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Editorial: No to a photo-op prez

In Washington, we have a Twitter president who ceaselessly taps notes to his millions of followers.

On the Navajo Nation, we have a photo-op prez who seeks and finds any opportunity to pose for photos.

Duane Beyal portrait

Duane A. Beyal

While Donald Trump surprises, confounds, outrages and leaves many wondering what he meant, Jonathan Nez appears all over the place, from Window Rock to Tuba City to Washington, posing in photographs.

This is partially a result of new communications systems that have taken root on Navajo in only the past few years. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and others sound like the flavors of candy in a child’s Halloween bag.

But the new social systems are embraced by Trump who uses them to sally forth with his commentary, thoughts and ideas – no matter how outlandish or bizarre.

No doubt Trump enjoys his direct contact with his followers. All you have to do is click your phone a few times and there he is.

This new tactic is also a way for him to avoid coverage by the news media, which he has branded “fake news.”

How great is it that an authoritarian leader with no scruples or common sense can have a direct way to communicate with the masses? What would Hitler or historical emperors have done with such a tool? The possibilities are endless.

Now comes Nez with his effort to bypass the news media, the Navajo Nation Council and any person who has any business with Window Rock, appearing in at least 10 photos a day in what he calls “transparency.”

“Transparency” is one of those vague words that have become vogue with government officials and their observers. It should mean that the business of government is the people’s business. We all have a right to know what our governments are doing.

In reality, “transparency” is whatever a particular official wants it to mean. With Trump, he can say he is only giving the truth to his followers, whereas the Washington Post is keeping track of the lies he has told and continues to tell, a figure up into the thousands.

With Nez, as my reporters will tell you, his transparency means none at all – questions about any issue are brushed aside, ignored or promises are made to provide answers but not kept.
As some delegates on the Navajo Nation Council have said, where is the Nez-Lizer Administration and why aren’t they working with us? All they’re doing is posing for photos on social media, they have said in stories we have published.

Along with the photo ops, Nez and company appear at ribbon-cuttings, grand openings, dedications and sign bills after they are passed by the Council.

This is an attempt to take credit for the years – sometimes decades – of work done by residents, employees and past leaders. Signing documents for another photo op also takes credit away from the workers and Council committees that hammered out the details.

Among the daily messages from Trump, he always makes gaffes such as saying the patriot army “took over the airports” during the Revolutionary War – when airports didn’t exist.

In a similar vein, Nez always takes the chance to repeat the phrase “Buy Navajo,” which leads a reasonable person to ask, “Where? Where are the stores like those in the border towns and faraway cities?”

At the 4th of July celebration in Window Rock, my staff who were covering the events say Nez kept elbowing his way into photo poses. In the past, his entourage followed my reporter and photographer from event to event, trying to edge into photos at every opportunity.

Another of my reporters pointed out that Nez was offended when she asked an off-topic question. This kind of question is one that does not follow the reason an official called the meeting. And they are usually questions the official is caught off guard by and to which the official may not know the answer.

“What happened to his open door policy?” this reporter asked.

Meanwhile, people who travel to Window Rock to do business usually find no one home or staff who do not know anything and must search for answers.

This type of “transparency” is not serving the Navajo people or the interests of the Navajo Nation.

Like Trump who appears on Twitter with a moment’s notice to express whatever is on his mind to his millions of followers, Nez is beginning to look like a cardboard cutout of a figure with his hand held out ready for a handshake.

For our readers, for the Navajo people, we say no to the photo-op prez and yes to a real working president.


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About The Author

Duane A. Beyal

Beyal is editor of The Navajo Times.