Over on the homepage, Rich lays out chapter and verse the multiple political problems Trump’s tweets create — problems that are different and worse for a president than a candidate. It’s all so ridiculous because it’s all so unnecessary. An effective presidency doesn’t require shoot-from-the-hip tweeting. In fact, Trump’s tweeting habits are so far mainly undermining his effectiveness.
The tweets, however, are exposing something else in many of Trump’s friends and supporters — an extremely high tolerance for dishonesty and an oft-enthusiastic willingness to defend sheer nonsense. Yes, I know full well that many of his supporters take him “seriously, not literally,” but that’s a grave mistake. My words are of far lesser consequence than the president’s, yet I live my life knowing that willful, reckless, or even negligent falsehood can end my career overnight. It can end friendships instantaneously. Why is the truth somehow less important when the falsehoods come from the most powerful and arguably most famous man in the world?
I’ve watched Christian friends laugh hysterically at Trump’s tweets, positively delighted that they cause fits of rage on the other side. I’ve watched them excuse falsehoods from reflexively-defensive White House aides, claiming “it’s just their job” to defend the president. Since when is it any person’s job to help their boss spew falsehoods into the public domain? And if that does somehow come to be your job, aren’t you bound by honor to resign? It is not difficult, in a free society, to tell a man (no matter how powerful they are or how much you love access to that power), “Sir, I will not lie for you.”
The 1990s are instructive. I distinctly recall Democrat friends who not only defended Clinton on the narrow grounds that his White House affair (and subsequent lies and attempts to cover up that affair) weren’t grounds for resignation or impeachment. Fine. Make that argument. But all too many people went farther, denigrating the sanctity of marriage vows and longing for the alleged moral sophistication of the European model — a model where the wife and mistress can stand side-by-side at a president’s funeral. Fast forward to 2017, and some people laugh at a commitment to truth as “weak” in much the same that some Democrats laughed at a commitment to fidelity as “unsophisticated.”
We don’t know what happens behind closed doors, and it may well be the case that advisers are diligently and faithfully trying to convince the president to put down his phone. I hope that’s what’s happening, and perhaps one day their efforts will bear fruit. But for now consider the storylines that are being lost or swamped in the midst of presidential tweetstorms: 1) significant progress in the fight against ISIS; 2) an ongoing stock-market rally that directly defies leftist predictions in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s victory; and 3) one of the most-respected Supreme Court nominees in a generation. Indeed, think how much Trump’s tweets about wiretapping ended up stepping on the news about Gorsuch’s first day of confirmation hearings. Think about how much Trump’s mistaken (or deliberately false) tweets about NATO are needlessly complicating our alliances. Is this behavior in America’s best interests? I don’t even believe it’s in Trump’s best interests.
GOP gratitude for beating Hillary Clinton cannot and must not extend into acceptance (or even endorsement) of presidential dishonesty and impulsiveness. Trump isn’t just doing damage to himself. As he lures a movement into excusing his falsehoods, he does damage to the very culture and morality of his base. The truth still matters, even when fighting Democrats you despise.