Charlie Mitchell: Any consequence for clinging to a sinking ship?

September 10, 2018 9:59:28 AM

Charlie Mitchell -

 

OXFORD -- Long before there was a mutiny aboard H.M.S. Bounty, it was clear Capt. Bligh was unfit. As tensions built, the choice for his officers and crew became increasingly clear: (1) tough it out or (2) risk being hanged for deciding enough was enough. 

 

As anyone who has seen the movie knows it was 16 months into the voyage before half the sailors rose up, shoved a screeching Bligh and a few of his buddies into a dinghy and pushed it away. 

 

Roughly half of the Americans who voted in November 2016 were suspicious enough of Donald Trump to cast their votes for his opponent, who, as it happens, was one of the most widely mistrusted and disliked nominees ever to make it to a presidential ballot. 

 

In the months since, though, it has become increasingly clear that Donald Trump -- by temperament if nothing else -- is unfit. 

 

Every day, Trump's petulance, his arrogance, his vulgarity, his abusiveness and his lack of depth becomes more and more apparent. 

 

He blames the media for being against him, but remember that saying, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean people aren't out to get you?" In Trump's case, just because the media delight in pointing out his flaws doesn't mean he doesn't have them. 

 

His citizen supporters point to economic statistics as proof that his shortcomings should be overlooked. They say others have been the same or worse -- and they're often right about that. 

 

They insist he is standing for the forgotten Americans, those deeply and sincerely angry because they are working people whose earnings are being taken to support useless programs as well as useless people who grift on the labor of others. 

 

They ask questions, such as, "Why is it that I can't get cancer drugs for my mother because I can't afford them, but a drug addict gets everything free?" 

 

Whether the left likes it or not, the grievances of those they call deplorables are often very real. They feel they've been ignored for generations because, well, they've been ignored for generations. Trump tells them he can fix their problems, whether he can or not. (Hint: He can't.) 

 

Another class of Trump defenders/rationalizers are the local, state and national officials who identify as "conservative." Most, given no other choice once he was nominated, have plighted their troth to Trump, who has never-ever been a conservative. 

 

Whether you like Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant's politics or not, there's no question that Bryant is a consistent, principled person. His focus in his first and second terms has been what he thought best for the state and its people. It's been "we," not "me." Yet Bryant is among those tightly aligning with Trump, avoiding saying anything negative about the me-me-me president. 

 

Same for the state's two U.S. senators, Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith. Again, both have been in the public spotlight in this state for a long time and both have established themselves as thoughtful and deliberate people, not flighty or manipulative. Yet both have also aligned with Trump, tightly, and welcomed the president's endorsement as Wicker seeks and new, six-year term and Hyde-Smith seeks to serve the two years remaining on former Sen. Thad Cochran's term. 

 

The "why" part is easy. In 2016, the Trump-Pence ticket polled 58 percent of votes cast in Mississippi, one of the largest margins in the 30 states Republicans won. When Ronald Reagan won a 49-state re-election landslide, he only polled 3 percentage points higher in Mississippi. Why wouldn't Trump's blessing be sought? 

 

Nationally, there are more pragmatic Republicans who have also decided it's best for them and their party to cling to Trump, to look past his troubled persona and toward a better day. Others, perhaps including District 3 U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, couldn't stand the stench and have bailed by not seeking re-election. 

 

A strategy made public last week by a senior member of Trump's White House staff in an anonymous column published by The New York Times is, in essence, this: The inner circle will keep giving the appearance of fealty to the president while carefully trying to keep him from inflicting any real, lasting harm on the nation both internally and in international matters. 

 

Loyalists, of course, will keep hoping against hope that a new and better federal government will emerge from the chaos. No problem with that wish. It's nonpartisan. 

 

The larger question is whether those officials who've forfeited their better judgment will go down with the Trump ship, which is sinking a little more every day. 

 

Charlie Mitchell is an associate dean of journalism at the University of Mississippi. Email reaches him at [email protected]