Joseph Sabino Mistick: The optics of presidential golf |
Joseph Sabino Mistick, Columnist

Joseph Sabino Mistick: The optics of presidential golf

Joseph Sabino Mistick
President Trump gets out of his car and heads into the White House in Washington June 16 after spending the day golfing with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., at his golf club in Sterling, Va.

Golf is “a good walk spoiled,” according to some non-golfers. But it still has a tremendous following. And, since it started as a game for those fortunate enough to afford the gear and take a whole day off, it has presented image problems for politicians.

“Presidential golf” has been a big deal since William Howard Taft became addicted to the game. Taft was so hooked that Teddy Roosevelt worried about complaints that his pal was playing “a rich man’s game.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower’s love of the game and friendship with Arnold Palmer helped popularize golf with the growing post-war middle class, and that blunted some of golf’s “fancy” image.

Presidents Kennedy and Nixon played, but Kennedy worried about it being seen as elitist game and Nixon removed Eisenhower’s putting green from the White House grounds.

Barack Obama favored public and military courses instead of private clubs. He could have golfed anywhere in the world, but something about that old image nagged at him.

George W. Bush quit playing once the Second Iraq War started because “playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.”

Bush told NPR, “I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf.” He knew that the optics were bad.

Donald Trump doesn’t care about optics, but bad optics are back. Using Government Accountability Office information, HuffPost reported that Trump’s presidential golf trips have cost taxpayers $102 million. Huffpost is no friend to Trump, but there has been little pushback on the costs.

All presidents deserve to relax, but how they do it and when they do it can send a message about our national priorities.

After the Huffpost story, we learned that hundreds of young children, seized from their parents, were being warehoused in Clint, Texas, under conditions so inhumane that it’s hard to believe it’s happening in America.

According to the New York Times, children “as young as 5 months old had been housed with filthy clothes, dirty diapers and inadequate food.”

Sick and unwashed and unfed, children were left to sleep on cold concrete floors with a scattering of aluminum foil blankets under constantly glaring lights. And some 8-year-olds had to suddenly step up, struggling to care for infants they do not know.

A Justice Department lawyer even argued in court that the administration has no duty to give the children soap and toothbrushes. This was done in our name.

According to Texas State Rep. Terry Canales, “We’ve dipped far below the standard of care into the realms of just utter darkness. We’re in a dark place as a nation, and it just breaks my heart.”

Forget about your politics. Forget about whether you love Trump or hate Trump. As long as these children are here, they are our children, and children come first.

And, fairly or not, the comparisons are unavoidable. For the cost of one round of “presidential golf,” all of this could have been avoided.

As Nelson Mandela said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

We have to get this right. Immediately.

Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer. Reach him at [email protected].

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