Is Donald Trump the sharia of American politics? I’m having trouble finding much daylight between Islamic law’s repressive blasphemy standards and the mogul’s thin-skinned sense of privilege.
None of us wants to be insulted or smeared. But sharia forbids not only ridicule or slander against Islam; it bans any examination that casts Islam in an unflattering light. Worse, truth is not a defense: Even if one’s questions are based on undeniable past actions or verbatim quotes from scripture, tough questioning is considered blasphemous. Retribution, moreover, is often completely out of proportion to the scale of the perceived “offense.”
They say politics ain’t beanbag: People in and around it eventually get slammed by opponents and other critics. But to Trump, the mildest criticisms are “vicious” attacks.
Let’s take the exchange last summer with Megyn Kelly that prompted Trump to whine that he was unfairly treated and to heap abuse on Ms. Kelly in the aftermath. (Before I go on, note that I support Mr. Trump’s rival Ted Cruz, and that I am on friendly terms with Megyn Kelly, on whose program I periodically appear.)
To Trump the mildest criticisms are “vicious” attacks.
Presidential temperament is often a decisive electoral consideration. Furthermore, the “war on women” meme is a bread-and-butter Democratic attack: regrettably effective against Republicans in the last presidential election and certain to be reprised if Hillary Clinton is the Dems’ nominee. How do we gauge Trump as a prospective nominee if we don’t get a sense of what ammo can be fired at him and how he is apt to handle it?
So, yes, it was a bracing line of inquiry, but certainly not an unfair one. Kelly quoted Trump’s own words about various women:“fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.” When Trump tried to slough it off as directed at “Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Kelly accurately countered that it had been directed at more women than that, and Trump backed down, conceding, “I’m sure it was.”
EDITORIAL: Against Trump
For what it’s worth, I thought Trump then proceeded to handle this line of questioning fairly well. He pounced on the opportunity to slam political correctness as a big problem in public discourse, much to the delight of the audience. He further suggested that some of the things Kelly quoted had been said in jest, that she was distorting what these seeming slurs indicated about his temperament and character — a claim Kelly did not attempt to shake.
But Trump couldn’t let it go. Consistent with his obsession, he made it personal:
And honestly Megyn, if you don’t like it [i.e., nasty remarks about women that Trump said were usually just “kidding”], I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn’t do that.
How she treated him? She’s a journalist asking him about statements he does not deny making. That’s what journalists do. And what of the claim that he “wouldn’t do that” — i.e., wouldn’t desist in being “very nice to” Kelly? As soon as the debate ended, he was ripping her demeanor in what sure sounded like “that time of the month” mockery. He panned her as unprofessional. He later suggested that a previously scheduled late-summer vacation she soon took with her family (like many top anchors take that time of year) was really a ploy to hide her purported embarrassment.
Irrational, mercurial, draconian, solipsist — all wrapped up in a neat little persecution complex.
In sum, there was no offense but, rather, a proper line of questioning that was unflattering to Trump because it accurately reported obnoxious public statements he’d made — the same sort of thing every politician should expect to be called on and that every Republican politician is guaranteed to be called on. Trump parried it capably, perhaps even turning it to his advantage. That should have been the end of it, yet Trump could not help but flash the unsavory parts of his personality. He is so self-absorbed that he had to turn the exchange into a personal battle with the journalist; and he is on such a hair-trigger that he went DEFCON 5 over what, essentially, was no offense at all, much less a vicious attack.
Mix in his signature instability: He would never stop treating Kelly nicely, until — turning on a dime — he did . . . just like Carly Fiorina was unattractive until she was “beautiful” . . . and Jeb Bush was a great guy until he was a loser . . . and Ted Cruz was a friend until he was a “nasty” guy that no one would have for a friend . . . and ISIS was Putin’s problem until we needed to obliterate them . . . and he was going to roll over all the “stupid” people on Capitol Hill who’ve screwed everything up until he was going to make deals with his old friends Pelosi, Reid, and Schumer . . . and he was going to round up and kick out 12 million illegal aliens but then bring most of them right back into the country.
How can Trump fans think, based on what he’s saying at the moment, that they know what a President Trump would do a year from now? The truth is: No one knows whether what he just said is what he’ll be saying five minutes from now.
And that is because Trump is a calculating showman. What he says in the moment is based on expedience, not rooted ideas. That’s why, if you stick around long enough, he will get around to saying everything: advocating abortion on demand and, eventually, the sanctity of life; professing admiration for Bill de Blasio and, eventually, Clarence Thomas; gushing praise for Megyn Kelly and, eventually, savaging Megyn Kelly.
Irrational, mercurial, draconian, solipsist — all wrapped up in a neat little persecution complex. I wouldn’t put him in the Oval Office, but he has the makings of a fine Saudi sheikh.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.