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Steinberg: Hard to honor a man who never stops honoring himself

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting at the White House

President Donald Trump | AP file photo

Monday is Presidents Day: Happy Presidents Day! If the holiday has a certain redundant, dubious air about it, that might be because it comes one week after Lincoln’s Birthday, and is a fairly recent development: far newer than, say, Sweetest Day, which goes back to 1921.

Only in 1968 did Congress pass the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act” to “benefit the nation’s spiritual and economic life” by creating three-day weekends out of Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays. The House Judiciary Committee noted that observance could be detached from actual birthdays “without doing violence to either history or tradition.” Officially, it’s still “Washington’s Birthday,” but it somehow morphed into common use as “Presidents Day,” so ad hoc a holiday that nobody can seem to agree whether “Presidents” deserves a possessive or not.

A day of honor, though, starting with our current chief executive, Donald J. Trump, whose inspiring rags-to-riches story hardly needs repeating. At 70, he’s the oldest man ever elected president and also the first immigrant. He was born in Soviet-occupied East Germany in 1947. His father, a Russian soldier, Ivan Trumpovich, was not married to his mother, a 17-year-old Bavarian barmaid, Helga Schneider, who brought him to this country as a teenager in 1962. Trump worked in a series of used car lots, perfecting his English, saving his money to purchase an abandoned gas station, beginning his career in real estate . . . .

Oh, none of that is true — except Trump being the oldest man ever elected president. That’s a fact. Though reading the above, I bet you did not think, “This is untrue. More fake news that we have become accustomed to constantly seeing in the lying press.” Because despite what our new president says about the media, the sneering contempt he ladles on the institution whose job and duty is to catalog his missteps, deceits and blunders, people still expect not only truth but perfection from the press. If I make a grammatical mistake, if I say “we journalists” when I should say “us journalists” readers will gleefully wave it over their heads, sneering and hooting in sincere outrage, speaking of fish wrap and carelessness. It’s the most curious duality: insist that something is routinely dishonest and unreliable, then fall shrieking to the floor at its most trivial slip from the highest standards of excellence.

OPINION

Then again, hypocrisy straddles the land like a colossus while consistency has become an antique virtue, like thrift. Our president is a man whose entire adult life has been spent singing his own praises, blowing kisses back at those who flatter him, condemning those who dare not to. In that light, I want to ask those Trump supporters who have stuck with me a sincere question: How can you honor a man who never stops honoring himself? How can you even try to shout your praises above his own? My guess? That Trump gives people permission to bully others, and insisting on his excellence to those who know better is one way to abuse them.

Otherwise, you’re going to bat for a man so passionately enthralled with himself that any criticism shatters him. Who must continually lash out at those keeping track of his actions, damning the media Friday as the “enemy of the American people.” A claim so extreme that it seemed to wake Sen. John McCain from his lengthy slumber.

“That’s how dictators get started,” said McCain. The press must rate. McCain’s the guy who failed to rebuke Trump even when he slurred all American POWs. Yet he went bat for the press.

“In other words, a consolidation of power,” McCain continued, explaining why the media deserves the support. “When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press.”

Insulting is not shutting down. Only the first step. Until then, the options are clear. You can stand with our Founding Fathers’ idea of this nation, with its division of power, strong federal courts, a free media, bi-partisan professional government — a diverse nation that values dissent, science and reason. Or you can support Donald Trump. The choice is yours.