Frank DeFilippo: Trump Family Values

Now that President Trump has backtracked (temporarily) on his menacing policy of snatching babies from their mothers’ bosoms and jailing them in cages, it’s time to take a look at Trump as a father and as leader of the party of family values. The image was a powerful one. Trump ping-ponged among shouldn’t, couldn’t and wouldn’t, capitulating only when the weight of the civilized world caved in on him and he bent to the knowledge that the sights and sounds of children yelling and screaming for their parents was hurting the GOP as midterm election approached – not that there was heartfelt pity or empathy but mostly that he really didn’t care except for the appearance of weakness. He signed a hastily drafted executive order that amounts to an article of surrender, a rare concession for the solipsistic Trump. Suspend, for a time, the unwritten rule of presidential children being off limits from inclusion in criticism of the commander in-chief and/or his administration. And consider, too, that Trump, as a rebellious youth, was packed up and shipped off to a military school.  We know that President Obama was a doting father of two adorable daughters, and that his and Michelle’s affection for each other and their daughters imbued everything they did as a family. And President George W. and Laura Bush’s daughters livened the White House and grew up to be productive and responsible women, one a television celebrity and the other doing good works around the globe. Even Chelsea Clinton, who was trapped in the middle of a very public marriage-on-the-rocks when her father was caught in an Oval Office dalliance with a White House intern, withstood the public humiliation and went on to earn a Ph.D. and become a mother of two. But we’ve never seen Trump tossing a ball to 12-year-old Barron on the White House lawn, or even taking his son’s hand as he struts to the presidential helicopter. And we’ve never been shown photos of young Barron poking curiously around the Oval Office while his father engages a visiting dignitary or cabinet official. Recall the photos of John F. Kennedy Jr. crawling under the famous desk or offering his hand to a guest in the office – the humanizing images of a president acknowledging the importance of family and the assurance that he is earthly. We have only Melania Trump’s published word that Trump is teaching Barron to play golf. Sorry, Mr. President, but we, the people, conjure a detached, distant person who lacks empathy or even a connection to his own spawn let alone the rest of the human race. In that light, it’s understandable how Trump allowed 2,300 young children to be torn from their families, imprisoned in wire cages, so he could use them as hostages in a cynical ploy to force Congress to build his manically obsessive wall. For students of human motivation, consider the following events and statements as insights into the febrile mind of a thrice-married father of five – Donald Jr., Eric, Ivanka, Tiffany and Barron – who will forget nothing because he’s learned nothing. During a 2004 interview with shock jock Howard Stern, Trump gave Stern approval to describe his daughter Ivanka as “a piece of ass.” “By the way, your daughter. . .” Stern says. “She’s beautiful,” Trump repeats. “Can I say this? A piece of ass,” Stern says “Yeah,” Trump agrees. During a 2006 appearance on “The View,” Trump observed that “If Ivanka weren’t my daughter perhaps I’d be dating her.” According to Trump’s first wife, Ivana, in her memoir, “Raising Trump,” at the arrival of their first-born, she suggested naming their son Donald Jr. “What if he’s a loser?” Trump said. When Trump split from his second wife, Marla Maples, in the 1990s, Donald Jr. blamed the divorce on his father. “How can you say you love us? You don’t love us. You just love your money,” according to a Vanity Fair article at the time. In another Howard Stern interview in 2005, Trump acknowledged that he “won’t do anything to take care of” his kids. “I’ll supply the funds and she’ll take care of the kids,” he said at the time he was married to Maples. “Marla used to say, ‘I can’t believe you’re not walking Tiffany [their daughter together] down the street,’ you know, in a carriage. Right, I’m gonna be walking down Fifth Avenue with a baby in a carriage. It just didn’t work.” And let’s not forget there are allegations by at least a dozen women of improper conduct or sexual assault, including allegations of an extra-marital affair when Barron was six months old for which Stormy Daniels claims the $136,000 she received in hush money was to buy her silence. Anyway, you get the drift. So, when every living first lady denounced the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that included separating children from their families, Melania Trump – an immigrant herself, along with her parents – had this to say in a communique issued by her office: “Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigrant reform.” She merely parroted her husband’s universally dismissed and totally false talking-point that the Democrats in Congress were responsible for the mess he created at the border with Mexico. Ditto daughter Ivanka’s statement. It was Trump who decided to separate children from their families at the Mexican border and it was Trump who cancelled the program to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation. (A hard-line immigration bill failed in the House and a second, a compromise measure, has been postponed and its approval is uncertain. Trump told lawmakers they’re wasting their time trying to pass an immigration bill.) The next day, Melania experienced a wardrobe malfunction: Her commiserative visit to a Texas migrant encampment was subsumed by the message on the jacket she wore as she boarded her plane – “I DON’T REALLY CARE. DO U?” Trump later tweeted that the message “refers to the fake news media.” It’s ironic, then, that a photo of a 2-year-old Honduran girl, crying as her mother is searched, has become the visual symbol of America’s immigration crisis and the Trump imperium while the man who sits in the White House has more time for tweeting than he professes for his own children. Retreating was difficult for Trump, as he agonized over signing the ambiguous executive order relaxing his zero tolerance policy for 20 days but which offered no details on how separated families would reconnect. Many will be shuffled to military compounds. The document, like much that Trump does, is next to meaningless. (It was learned that 15 take-away children are housed at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center while others are scattered around the state living with families and in foster care.) “If you’re really, really pathetically weak, the country’s going to be overrun with millions of people. And if you’re strong, then you don’t have any heart. That’s a tough dilemma. Perhaps I’d rather be strong. But that’s a tough dilemma,” Trump said at the signing of the executive order. Consider, too, that Trump referred to the stream of immigrants seeking refuge as vermin who would “infest” America – code words for race that arouse his base and echo his slogan to “Make America Great Again.” As presented on the Time magazine cover, an elongated Trump towering over a crying 2-year-old girl, Trump appears really, really tough. Don’t these people feel anything? In another era, the eminent pediatrician, Dr. Benjamin Spock, might have observed that the problem with Trump is that his toilet training was too severe.

Frank A. DeFilippo
Frank A. DeFilippo is an award-winning political commentator who lives and writes in Baltimore. DeFilippo has been writing about the comic opera of politics for more than 50 years. He reported on the Maryland General Assembly for 10 years before joining the administration of former Gov. Marvin Mandel (D) as press secretary and speechwriter. Between times, he was a White House correspondent during the administration of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, and he has covered six national political conventions. DeFilippo is the author of Hooked, an alleged work of fiction, and an unpublished manuscript, Shiksa: The Rise and Fall of Marvin Mandel.

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