Monday, August 20 , 2018, 6:42 am | Fair 64º


Mark Shields: The Spirit of Chico Marx Prevails in President Trump

In a scene in the 1933 film Duck Soup, the character played by Chico, the most underrated of the funny Marx Brothers, is dressed like another character, and when the other man leaves the room, the woman who remains is surprised to see Chico. She tells him she saw him leave. Chico's response remains a classic in the annals of truth evasion: "Who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?"

Even his most severe critics have never accused President Donald Trump of being a "Marxist." But consider this recent sequence:

On Wednesday morning, the president publicly urged, "House Republicans should pass the strong but fair immigration bill ... in their afternoon vote today." On Wednesday afternoon, nearly half of the House's GOP members ignored the president's leadership and voted against the immigration bill he'd endorsed. But wait. On Saturday, not 72 hours after that vote, Trump "corrected" the record by declaring, "I never pushed the Republicans in the House to vote for the immigration bill."

The spirit of Chico prevails at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Such behavior is recognizable to those familiar with 12-step recovery programs, wherein one description of an addict is "an egomaniac with an inferiority complex." This could not be the case with Trump, whose gravely serious bone spurs prevented him, as a strapping 22-year-old, from defending his nation by serving in the U.S. armed forces, because he has publicly assured his fellow citizens, "There's nobody bigger or better at the military than I am."

What about that reputable public opinion survey on the eve of President Trump's visit to England, where 83 percent of women rated former President Barack Obama favorably while giving Trump an unfavorable score of 80 percent and a favorable score of just 11 percent? The U.S. leader knew better: "I think they like me a lot in the U.K." And why, when the politically precarious government of British Prime Minister Theresa May was under siege, would Trump, on the record, compliment one of May's most prominent critics, her resigned foreign secretary, Boris Johnson? "He obviously likes me and says very good things about me." To May, not unlike the case with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump shows himself to be the most steadfast of allies -— except when he is not.

You start to get the feeling that if all first-person singular pronouns — I, my, mine, me — were banished from Trump's personal vocabulary, the result would be the presidential equivalent of radio silence. Overnight, he would become the 21st-century Oval Office bookend to "Silent Cal" Coolidge or maybe even the political version of the renowned mime Marcel Marceau.

In fairness to Trump, there is one timeless insight of his that rings completely true, even to my skeptical ears, and I give him total credit: "I have never seen a thin person drinking Diet Coke."

I guess that the Coca-Cola Co. has been guilty of failing to say very good things about him.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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