Indy Star writers should never be a politician’s ‘supporter’

illustration by Ed Stein, Rocky Mountain News

On Wednesday, the Indianapolis Star published the latest column by its long time editorial cartoonist, Gary Varvel.  “How I went from a Trump critic to a Trump supporter” is the latest installment in the cartoonist-turned-writer experiment, angering many subscribers. Indianapolis, I warned you!

When interest was declared in “reading a response to the column on its argumentation and logical merits” I could not resist answering that call.

First and foremost, I am profoundly unhappy that any in-house writer at “my” local newspaper has declared himself a “supporter” of a politician.  This was not an example of a headline getting cockeyed with what was written in the piece.  Varvel explicitly wrote, “So yes, I support his presidency.”

While Trump seeks this kind of near unconditional support most, it is historically un-American.  It is why I wrote about this characteristic of fascism in a column from May of 2016.  In a fascist reign, public support is for the specific person, not the actions of the person, in power.  It does not hinge on ideology either.  It grants broad trust in that whatever problem a nation faces, the politician embodies the solution.  Even though there is no way of predicting what type of solution he or she might choose (i.e. tariffs).

The “I alone” statements that Trump has made and that his supporters cheer, are fascist on their face.  Now we have an editorial writer at the Star signing up as one of those supporters.  Some could confuse that as “fake news” but “fake” even in this ironic example, is better than “fascist.”  At a minimum Varvel should choose his words differently.

Varvel is an evangelical Christian, a demographic that is a significant part of the president’s base.  Regarding the president’s offensive past transgressions he writes:  “I know he is a deeply flawed man. So am I. The Bible says we all are. But evangelicals believe in grace and forgiveness and are commanded to pray for our leaders. So I support him in prayer.”  Supporting him in prayer is fair enough.  Supporting his continued meanness and lack of empathy as an ongoing leadership style challenge the “faith without works” lesson I know from the Bible’s teachings.  

How do the evangelicals feel about the family separation policies that were neglected in this column?  While praying about Trump’s flaws today and yesterday, do they ever tire of the certainty of just the mean tweets he will produce tomorrow and the next day?

Varvel lists six promises that Trump made which he now alleges are starting to be kept. Those promises are: “build the wall, repeal and replace Obamacare, cut taxes, destroy ISIS, renegotiate better trade deals and make America great again.”  In baseball terms, I would count him as one for six right there, with the “cut taxes” as an infield hit since the people in the cheap seats couldn’t actually see it. 

The column candy-coats some of the president’s failings as “hiccups.”  He writes “Trump signed a budget bill that increased the national debt, which is now over $21 trillion. The Russia probe is still a cloud over his administration and I don’t like trade wars.”  Wow.

The budget bill, coupled with the tax cuts bill (an accomplishment to Varvel), will both continue to add to the deficit. That’s not conservative. The Russia probe is a “cloud,” the way the Thai soccer team trapped in that cave was a “pickle.”  And no one likes a trade war except apparently a president who thinks they are so easy to win that he starts one on his own and then immediately starts losing it.

Even when Varvel applauds Trump’s appointments like Mike Pence, and his two Supreme Court nominees, he manages to overlook all of the monumental screw-ups in hiring he has made.  There’s more turnover in today’s White House than any other in modern history, which doesn’t even count Scott Pruitt or Tom Price (remember him?).

He did get one thing right, when he wrote, “He is not a clown.”  That’s right. He’s not a clown.  Clowns are funny, creative and originally existed to make the world a happier place. The confusion is baffling though, I mean, since Varvel is a cartoonist.

Endorsements from editorial departments were once hard sought, and seemed given reluctantly.  Why? People are fallible.  The people part of self-governing is the hard part.

The Star’s publishing of a column that does not announce support for a position or ideal, but professes broad support for a politician of intense and ongoing flaw is embarrassing.  Please IndyStar, stop doing that.

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Michael Leppert

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