One of the most common battle points in politics is this issue of transparency. On one side are those who seem to think that everything our government does should be out in the open. You hear them constantly claiming the people’s right to know this or that. On the other side are folks who want to keep the public spotlight away from just about everything.
Though I did not see any of our news media picking up on it, I thought the issue of transparency was one of the more interesting and telling aspects of the meeting in the White House between President Trump, soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Before getting into the meeting, itself, it is important to recognize that Trump is by far the most transparent president since the invention of the news services. When both allies and critics describe Trump as an unprecedented President, they may be referring to many of his different characteristics – very different, in many cases.
The one thing that stands out is his day-to-day transparency. No President has been more of a reality show than Trump. It is his strength and his weakness that he invites the American people to sit in on so many of his daily activities.
Perhaps it is because I worked in the White House at one time, that I saw this in the earliest days of Trump’s presidency. He would often meet with delegations – labor leaders, tech billionaires, generals, civil rights leaders and even heads of state. Customarily such meetings would be private with one photo op and a carefully drafted statement to explain what happened at the meeting – or at least what the President wanted the American people to think what happened at the meeting.
No so, Trump.
He invites the press to cram into the room as he actually conducts business. He even takes questions from the press during such meetings – and even if the questions have nothing to do with the meeting, itself. We can recall his televised phone conversation with the President of Mexico, in which the public – via the press – were privy to both sides of the conversation. In all my years of following national politics, I have never seen that happen.
Trump has allowed a semi-permanent press area – with temporary shelters and other amenities — to develop on the lawn of the White House and regularly stops to participate in impromptu press conferences as he exits or enters the Executive Mansion.
His openness is remarkable when you consider how badly he is treated by the news media. He may call the left-wing press the “fake media” and the “enemy of the people,” but he does not do what traditional politicians do in such situations – avoid the press like the plague. We only need recall how Hillary Clinton ducked direct contact with the press for weeks during the campaign – even to the point of roping off the reporters like a herd of cattle. And if you do not recall, try searching “Hillary Clinton ropes off news reporters” on Google.
Trump seems to have a love/hate relationship with the news media. Of course, he hates it when they pounce on him like a pack of jackals, the only intent of which is to rip him apart. But he enjoys giving his opinions and even having a bit of press conference pugilism, at times.
The meeting with Pelosi and Schumer was extraordinary, and yet consistent with Trump’s modus operandi. He allowed the world – through the media – to watch in real time a heated discussion between him and the congressional leaders of the opposing party over THE WALL. This was so unusual that both Pelosi and Schumer suggested – in an audible whisper – that they should take the conversation private.
The Democrat leaders’ discomfort was palpable. At one time, Trump said that he understood that Pelosi was restrained by the need to hold her Democrat caucus together in advance of the vote for Speaker. She responded by saying that Trump should not presume her thinking. The retort was not very effective since it has been widely reported that Pelosi has been “restrained by the need to hold her Democrat caucus together in advance of the vote for Speaker?” (Wow! Not often you see a columnist write and then quote himself in the same paragraph.)
Perhaps Trump’s most triumphant moment was when Schumer said that if Trump shut down the government over a lack of funding for the wall, the blame would be on him. Trump said he would gladly take the responsibility if that is what must happen. “I won’t blame you,” Trump assured Schumer.
Sometimes there is a false transparency. We saw that when former FBI Director claimed that he wanted his testimony in open hearing. Sounds noble, eh? Well, his real reason was what he well understood, he could claim that the answer could not be given in … open session -Huh? There would be no record of any answer whatsoever. All those portions that were redacted with the public release of his testimony would not have existed. And even at that, Comey could not recall an amazing number of important details – of which no one in his position should have honestly forgotten. I call it “interrogation amnesia.”
Certainly, we cannot conduct all government business in public. Thanks to illegal leaks, too much of it is already exposed to the public with grave consequences. But we should at least agree that – for better or worse – Trump is more transparent, and more open to his thinking of the moment, than any President ever has been – and maybe should be.
It has long been said that government business is like sausage. You do not want to see how it is made. Trump defies the old adage and invites we the people into the political sausage factory – and it is fascinating, to say the least.
So, there ‘tis.