A Lump Of Coal

December 22, 2019

by Steve Stofka

While going through the personal items my mom left behind, I found a picture of her and some childhood friends lounging on the grass. The girls were dressed in simple clean dresses that looked homemade. The boys were dressed in pants whose legs could not keep up with a 7th grader’s growth spurt. The year was about 1934, the place a farming community in Texas during the Great Depression.

When we were kids, my mom would not allow us to call someone names. Cursing was out. No surprise there. Even popular pejoratives like “fink,” “bozo,” and “retard” were out as well. “I will not have my children behaving like cheap white trash,” she would say. We never got a definition of cheap white trash. We could only get a sense of it. Bad manners, an insensitivity to the feelings of others, a lack of respect for authority and other people’s property, a lack of responsibility. Cheap white trash was not about a bunch of depression-era kids dressed in simple clothes. It was not about being poor in material wealth; it was about being poor in spirit.

President Trump is our century’s version of the circus ringmaster P.T. Barnum. Almost half of voters chose him in the hope that he could tame the beasts in Washington. He behaves in a brash and boorish manner that is better fit for a wrestling persona than a president. Mr. Trump’s overbearing manner echoes that of Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian Prime Minister and billionaire media mogul.  

This week the House of Representatives voted to impeach Mr. Trump on two counts, one of which was obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry. Unlike previous impeachment proceedings, Mr. Trump refused to testify on his own behalf and blocked the testimony of several material witnesses. After the vote of impeachment, he sent a six-page letter to the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. The letter detailed his explanation of events and voiced his condemnation of the House’s impeachment process (Trump, 2019).

Mr. Trump is a champion of insensitivity who claims to be above the rules of propriety but holds his perceived enemies to a rigid code of conduct. One of the many contradictions that makes him such a colorful character.

I heard an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition this week. One of the program’s hosts, Steve Inskeep, interviewed a spokeswoman for the White House about the impeachment (NPR, 2019). Mr. Inskeep had to interrupt several times when her assertions contradicted known facts. She attempted several versions of the history of the impeachment proceedings. She reminded me of a running back who hits the defensive line, is rebuffed and persistently tries another opening.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader and the person who single-handedly controls the journey of most legislation, has promised to closely coordinate with the White House during a Senate impeachment trial. According to Ms. Pelosi, about 275 bipartisan bills passed by the House this year are buried in Mr. McConnell’s desk (C-Span, 2019). He is up for re-election in 2020 and faces challengers from the party’s base in his home state of Kentucky. He is standing very close to President Trump as a matter of survival, not principle. The first principle of political success is to get re-elected.

Politics in a democracy is a messy affair of conflict and compromise, bare knuckle bargaining and chess master tactics. Relatively few of us enter the field. Those who do must convince themselves that they have not compromised their character even when they had to compromise their principles. Many campaigned hard to get elected to office and work even harder to stay elected.

For more than two years of former President Obama’s first term, Mr. Trump was a leading spokesman for the “birther” movement to nullify Mr. Obama’s presidency because his birth certificate was a forgery. Only after Mr. Trump secured the Republican nomination in 2016 did he admit that Mr. Obama was born in the U.S. and that his presidency had been legitimate (NPR, 2016). In a touch of irony characteristic of an episode of the Twilight Zone, the House has put a certificate of another sort, the black mark of impeachment, in Mr. Trump’s Christmas stocking. He promised to revive the coal industry. Now he has his lump of coal.


C-Span. (2019, December 19). House Speaker Weekly Briefing. [Transcript]. Retrieved from https://www.c-span.org/video/?467564-1/speaker-pelosi-wait-senate-trial-details-naming-impeachment-managers

NPR. (2019, December 19). White House Responds to Impeachment. [Transcript]. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2019/12/19/789704256/white-house-responds-to-impeachment

NPR. (2016, September 16). Without Apology, Trump Now Says: ‘Obama Was Born In’ The U.S. [Web page]. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2016/09/16/494231757/without-apology-trump-now-says-obama-was-born-in-the-u-s

Photo by Nick Nice at Unsplash.com

Donald J. Trump, President of the United States. (2019, December 17). Letter to: The Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives. [Web Page]. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Letter-from-President-Trump-final.pdf

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