Saturday, July 1, 2017

Put Down the Phone, Mr. President

By Jonah Goldberg
Friday, June 30, 2017

To paraphrase the great man himself, we’re going to live every week like it’s Energy Week.

As I tried to explain on NPR this morning, I think you can look at this week — officially “Energy Week” according to the crackerjack folks working in the White House Communications shop (who I kind of imagine live in a constant state of captive fear of Trump’s Twitter feed, like Craster’s wives).

It began very well for the president (and I said so on Special Report). The Supreme Court backed him up — decisively — on the travel ban. Neil Gorsuch revealed himself to be the conservative star he was sold as. The president had a very good meeting with the prime minister of India. Monday was arguably the best day of Donald Trump’s presidency since his address to Congress.

There were other successes this week too — for the GOP and, by extension, for Trump. The House passed some good stuff. There were actually some solid energy policies unveiled as part of Energy Week. I’m not saying it was the greatest legislative triumph since the Code of Hammurabi was unveiled, but all in all it wasn’t too shabby.

Does it feel like that now?

Mo Mo summed it up well:

1. Trump tweets idiocy.
2. People pile on.
3. People pile on the pilers.
4. “Why are we ignoring what Trump is actually doing?”
See point 1
— Mo Mo (@molratty) June 29, 2017

Hypocrisy, They Cried

Look, I think Trump’s defenders make some perfectly valid points. Laura Ingraham, for example, rightly notes that all of the people freaking out about Trump’s misogyny were all too happy to drag Bill Clinton’s victims through the mud.

Many of those demanding Trump’s scalp publicly & privately ridiculed Paula Jones, Juanita Brodderick & Gennifer Flowers.
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) June 30, 2017

Introducing that hypocrisy alone into the equation brings down the JSS (Justified Sanctimony Scale) at least a whole letter grade — for the Democrats, the mainstream media, and liberals generally.

As for Joe, Mika, and the gang, it’s entirely true that they’ve been mud-wrestling with Trump like he was Dewey Oxburger at the strip club, and now they’re aggrieved by the back-splatter.

The Golem Strikes Back

Far worse, from my perspective, is that they helped get Trump the nomination. I know Joe Scarborough hates this argument and he can point to all sorts of criticisms he made during the primaries. But the simple fact remains that in the early days of the primary season, Morning Joe was one of Trump’s greatest media assets, normalizing his candidacy and the outrageously outsized coverage it got (as I wrote often in early 2016). They came to their senses eventually, and some Trump defenders would argue, with some merit, that they’ve overcompensated in the other direction.

I like Scarborough and I think Trump’s attack on him and (especially) Brzezinski is indefensible coming from a sitting president. But there is a certain air of the frog complaining about the scorpion’s sting in all this. For instance, this morning, Joe and Mika insisted that the Donald Trump we see today isn’t the man they used to know. Maybe. But rarely does a day go by that Joe and Mika don’t also say that a man in his seventies “doesn’t change” his ways. Well, Trump only just turned 71. Did he change a lot in his sixties?

This reminds me of all the people who say, “If you only knew the Hillary Clinton I know . . . ” As I’ve written before, this is a clever Washington technique for signaling that you get face time with the principal. But it’s also an example of how people can be fooled by a little charm and attention. I’ve talked to dozens of people who tell me that in person Trump is charming. So what? So is Al Sharpton. Some of the most charming people I’ve ever met have been scam artists. Charm and integrity aren’t highly correlated as far as I can tell.

None of this changes the fact that Trump’s tweet is indefensible, particularly once you deny any authority to the schoolyard logic used to justify so much of Trump’s behavior. Every single time Trump does one of these things, the same juvenile horsesh*t gets trotted out: He’s a counter-puncher! He hits back twice as hard! They started it!

And sometimes that’s true. But the answer is the same: So frick’n what? At best, those are explanations. But they don’t even get close to being excuses.

Put Down the Phone, Mr. President

It seems to me Trump’s biggest fans need to come to grips with two really difficult, but obvious, truths.

The first is that the president should walk away from Twitter. A new Fox poll says that 71 percent of Americans think the tweeting hurts his agenda. I’m amazed that number is so low. If you think his tweeting is brilliant and strategic, you’re arguing that it’s all part of his plan to annoy seven out of ten Americans with his tweets.

Now, to be fair, I think the more accurate analysis would be to say that the tweeting hurts more than it helps. Not every one of Trump’s tweets is the political equivalent of taking a sock full of quarters and smashing himself in the crotch, only some are. If he just tweeted within relatively sane and presidential parameters, it would be an asset for him. Feel free to discount my advice, and just listen to Victor Davis Hanson, Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, or virtually every Republican member of Congress who understand that Trump’s tweets distract from his agenda, cause chaos among his staff, make it harder for Republicans to embrace him, and harden attitudes among Democrats and winnable voters.

If your response is “It got him elected!” simply take note that most tools lose their utility once they’ve accomplished their task. You need a hammer to build a birdhouse. If you keep hammering after it’s completed, you destroy your birdhouse. Surgeons use a scalpel to operate. If they keep using it too long, they go to jail.

And, if your response is “He needs to go over the heads of the liberal media!” bear in mind that a) the liberal media loves his tweets and b) he’s the president of the United States and has no end of ways to get his message out.

The Tweets Are Just a Symptom

The second thing is the more bitter pill. The president of the United States really just isn’t a very good person. There is no definition of good character that he can meet. You certainly can’t say he’s a man of good character when it comes to sexual behavior. His adulterous past is well-documented. You can’t say he models decency in the way he talks. He’s not honest (you can look it up). He brags about whining his way to winning. He boasts of double-crossing business partners. If you want to say he’s charitable, you should read up on how he used his “charities” as leverage or for publicity stunts. I think we can all agree he’s not humble or self-sacrificing. When asked what sacrifices he’s made, in the context of his spat with the Kahn family, he couldn’t name anything save for the fact that he worked very hard to get rich and that he employs people (presumably because it profits him to do so). I don’t know how anyone could absolve him of the charge of vanity or greed. He’s certainly not pious by any conventional definition.

Some argue that he’s loyal, and there’s some evidence of that. But the loyalty he shows is instrumental and self-serving. In The Art of the Deal, there’s a fairly moving passage about Roy Cohn, Trump’s mentor, and loyalty. “The thing that’s most important to me is loyalty,” Trump says. “You can’t hire loyalty. I’ve had people over the years who I swore were loyal to me, and it turned out that they weren’t. Then I’ve had people that I didn’t have the same confidence in and turned out to be extremely loyal. So you never really know.”

He added: “The thing I really look for though, over the longer term, is loyalty.” Trump then said this about Cohn:

He was a truly loyal guy — it was a matter of honor with him — and because he was also very smart, he was a great guy to have on your side. You could count on him to go to bat for you, even if he privately disagreed with your view, and even if defending you wasn’t necessarily the best thing for him. He was never two-faced.

Just compare that with all the hundreds of “respectable” guys who make careers boasting about their uncompromising integrity and have absolutely no loyalty. They think about what’s best for them and don’t think twice about stabbing a friend in the back if the friend becomes a problem. . . .

Roy was the sort of guy who’d be there at your hospital bed, long after everyone else had bailed out, literally standing by you to the death.

But when Cohn got HIV, Trump severed his ties with Cohn. “Donald found out about it and just dropped him like a hot potato,” Susan Bell, Cohn’s longtime secretary, said. “It was like night and day.”

I could go on. But you get the point. I am truly open to the argument that there’s some morally and intellectually serious definition of good character that Trump meets. I’ve just never heard it. And that’s why the tweets are ultimately just a symptom.

Conservatives for most of my life argued that character matters. That went by the wayside for many people in 2016.

The question now is what conservatives should do about it. I agree with Ramesh and Charlie entirely. Conservatives should condemn the bad behavior. But we shouldn’t fall into the liberal trap of saying that because Trump isn’t a gentleman, we should therefore abandon a conservative agenda. Being ungentlemanly is not an impeachable offense. At the same time, however, we should not follow the path of his worst enablers who insist that his bad behavior is admirable or that the bad behavior of others is a justification for his. That’s Alinsky-envying bunk. “Let the lie come into the world,” Solzhenitsyn said, “let it even triumph. But not through me.”

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