So…tiiired…of Trump…bludgeoning our sensibilities with the blunt object that is his ignorance, seemingly without end. (I went into that sentence meaning to say that the bludgeoning is without end, but now that I re-read it I guess it works the other way, too.)
I will say to you what I keep saying to myself: please don’t just shrug and think, well, he’s doing it again but nobody believes him so it doesn’t matter. And I say “nobody believes him” in the sense that everyone knows he is not a truthful or trustworthy person, and we put no confidence in the veracity of any utterance from him, whether verbal or Twitteral. The evidence for this is irrefutable: at any time and in any circumstance he will assert as true whatever “fact” he wants or needs to be true at that moment, whether that “moment” is the length of a whole political campaign or just the time it takes to get to the next sentence. Kind of amusing, really, that he is incapable of understanding, or just doesn’t care, that we remember the things he said before, and recognize when his statements are contradictory. It’s as if, in his fevered little world, the only time that matters is this red hot second—and if he contradicts himself a second from now, or a minute or an hour or a year from now, that’s going to be fine because, well, he’s him, and everybody loves Trump. Except those who hate America, of course.
I gotta say I share a lot of the feelings that George Conway expressed in a Washington Post op-ed today. I’ve resisted falling back on the easy answer—stupid, racist, narcissist—to each successive unbelievable rant from our president.
And how naive an adult could be. The birther imaginings about Barack Obama? Just a silly conspiracy theory, latched onto by an attention seeker who has a peculiar penchant for them. The “Mexican” Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel incident? Asinine, inappropriate, a terrible attack on the judiciary by an egocentric man who imagined that the judge didn’t like him. The white supremacists’ march in Charlottesville? The president’s comments were absolutely idiotic, but he couldn’t possibly have been referring to those self-described Nazis as “good people”; in his sloppy, inarticulate way, he was referring to both sides of the debate over Civil War statues, and venting his anger about being criticized.
No, I thought, President Trump was boorish, dim-witted, inarticulate, incoherent, narcissistic and insensitive. He’s a pathetic bully but an equal-opportunity bully — in his uniquely crass and crude manner, he’ll attack anyone he thinks is critical of him. No matter how much I found him ultimately unfit, I still gave him the benefit of the doubt about being a racist. No matter how much I came to dislike him, I didn’t want to think that the president of the United States is a racial bigot.
Of course, I broke through my resistance to “narcissist” long ago, because it was so very clearly true and afforded me the veneer of writing what sounded like an educated critique instead of a schoolyard taunt. As for “stupid,” well, I just don’t really know if it applies. I don’t know him, have never been around him, don’t know whether he takes an active role in anything his administration or his businesses do, for good or bad. I sense that he is not clever, and I don’t think he should get credit for being so smart that he’s thinking three steps ahead of everyone—the whole “he’s playing 3D chess while the rest of us are playing checkers” explanation offered by so many (and you know who you are). I rather think he’s just “I know you are but what am I”ing the whole country anytime anyone says anything that he doesn’t hear as “Trump is great!”
But racist, really racist? Hardcore bigot?
…Sunday left no doubt. Naivete, resentment and outright racism, roiled in a toxic mix, have given us a racist president. Trump could have used vile slurs, including the vilest of them all, and the intent and effect would have been no less clear. Telling four non-white members of Congress — American citizens all, three natural-born — to “go back” to the “countries” they “originally came from”? That’s racist to the core. It doesn’t matter what these representatives are for or against — and there’s plenty to criticize them for — it’s beyond the bounds of human decency. For anyone, not least a president.
As troubling as is Trump himself, this episode provides another opportunity to despair of the leadership of the Republican party, as well as of the followership, and of the news that the good sense of (some of) these people, who really do know better than to silently acquiesce to this crap, has apparently been taken hostage by President Stubbyfingers. The terrific Dahlia Lithwick skewers them in Slate thusly:
For a long time in the runup to the 2016 elections, many Republicans, many of whom called themselves Never Trumpers, felt free to condemn Donald Trump in public. After the Access Hollywood tape leaked, Republicans reacted in horror.
At the time, these reactions were unremarkable. Any sentient listener would have said and done the same. Today, though, with almost no exceptions, Donald Trump’s vicious racist tweets telling four American congresswomen of color to “go back” to their home countries was met with near-universal and stoic Republican silence.
There’s one important move here: They can’t be completely silent. There has to be some solicitous reporting on their sobering discomfort—the cringing, the wincing, the eye-rolls; the notion that they are somehow pained by the president’s naked racist rants (but not in enough pain to do or say anything about it).
This is not the first time we’ve been told that Republicans in Congress are suffering. CNN reported that they were “cringing” in “private” a month ago when Trump told ABC News he’d consider accepting incriminating campaign information about an opponent from a foreign government without calling the FBI. Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe was publicly “cringing” at Trump’s similarly terrible tweets last December, even as he celebrated Trump’s immigration achievements. The suffering of Trump supporters knows no boundaries. Cringing is presumably an upgrade on the traumatic “hand-wringing” suffered by Republicans in 2015, after Trump said something vile about Megyn Kelly, and also the injurious “hand-wringing” of John Kasich, who threw in the towel on a primary challenge against Trump in 2020. Hand-wringing plus cringing! Call the doctor! It’s moral carpal tunnel!
But as contemptible as allowing cowards to take cover behind silence might be, allowing them to whisper their secret suffering to the press is despicable. So the next time some poor GOP leaders hiss at you, under cover of anonymity, how excruciating the hand-wringing plus the cringing plus the eye-rolling has become for them, ask them instead if there is anything the president could do that would cause them to actually speak up, if there is any act of racism or misogyny that could warrant an action, an actual response. And if they are silent, don’t give them the privilege of calling it suffering. Children sleeping under Mylar blankets at the border and eating unthawed burritos are suffering. Republicans afraid of being primaried are collaborating. There is still a difference.
Conway wonders about his fellow Republicans, too, but rather than conclude that they are complicit he tends more to the conclusion that they are are simply cowards.
They’re silent not because they agree with Trump. Surely they know better. They’re silent because, knowing that he’s incorrigible, they have inured themselves to his wild statements; because, knowing that he’s a fool, they don’t really take his words seriously and pretend that others shouldn’t, either; because, knowing how damaging Trump’s words are, the Republicans don’t want to give succor to their political enemies; because, knowing how vindictive, stubborn and obtusely self-destructive Trump is, they fear his wrath.
But none of that is good enough. Trump is not some random, embittered person in a parking lot — he’s the president of the United States. By virtue of his office, he speaks for the country. What’s at stake now is more important than judges or tax cuts or regulations or any policy issue of the day. What’s at stake are the nation’s ideals, its very soul.
UPDATE 7/17: Last night after I finished this post the House approved a resolution condemning the president’s racist Tweets. I think that’s good, although it’d have nice if more than four Republicans had voted for it. It matters for Congress to not ignore a president’s unacceptable behavior, and just maybe it’ll give this Congress enough of a good feeling from having done their job that they’ll see that proceeding with an impeachment hearing is the right thing to do, regardless of what action the Senate would ultimately take.