A rare occurrence took place on Monday that is entirely out of character for Donald Trump and his notoriously petty and obstinate administration. The President reversed himself on his prior decision not to honor the memory of Sen. John McCain by flying the White House flag at half mast. The flag had been lowered on Sunday, but was raised to full staff again on Monday in a breach of protocol that requires it to remain lowered until after the burial of the honoree.
Trump is not known for having an open mind or for changing his position once he’s figured out (or been told) what it is. Sure, he’ll frequently contradict himself or engage in rank hypocrisy, but that’s different than staking a position and then backtracking. So what might have caused this deviation from his “normal” behavior?
Firstly, it needs to be recognized that Trump is not susceptible to shame. The fact that there was near universal condemnation of his childish dissing of McCain could not have triggered his flip-flop. Even with criticisms from his pals at Fox News and the American Legion. After all, Trump took even more heat after his policy of breaking apart immigrant families became known. The inhumanity of that made most Americans sick as they watched babies being ripped from the arms of their parents. But Trump never backed down from it until he was forced to by the courts.
Likewise, Trump was hammered for his bigoted ban on Muslims entering the country. Majorities of Americans opposed the policy and several federal courts overturned it. But Trump stayed the course without regard for the repudiation of the American people. He continues his crusade to build a wall on the southern border even though polls show that most voters don’t want it. His attacks on the media are rejected by the people who still have more trust in the press than they do in Trump after two years of his anti-constitutional abuse.
So what’s the difference when it comes to this incident with the lowering of the flag? Surely it has nothing to do with Trump’s opinion of McCain. He is openly disdainful of him. He declined to offer any kind of praise following the news of the Senator’s death. And even now that he has acquiesced and re-lowered the flag, he accompanied the action with a pissy statement that still failed to pay McCain any tribute:
“Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country and, in his honor, have signed a proclamation to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff until the day of his interment.”
That statement made no gesture to honor McCain’s integrity, patriotism, or any other observance of a positive, personal nature. But he did lead off with the pointless and, under the circumstance, inappropriate mention of their disagreements. Who cares?
There is only thing that marks this affair as unique to the other situations wherein Trump had no problem weathering the storms of criticism. This time many of the attacks are coming from Republicans in Congress who still revere their deceased colleague. Trump desperately needs the support of his congressional confederates to push forward with his abhorrent agenda. He also needs them to shield him from the slings and arrows of investigations and impeachment. The fear of becoming a lame duck or being cast adrift in a rocky political sea must have caused Trump to grudgingly lower the flag and issue a weak proclamation about McCain’s passing.
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The good news in that is that in November there will be an opportunity to turn Congress into exactly the body that Trump fears most. The much-anticipated “Blue Wave” would subject him to hearings chaired by Democrats who have been chained up too long by unethical Republican leaders. And the prospect of impeachment would become plausible as more and more of Trump’s associates (aka accomplices) are indicted or granted immunity. And that’s not even taking into consideration the looming visage of special counsel Robert Mueller. So stay tuned and have plenty of popcorn at hand.