One Corinthians.”
This is also excellent advice on how to conduct government as well. Usually, our institutions follow this norm. We do not have members of Congress physically attacking each other on the floor of the House or Senate, as we have seen in other countries. Debates and votes, not fisticuffs determine how legislation is enacted. Our Supreme Court is dignified, with decisions offered after careful and thoughtful deliberation.
Until this last week, one could say the same of the White House. Whether one liked or hated the person occupying the office of the President of the United States, at least that person recognized the dignity of the office and respected it. Sadly, this is no longer the case.
Many people have seen the pictures of Donald and Melania Trump arriving at the White House on Inauguration Day to be greeted by President and Mrs. Obama. Instead of waiting for his wife to emerge from the car and stand beside him, Trump left her behind and barreled up the stairs alone. The look of disgust on Mrs. Obama’s face says it all. This was not the behavior of a decent man. Even more poignantly, Trump entered the White House first, and again alone, leaving the Obama’s to gently place their hands on Melania’s back to guide her into her future home.
While not required by law, there have been norms of behavior respected by Democratic and Republican presidents alike for decades. Even before taking office, Trump stomped on one of them. By tradition and by law, all ambassadors tender their resignations, effective on January 20th, the date the new administration begins. However, previous presidents have allowed some ambassadors to continue in their roles especially if there are circumstances that would make it difficult for them to leave right away. Trump trampled on this tradition by requiring all ambassadors to leave their posts immediately. Is this decent? Is this in good order? This does not necessarily present a hardship for the United States as there are highly capable career diplomats who can continue to function until a new ambassador is named, but it was a petty action.
Instead of focusing on the myriad of issues confronting the country, President Trump has spent the entire first week of his presidency obsessing over the size of the crowd at his inauguration. One of his first actions as President was to direct the National Park Service to remove side-by-side photographs of the crowds at the 2012 inauguration and his own. He then sent out his press secretary to begin his tenure by lying to the press about the crowd size.
In an even greater threat to the “good order” of the government, Trump has announced he will conduct an investigation into “massive voter fraud” in an election that he won. He claimed at his first meeting with leaders of Congress that 5 million people voted illegally, and later stated in his first television interview that every single one of them voted against him. Trump is allowing his fragile ego to cast doubts on the integrity of our entire system of choosing our leaders.
The siege mentality of the White House becomes more obvious each day. Everywhere, from the National Parks Service to the press, they see the enemy. And they are attacking on all fronts. The entire senior management team at the State Department is gone. Lies have become “alternative truths.” The press has been told to “shut up.” Federal agencies have been muzzled and are fighting back by establishing alternative sites. Leaks from the White House indicate an administration beset by infighting and in total disarray. This latter seems supported by the conflicting and confusing statements issued by various spokespersons for the administration. And this is just the first week in office.
In 1944 at the Battle of Bastogne, General Anthony McAullife told his soldiers “Men, we are surrounded by the enemy. We have the greatest opportunity ever presented to an army. We can attack in any direction.” What might be an inspirational outlook for a besieged army is most definitely not the way to run a country. We need our government run “decently, and in good order.” Whether that ever happens remains to be seen.