Three days into my stay at the Bexar County Detention Center, the county jail in San Antonio, I witnessed a fight between three inmates; the memory of it sticks with me more than two decades later. One large inmate we all called “Baby Huey” picked a fight with two smaller inmates over an apple as he began screaming; “Only one of us gets out of here alive!” Some began cheering and some began yelling. I sat at the table between the two parties and watched three people fighting over an apple. It was bad enough being jailed for keeping a confidential source. I wasn’t going out over an apple.
I have no idea what happened to the desired piece of fruit. It disappeared.
Later, everyone in the pod where I was housed had an opinion on why it happened, though many hadn’t seen how it started. But I was sitting right there and watched a guy try to steal an apple that precipitated the fight. It was that simple.
Halfway through the Thunder Dome session in the Oval Office on Tuesday (hat tip to Chris Cuomo, who I first heard use that phrase), as President Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer engaged in their grumpy grandparent fight over spending bills, I wanted to reach for some popcorn and a beer. It reminded me of the jail fight.
Kelly isn’t an example of an inner circle collapsing; it’s an example of Trump’s inner circle winning.
What we got instead is a snapshot of why our government doesn’t work—another case of the American people getting short changed. The president was screaming and ranting and raving. Senator Schumer tried not to laugh as he baited the president into admitting he wanted a government shutdown while interrupting Pelosi more than a dozen occasions. The sideshow was Vice President Mike Pence looking as sleepy-eyed as a man who ingested too many edibles from his favorite D.C. weed dispensary.
Reporters in the White House pool had never seen anything like it. They rushed to tweet blow-by-blow descriptions and came out of the Oval Office eager to alert the world of the childish antics going on inside. Of course, each side came out claiming victory. My recommendation: watch the video and make up your own mind.
“That exchange just proved how divided our country is. Right there in one room. All of it,” a White House staffer tells me, with equal distaste for the president and for the Democrats. One of the lowest points came when the president, playing his usual fear card, claimed 10 terrorists had recently been captured on the border. Where? What border? The border between Qatar and Saudi Arabia? Or perhaps the border between sanity and insanity, which was breached the moment Sean Spicer first appeared in the White House briefing room and claimed Trump’s inaugural crowds were the largest in history?
We haven’t approached sanity in this administration since then.
Certainly the president wasn’t talking about terrorists on the U.S.-Mexico border, where a State Department spokesman said there was no evidence to back any claims the president made regarding captured terrorists. After the fact, analysts pointed out how Trump screamed about shutting down the government over spending for a border wall. Trump is doing this, they say, because he believes “his base wants the wall more than anything else;" expect the wall to become yet another wedge issue in 2020 if Trump doesn't succeed in funding it. Meanwhile, others said Trump was just venting hostility due to former Chief of Staff John Kelly’s departure and the imminent collapse of Trump’s “inner circle.”
Reporters have to quit covering Donald Trump and his administration as if everyone involved are actually politicians.
As for Trump ranting and raving because his inner-circle is collapsing since Kelly left, again, some analysts don’t understand this administration. (Few of them ever have.) Trump’s inner circle is in his head. It extends to his closest family members; everyone else is expendable. Kelly isn’t an example of an inner circle collapsing; it’s an example of Trump’s inner circle winning. His daughter and son-in-law never liked Kelly, who tried to restrict their interactions with the president. They bided their time, and they finally got rid of Kelly.
Here's the thing: Reporters have to quit covering Donald Trump and his administration as if everyone involved are actually politicians. Those who have years of experience covering politics are out of their elements. Media of America: Start sending your best crime beat reporters instead. Better yet, send those who’ve covered the mob.
MORE OP-EDS BY BRIAN KAREM
In the same news conference that got Jim Acosta’s press credentials pulled, I asked Trump if he could work with the Democrats. He gave me a qualified yes— depending on whether House Democrats would begin to investigate him by subpoenaing his financial documents through the House Oversight Committee. If so, we would be on a “war footing,” he told me.
The problem is, he has already made it to "war footing" and the Democrats haven’t even taken control of the House yet. It’s only going to get worse.
"If we don't get what we want ... I will shut down the government ... I am proud to shut down the government for border security. ... I will take the mantle ... for shutting down the government.”
The man who claims he knows the art of making a deal is going to pout like a child if he doesn’t get his way.
As a background to the rantings and ravings, the Mueller investigation enters Scene Three, Act One: General Mike Flynn now pleads for leniency. Lost in this is something I still cannot forget and, as a reporter, have a hard time forgiving.
Jamal Khashoggi’s last words were “I can’t breathe"; this week, Time named the dead and suffering journalists of 2018 as their Person of the Year.
Late Tuesday night, Jeff Mason and the crew from Reuters, who interviewed the president, reported that following the romp with Pelosi and Schumer, Trump seemed to be in good spirits. They listened as Trump justified Khashoggi’s death with cheap oil prices:
“I really hope that people aren’t going to suggest that we should not take hundreds of billions of dollars that they’re going to siphon off to Russia and to China, primarily those two, instead of giving it to us. You’re talking about hundreds of thousands of jobs. You’re talking about huge military and other contracts. I hope that’s not going to be a recommendation. But that’s moving along. And some of the senators are coming over to see me.”
From this, I take away some valuable lessons. Heat isn’t light. Our government remains seriously divided. Eyewitnesses to history are sometimes ignored as emotion overcomes logic. Reporters today are jailed and killed more often than when I was jailed a quarter of a century ago.
But most importantly, the jail fights I witnessed more than 25 years ago are now taking place in the Oval Office, among grandparents who should know better. No one gets out unscathed.
We have to do better.