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EDITORIAL: Trump leading a party stalled in adolescence

York Dispatch Editorial Board
President Donald Trump listens as he meets with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, April 2, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

There were hopes, when Donald Trump assumed the presidency, that the nascent politician would grow into the role; that as he familiarized himself with the rigors and responsibilities of the office, he would shed his reflexive showmanship and mature into something more like a statesman.

Those hopes are long since dead and buried. As the president made vividly clear yet again last week, Donald Trump doesn’t do maturity.

Worse, his irritable, adolescent mindset is being adopted by others in his party and even his presidential campaign.

Actually, “adolescent” is a charitable characterization of a campaign that proudly offers for sale T-shirts depicting House Judiciary Chairman Adam Schiff with a pencil for a neck and a clown nose. Yes, juvenile depictions of politicians have been around forever. No, they’re not usually created — or even countenanced — by major political parties.

But the campaign is just following the leader. The T-shirts mimic a taunt leveled by Trump, who, evincing the emotional maturity and linguistic skills of your average middle-schooler, has pasted Schiff with one of his asinine nicknames.

America, how has this become normal? How have we allowed the nation’s leader to spend two-plus years calling people silly names? We expect and demand better of our own children — or, at least, those of us with parenting skills do. Is there no one in the White House with parenting skills?

Evidently not, or the nation wouldn’t have again been treated to the spectacle of its highest elected official spouting profanity. Speaking at a campaign rally (they’ve replaced the more traditional press conference for our emotionally neediest of presidents), Trump declared that Democrats “have to now decide whether they will continue defrauding the public with ridiculous (B.S.).” He used the word, not the initials.

The end of the world? No. A ridiculously childish display of ill-mannered churlishness? Most assuredly.

Trump was referring to the now-concluded investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into whether members of his campaign coordinated with Russian agents seeking to influence in the 2016 presidential elections.

The still-unreleased report appears to have found no corroboration on that count, although its evidence regarding obstruction of justice is evidently far less exculpatory.

Still, Trump couldn’t resist magnifying the findings — which have thus far only been characterized by his own attorney general — as completely exonerating him. Based on what is publicly known, they do nothing of the sort — something anyone with a reading level beyond the sixth grade could figure out. (Helpful clue: A section of the special counsel’s report quoted by the attorney general reads, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him”).

The adolescent mindset is spreading. Ostensible adult Sen. Mike Lee of Utah took to the Senate floor last week not to argue with the need to address climate change, but to belittle those who take seriously the existential threat it presents — specifically New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a fast-rising foil for the right (she’s been mentioned more times on Fox News than any of the declared Democratic presidential candidates).

Lee displayed silly cartoon graphics, along with a favorite meme of adolescent boys everywhere — “Star Wars” — in a made-for-Fox presentation that culminated in his solution to the problem: “fall in love, get married, and have some kids.” RIP, serious lawmaking.

The party’s supporters are no better. When Donald Trump Jr. mocked Ocasio-Cortez at his father’s rally last week, the crowd responded with chants of “AOC sucks!” RIP, serious political discussion.

It wasn’t uncommon to hear former administration officials like Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster or Defense Secretary James Mattis mentioned as the “adults in the room” — seasoned and sober counterpoints to an indiscreet, ill-informed, immature president. They’re all gone: fed up and/or forced out.

The question now for the administration — and, increasingly, for GOP lawmakers and supporters — is not whether there are any adults in the room, but whether there are any in the party.