President Trump, Meet Daniel Ortega

On the Use of the People's House for a Political Purpose

Credit: David Fitzsimmons, The Arizona Star, Tucson, AZ

How many exaggerations, misleading comments, and downright lies did President Trump tell Thursday night in his acceptance speech? The New York Times and other news outlets tried to keep an accurate count.

But why?

I think the late, iconic journalist Hunter Thompson would have stopped counting after the president’s first downright lie.

He would have called Trump’s speech for what it was — pure bullshit.

I’m as bothered by the Trump lies as I am to where he delivered them — the White House.

Most constitutional scholars agree the federal Hatch Act prohibits the use of public spaces for purely staging and filming partisan political events such as conventions for political purposes. They are clear violations of federal law. Trump and his allies made it clear they would do as he ordered.

The Republican use of the White House for purely political events brought me back to a time years ago when I saw firsthand another political strong man use public space for his own political purposes.

In 1986, I went with a small group of political activists and government officials on a fact-finding mission to Nicaragua. Our goal was to see, first hand, whether this small Central American country that had undergone years of civil war and dictatorship was moving to an electoral democracy.

In our week’s stay in Managua, the capitol, we met with numerous public officials. Every government office and building we went into had the black-and-red banners of the Sandinista political party on the walls, but not the official blue-and-white national flag of Nicaragua. When I asked why the political party flag, no one would answer me.

 At our last stop, the former rebel leader, now president of the country, Daniel Ortega, greeted us.

I asked President Ortega why official government buildings flew the party’s black-and-red Sandinista banners. I told him in the United States we make clear distinctions between political party offices and the buildings and offices where the business of government is done.

Ortega glared at me as if to say, “Who the hell is this foreigner.”

His answer was curt. “The Sandinistas won the election.  Every building belongs to the party not the government.”

He turned to one of his aides and motioned for him to remove me from the meeting.  Given the gun he wore on his belt, I moved quickly to the hall.

Now years later, I watched as President Trump and his political operatives took over the White House — the People’s House — for their own partisan use. Trump has successfully blurred the important distinction between politics and government.

It’s just another nail in the coffin of separation between party politics and democracy.

It appears that President Trump had someone read President Ortega’s handbook on how to run a democracy into the ground.

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