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How LeBron James and Melania Trump laid bare the contradictions in the Trump White House

Melania Trump's ...

Posted: Aug 6, 2018 1:02 PM
Updated: Aug 6, 2018 1:02 PM

Melania Trump's split with her husband over NBA superstar LeBron James is the most glaring example of a growing trend: The President's family and some top officials are adopting positions at odds with his most divisive statements.

The public feud between King James and the imperious President is on one level a personal and even ideological clash between two of the richest, most famous entertainers in American life whose outsize images outshine the confines of the roles they currently play.

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But it is also offering new insight into the President's unashamed willingness to launch attacks that touch on the most sensitive fault lines of American life, like race and freedom of expression, that even some of those closest to him find difficult to publicly defend.

In recent days, Trump's daughter Ivanka has said she does not share her father's view that the press is the enemy of the people, only for the President to reinterpret her remarks for his 53 million Twitter followers. Trump's counselor Kellyanne Conway echoed the comments of the President's daughter Sunday. But only after Trump reinforced his attack in a way that made his daughter's personal damage control effort last week look tame by comparison.

"The Fake News hates me saying that they are the Enemy of the People only because they know it's TRUE. I am providing a great service by explaining this to the American People. They purposely cause great division & distrust. They can also cause War! They are very dangerous & sick!" Trump tweeted from his vacation at his golf resort in New Jersey.

Signs of a pattern

In another big disconnect last week, the top intelligence and foreign policy officials delivered a stark warning about Russian election interference, only for Trump to undermine it hours later by railing against the Russia "hoax."

The internal dynamics of the Trump family are notoriously tough to understand, and involve a complex mix of characters locked into the trust and loyalty dynamics of the most self-sufficient clans in American politics and business.

It could be that Trump's wife and daughter and some top aides are fighting a battle to safeguard their own principles and beliefs within the eye of the Trump storm and carefully chose areas where they can distance themselves from the President to protect their own identities.

A number of Trump's allies may also be taking steps to preserve their own reputations if they want to remain in the public eye -- both in business and in politics -- after the Trump presidency is over.

A more cynical interpretation of the events of recent days might be that Trump's relatives and officials, by adopting more mainstream positions on certain issues, are carrying out a political strategy that can complement the President's often wild interventions to please his base.

For instance, the more moderate stances of Melania and Ivanka Trump and their independent profiles could be seen as an effort to take the edge of the President's base-pleasing plays among suburban women voters, who will be crucial in the elections of 2018 and 2020.

The show of force of top national security officials at the White House last week makes it possible for the White House to argue that it does take election meddling seriously, even though it has no control over Trump's riffs on how it is all a Democratic "hoax."

Similarly, by adopting sanctions on Russia passed by Congress and allowing the sale of arms to Ukraine, the administration can argue that no White House has been tougher on Russia, despite Trump's constant and puzzling cozying up to President Vladimir Putin in public.

Still, such is the belligerent dominance of Trump's personality, it's quite possible that he will simply drown out any political positioning of those around him. There is often little momentum for action in Washington if a President is not on board -- one reason why many people doubt the impact of countermeasures against Russia's efforts to taint US democracy.

And Trump's enemies will argue that Ivanka Trump, Melania Trump and Conway are complicit by definition in the President's rhetoric and have shown little capacity to moderate his views.

The President's daughter, for instance, was at his side as he traveled to Tampa, Florida, for a Tuesday night rally in which he torched the media and his supporters jeered journalists.

At the very least, their differing positions reflect the reality that the President, as the fulcrum of the administration, is now sufficiently confident in his job that he is beyond influence from those around him even if they disagree with aspects of his rhetoric.

King Donald versus King James

The most jarring gap between Trump and those around him emerged this weekend, after the President's attack on the newest, most famous member of the Los Angeles Lakers, who has just opened a school in Akron, Ohio, and has in the past been critical of the President's views on race.

The President fired off a tweet at 10.37 p.m. ET on Friday night after CNN re-aired an interview with James.

"Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn't easy to do. I like Mike!" Trump tweeted.

Trump's tweet will no doubt be justified by his supporters as fair game, since James has never shied from criticizing the President.

Last September for instance, James called the President a "bum" and said that it was a great honor for championship winning teams to go to the White House until he showed up.

But the tone of Trump's tweet appeared to have troubling racial undertones. It was the latest occasion in which the President has appeared to cast doubt on the intelligence of African-American public figures.

And by saying he preferred Michael Jordan to James, he was endorsing another star NBA athlete who has sometimes been criticized for not doing more in his career to highlight political, racial and social issues important to the black community. (Jordan later said through a spokeswoman that he supported James and that he's "doing an amazing job for his community," without directly addressing Trump's comment.)

Criticizing James after he had been publicizing his own public service also cast Trump in a poor light. And it may have forced the first lady's hand, given that community service is at the center of her "Be Best" campaign.

On Saturday, in the latest show of independence from the East Wing, her spokeswoman issued a statement that effectively distanced herself from her husband's remarks, even saying she would be open to visiting the school James opened.

"It looks like LeBron James is working to do good things on behalf of our next generation and just as she always has, the First Lady encourages everyone to have an open dialogue about issues facing children today," said the statement issued to CNN.

Trump targets the press

Trump's attacks on the media come as no surprise, and many Presidents have grumbled at their news coverage. But it's still shocking to see a President of the United States making such an unapologetic assault on the Fourth Estate as part of an apparent strategy of discrediting sources of power that contradict his own preferred versions of reality.

The President fired off new shots at the media at a rally in Ohio on Saturday night in a reminder that the full-fledged assault on the press will be a centerpiece of his midterm election campaign.

Last week, in an exchange with CNN's Jim Acosta, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders refused to decry Trump's mantra that the press is the enemy of the people, a statement that for many observers on both sides of the political spectrum has authoritarian overtones.

But Conway, who had a strong media profile before joining Trump's campaign in 2016 and joining him in the White House, took the opportunity to put her views on the record Sunday, while being careful not to openly criticize the President.

She said she thought the President was referring to "some reporters" who she said "aren't always telling the truth." But she later added as she walked a rhetorical tightrope, "I don't believe journalists are the enemy of the people."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 98886

Reported Deaths: 2979
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7189161
DeSoto569464
Harrison394175
Jackson358570
Rankin337280
Madison334190
Lee293572
Forrest254275
Jones252780
Washington227879
Lafayette221240
Lauderdale2078126
Bolivar187370
Oktibbeha181952
Lamar176237
Lowndes160858
Neshoba1599104
Panola151631
Sunflower149146
Leflore143882
Warren141850
Pontotoc130116
Monroe125369
Pike124954
Copiah119933
Scott118027
Coahoma117530
Lincoln112353
Marshall111821
Grenada110136
Holmes110060
Yazoo106733
Simpson105847
Tate101938
Union101224
Leake96538
Adams94937
Wayne91521
Pearl River91453
Prentiss88418
Marion87537
Itawamba85921
Alcorn83411
Covington83223
George78513
Tallahatchie78324
Newton78124
Winston74619
Tishomingo71039
Tippah70518
Chickasaw69524
Attala67225
Clarke61149
Walthall60426
Clay59919
Hancock59822
Jasper58415
Noxubee55816
Smith55115
Calhoun52912
Tunica50015
Montgomery47020
Claiborne46516
Yalobusha44414
Lawrence43914
Perry43221
Quitman3905
Greene38917
Stone38013
Humphreys37715
Jefferson Davis34711
Amite34210
Webster33913
Carroll33112
Wilkinson30818
Kemper29115
Sharkey26714
Jefferson2439
Benton2333
Franklin1993
Choctaw1876
Issaquena1063
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 138162

Reported Deaths: 2405
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson20221352
Mobile13558295
Tuscaloosa9029118
Montgomery8894187
Madison800580
Shelby616450
Lee601761
Baldwin564052
Marshall398345
Etowah357545
Calhoun356944
Morgan334929
Houston295421
Elmore273948
DeKalb246121
St. Clair237937
Walker236987
Talladega219030
Limestone215720
Cullman192220
Dallas179926
Franklin179430
Autauga179127
Russell17903
Lauderdale175934
Colbert168426
Blount162915
Escambia162024
Jackson161112
Chilton160930
Dale141844
Covington141628
Coffee13936
Pike122011
Chambers117942
Tallapoosa117385
Clarke110916
Marion97629
Butler91740
Barbour8967
Winston75112
Marengo72820
Pickens67215
Randolph67213
Bibb66411
Lowndes65927
Hale65328
Geneva6505
Lawrence63625
Cherokee62013
Bullock61015
Clay5929
Monroe5928
Washington56012
Crenshaw54532
Perry5436
Conecuh53811
Wilcox53211
Henry5145
Macon48318
Fayette47311
Sumter43419
Cleburne4085
Lamar3822
Choctaw35212
Greene30615
Coosa1743
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