The wrong 9-year-old boy was featured in national news last week, illuminating American sycophancy while darkening its idealism and exceptionalism.

In Hawaii media, we actually learned about Robbie Bond and his “Kids Speak for Parks” efforts to promote and protect national monuments, such as this state’s Papahanaumokuakea marine sanctuary, the largest conservation area of its kind in the world.

This Hawaii Kai kid clearly can talk about our country’s precious natural treasures and the threats they face from climate-change deniers.

On that same day, though, a different 9-year-old was being celebrated nationally by The White House’s new press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, during her inaugural press conference.

Sanders tweeted out this photo of the letter, and also read it aloud during a White House news briefing.

Sanders and her colleagues had spent weeks stonewalling journalists about several issues imminently important to our country’s future, creating pent-up demand. Without consulting with his Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Donald Trump also had blindsided military officials that day by abruptly announcing his ban on transgender service members. 

When the cameras finally were allowed on, Huckabee Sanders’ diversion scheme was to orient the address by saluting “some of the forgotten men, women, and children … that the president is fighting for.” One might expect the next words to be a touching tribute to a fallen military hero (maybe even one who had been transgender) or to a hard-luck yet harder-working laborer, pulling herself up by the bootstraps.

Instead, we all learned about “Pickle,” the semi-anonymized 9-year-old boy, who wrote a letter to the president about how much he liked him and his “Make America Great Again” hat.

Propagandic fake news has become a self-perpetuating culture in the Trump era, creating “truthful hyperbole” out of patently false claims, buoyed by the strategy of shameless and consistent repetition.

Pickle scribbled in his short letter about how Donald Trump is his “favrit” president and how his “birfday” cake was the “shap” of Trump’s hat. He asked how big the “White hose” was and how much “monny” Trump had, capped with the inclusion of the smiling child’s school “pitcher.”

Let’s compare that letter-writing achievement to a few American kids who really should be commended for their talents and interests. Just in the past two months – which apparently has been how long the White House has been sitting on this Pickle letter, waiting for the right moment to release it – news also has been circulating around the country about:

  • kidney-transplant survivor Angelica Hale excelling as a young singer on the television show “America’s Got Talent,”
  • legless Isaiah Bird’s “no excuses” exploits as a wrestler, surfer, skateboarder, etc.,
  • and sickle-cell-disease survivor Adrian McKinney, whose first Make-a-Wish dream to take a Hawaiian vacation was fulfilled, but in that process, his regional Make-a-Wish Foundation’s CEO was so impressed with McKinney’s attitude and entrepreneurial nature that he recently appointed him CEO for the day. McKinney spent that day raising money for other sick kids, so their dreams could come true, too. McKinney’s mother, Torie, said their family hopes such selfless support to the foundation “sparks the love of people, the love of generosity, the love of giving back.”

No offense to any child seriously afflicted with the nickname Pickle, but the boy’s gee-whillikers-you’re-great message is more of the bootlicking sort than bootstrapping inspiration. We need less public prostration and more citizenry consultation, resulting in communal elevation. Answers, with evidence, should be provided to the American people at presidential press conferences, not more pointless fluff or empty promises.

Propagandic fake news has become a self-perpetuating culture in the Trump era, creating “truthful hyperbole” out of patently false claims, buoyed by the strategy of shameless and consistent repetition. Almost half of Republicans, for example, think that Trump won the popular vote in the election (he didn’t).

Yet less and less people, including Republicans, now believe what the president says, creating the threat of our country quickly devolving into a rudderless behemoth, tossed into a totally out-of-control tailspin.

At the Pickle press conference, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ironically celebrated the contribution of Trump’s quarterly salary ($100,000) to the Department of Education without mentioning his plans to cut the department’s spending next year by $9.2 billion, or 92,000 times the amount he donated. Trump pulled the same trick on the Department of the Interior last quarter, giving about $80,000 while proposing to take away from that department about $1.6 billion.

After the DeVos statement (no questions to her allowed) and the Pickle letter, journalists in the room were given less than 20 minutes to try to squeeze in a few questions about the transgender ban, Trump’s threats to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, tax reform (he now claims without evidence that he wants to tax the rich, but “Democrats won’t let him”) and all of the other chaos caused by an ever-expanding Trump-nado.

After the press conference, Sanders didn’t add context to any of her non-answers about the various important issues raised during the session with the world’s media, but she did, as promised, send out an image of the letter by Pickle.

Sanders had responded in that session, too, by playing Google and answering all of Pickle’s questions aloud, while the professional reporters sat stunned and silenced. She feigned informing the young boy, who almost certainly wasn’t watching, that: “President Trump is 71 years old.” “The White House is 168 feet long. It’s 70 feet tall on the south side and 60 feet, 4 inches tall on the north, and it takes 300 gallons of white paint to cover the exterior of the White House residence.” “It has 132 rooms and approximately 55,000 square feet,” and, yes, Pickle, the president “would be more than happy to be your friend.”

That part of the press conference arguably offered the most detailed and straightforward responses to any of the questions asked. In this current state of the union, with this president, though, what more could you possibly expect to learn about national affairs?

About the Author

  • Brett Oppegaard

    Brett Oppegaard has a doctorate degree in technical communication and rhetoric. He studies journalism and media forms as an associate professor at the University of Hawaii Manoa, in the School of Communications. He also has worked for many years in the journalism industry. Comment below or email Brett at brett.oppegaard@gmail.com.

    Reader Rep is a media criticism and commentary column that is independent from Civil Beat’s editorial staff and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Civil Beat.