For many years, various presidents in both parties have issued proclamations recognizing days, weeks, and months in recognition of worthy causes, and for the most part, these proclamations have gone largely overlooked.
But there’s something about Donald Trump that puts some of these presidential declarations in an unfortunate light. For example, it’s now “National Character Counts Week” in the United States. Trump’s proclamation read in part:
“We celebrate National Character Counts Week because few things are more important than cultivating strong character in all our citizens, especially our young people. The grit and integrity of our people, visible throughout our history, defines the soul of our Nation. This week, we reflect on the character of determination, resolve, and honor that makes us proud to be American. […]
“Character is built slowly. Our actions – often done first out of duty – become habits ingrained in the way we treat others and ourselves. As parents, educators, and civic and church leaders, we must always work to cultivate strength of character in our Nation’s youth.”
Reading this, and realizing that it’s intended to be the words of Donald Trump, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry. Is this the president who’s seriously going to reflect on how “we treat others”?Didn’t Trump just yesterday smear his presidential predecessors by lying about their interactions with the families of American soldiers killed in action?
I’m reminded of a recent column from the Washington Post’s Michael Gerson, a former chief speechwriter for George W. Bush, who wondered whether Trump is “morally equipped to be president.” The piece highlighted Trump’s “vulgarity and smallness, which have been the equivalent of spray-painting graffiti on the Washington Monument.”
More broadly, it’s difficult to think of issues on which Trump can make an official presidential declaration without incident. When it came time for National POW/MIA Recognition Day, for example, we were reminded of Trump’s snide mockery of former prisoners of war. In early April, he issued a proclamation recognizing National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, which is inherently problematic given Trump’s record on the issue. He honored World Autism Day, which only brought to mind the ridiculous things Trump has said about autism and vaccines.
Now he’s trying to focus on the importance of character – despite his painfully obvious deficiencies in this area.
As we discussed several months ago, this isn’t a dynamic that will simply go away. If Trump honors those with physical disabilities, we’ll be reminded of his mockery of Serge Kovaleski. If the president recognizes Hispanic Heritage Month, we’ll think of his racist attacks against a Latino judge. If he honors Gold Star parents, we’ll be reminded of his unfortunate remarks about the Khan family.
The president has a weight he’ll drag with him for the remainder of his term: his own record.