So, he did it again. As we’ve learned countless times since his inauguration, President Trump is the exact same person as celebrity Trump and candidate Trump. He’s crass, vicious, and petty. This morning, he tweeted this:
I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017
…to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017
And of course, like clockwork, his loyalists rose to his defense. Online, his Twitter army exulted in his ability to “get inside the head” of his opponents and essentially adopted the line that Mika got what she deserved. Sarah Huckabee Sanders June 29, 2017
“>pulled a twofer, adopting victim status and trying to claim a position of strength — saying that the president “fights fire with fire.”
— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) June 29, 2017
It’s a sad symbol of our times that one feels compelled to actually make an argument why the president is wrong here. The pitiful reality is that there are people who feel like the man who sits in the seat once occupied by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan should use his bully pulpit for schoolyard insults and vicious personal attacks. But this is what we’re reduced to. So, here goes.
First, it is simply and clearly morally wrong to attack another person like this. I’m tired of hearing people say things like, “This is not normal.” Normality isn’t the concern here. Morality is. It doesn’t matter if Mika has been “mean” to Trump. Nor does it matter that we can point to any number of angry personal attacks on Trump from others. We have to get past the idea that another person’s bad acts somehow justify “our” side’s misconduct. Morality is not so situational. Trump is under a moral obligation to treat others the way he’d like to be treated, to love his neighbor as he would love himself. Yes, he can engage in ideological and political battles, but to attack another person in such vicious terms is to cross a bright line.
Second, it’s not classist or elitist to make this moral argument. It’s no justification to argue that Trump simply speaks the way “real Americans” do, or that he’s brought into public the language that “everyone knows” people use behind closed doors. People of every social class and economic standing have the same moral responsibilities, and our society suffers when we relax those responsibilities, whether for a steelworker in a mill outside Pittsburgh or the real-estate developer in the Oval Office.
If there were ever a time for Republicans to show some backbone, to tell their president that some conduct is out of bounds, it’s now.
Third, even if your ethics are entirely situational and tribal, Trump’s tweets are still destructive. Attacking Mika like this doesn’t silence her or anyone at MSNBC. It doesn’t move the ball downfield on repealing Obamacare. It does, however, make more people dislike Donald Trump. It’s a misuse and abuse of the bully pulpit, all the more galling because it comes at a time when the positive parts of his agenda truly do need public champions.
Fourth, please stop with the ridiculous lie that this is the only way to beat the Left. Stop with any argument that this kind of pettiness is somehow preferable to the alleged weakness of other Republicans. There are thousands of GOP office-holders who’ve won their races (including by margins that dwarf Trump’s, even in the toughest districts and states) without resorting to Trump-like behavior. In fact, at the state level many of these same honorable and moral people are currently busy enacting reforms that the national GOP can only dream about.
The election is over. Trump isn’t running against Hillary Clinton anymore. Americans are no longer faced with the awful choice of either pulling the lever for an unfit candidate or voting for someone who has no chance of winning. If there were ever a time for Republicans to show some backbone, to tell their president that some conduct is out of bounds, it’s now, early in his first term, when he has time to turn the page and put his past misconduct in the rear-view mirror. Instead, the desire to cozy up to power, the desperate need to win each news cycle, and frantic efforts to rationalize and justify their own moral compromises mean that people continually choose to enable the president’s worst conduct.
Words still matter, and the president’s words are often reprehensible. Even those who say, “Talk to me about what he does, not what he tweets” know this to be true. How can I tell? Because these same people incessantly point to liberal words and are unceasingly outraged by liberal tweets. Indeed, they often act as if a random news anchor’s comments are somehow more consequential than the president’s. I know. I see the clickbait everywhere.
A conservative can fight for tax reform, celebrate military victories over ISIS in Mosul, and applaud Trump’s judicial appointments while also condemning Trump’s vile tweets and criticizing his impulsiveness and lack of discipline. A good conservative can even step back and take a longer view, resolving to fight for the cultural values that tribalism degrades. Presidents matter not just because of their policies but also because of their impact on the character of the people they govern. Conservatives knew that once. Do they still?