The US President has a voice like no other person in the world. This is commonly referred to as his "Bully Pulpit." The term was coined by President Theodore Roosevelt at a time when the word "bully" meant excellent. He knew that his position meant that when he spoke, people all over the world would listen. He used that power wisely to exhort, instruct, and inspire people.
I like Mr. Trump. I voted for him. I am more than grateful that he was elected instead of the loathsome Mrs. Clinton. And I am usually supportive of his actions. But when anyone acts in an improper manner - including the President - he needs to be called on it.
For the past week, Mr. Trump has been using his Bully Pulpit to shamefully bully an honorable man, Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Sessions are Christians and are therefore bound to follow the Scripture when they have a dispute.
The relevant Scripture here is Matthew 18:15, in which Jesus Himself commands, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone." If He were speaking those words today, I am sure He would not have said, "Tell him his fault on Twitter or national TV." He made it clear that the conversation was to be private.
Jesus continues in verses 16 and 17: "But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."
There has been no report or indication that Mr. Trump has met with Mr. Sessions in private either before or since he began his bullying tirade against him. (And, yes, I watch FOX News, which favors the President. If Trump and Sessions had met privately, I believe it would have been reported.) Likewise, there has been no report of him meeting with Sessions along with witnesses. Instead, he has chosen to publicly humiliate Mr. Sessions - presumably hoping that he will resign his position.
Some have suggested that when Mr. Trump called out Mr. Sessions publicly, that was the equivalent of taking the issue to the church. Jesus said what he said. Was he wise enough to know that there would be disputes between two believers who were also public officials? Of course, He was. But He didn't say that they should take their dispute before the whole nation. He said to take it to the church.
What does that mean? Does it mean that the dispute is heard in a local church? In some cases, yes. But what if they don't attend the same church? We need to understand that the church is not a building with some people in it. The building is only the church when the people enter it because the church is
the people. There are many Christians in Mr. Trump's administration, including the Vice-President. Could he not have gathered some of them, and with their help peacefully resolved this situation? The answer is obvious.
I realize that some reading this don't accept the authority of the Bible. Perhaps they can at least respect the wisdom of Jesus' words. Handling disputes privately can save relationships. After commanding us to do that in verse 15 quoted above, Jesus said, "If he listens to you, you have gained your brother." If that fails, isn't the wisdom of discussing the issue with a few trusted counselors obvious? Instead of airing their dirty laundry in public, they could have settled their differences quietly and not allowed them to become a public embarrassment.
Regardless of whether you think Mr. Sessions has done something wrong, there is no excuse for Mr. Trump's actions. He has used the power of his office in a dishonorable way - particularly since arguably he might not be in his office were it not for Mr. Sessions.
I remember clearly when Jeff Sessions came out publicly in support of Mr. Trump, long before anyone thought he had a prayer of getting the nomination. Sessions was the first prominent Republican to support Trump, and he took a political risk by doing so.
"So what?" you may ask. Trump would have been nominated anyway. Maybe so - but maybe not. Politics is a funny game. Often people hold back their support for a person or issue until someone else is brave enough to step up. I think there is a good possibility that if Sessions hadn't supported Trump early on, and encouraged others to do so, one of the other 16 people in the race might have become the Republican nominee.
"Tom, you're talking crazy. Donald Trump had tremendous grassroots support. Think about the huge crowds that came out to see him!" Not in the early days. When Mr. Trump first announced, he was widely ridiculed - along with anyone brave enough to support his candidacy. For many months the Republican elite considered him to be a mere sideshow. They all supported other candidates.
No one really knows. Common decency should keep the President from treating Mr. Sessions so cruelly. But if that doesn't persuade him, Mr. Trump should show at least be loyal to a man who was very loyal to him.
I happen to believe that Mr. Trump is justified in his anger toward Mr. Sessions. Sessions knew what he would be facing when he assumed his position. If he believed he would have to recuse himself from the "Russia Withhunt" because of contacts he had during the campaign with Russian officials he should have told Mr. Trump before he accepted his position.
The proper thing for Mr. Trump to do would have been what the Bible prescribes. Trump should have taken him aside privately and told him what he thought. If he felt that Mr. Sessions should resign, he should have told him so at that time. Instead, he waited over five months. Then, in his famous middle-of-he-night Tweets he started attacking Sessions, including calling him “VERY weak” and saying he was “beleaguered.” (Beleaguered by whom, Mr. President? Only by you, as far as I can see.)
The President is hurting his own agenda and his chances of cooperation from Congress as he continues his misguided attacks on Jeff Sessions. Almost all Republicans support Mr. Sessions, and believe the attacks are uncalled-for. While I don't believe Sessions should have recused himself from the Russia probe months ago, the majority of Republicans in Congress think he made the right decision, ethically and legally.
Perhaps most important, Mr. Trump is angering a group of people he needs very badly right now - US Senators. Mr. Sessions is well-liked and respected in the Senate. Many Senators have expressed their anger, and Senator Chuck Grassley, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, has indicated that the President will have a hard time getting anyone confirmed as Attorney General if he fires Sessions. One Republican, Mo Brooks, is the leading contender in the race for Session's Senate seat representing Alabama. He has offered to withdraw from the race (if the other GOP hopefuls agree to do the same) in order to make room for Jeff Sessions to run.
This has gone on long enough. It is a distraction from the important work of governing. If he is going to fire Mr. Sessions, the President should do so. But first, he owes him an apology – one as public as the humiliation he put Sessions through.