In my Impromptus today, I have an item about our president and his habit of name-calling.
In the past, President Trump has referred to Senator Schumer as the “Head Clown.” Now, in his tweets, it’s “Cryin’ Chuck.” Obviously, this delights many Republicans, probably the great majority of them. But what do conservatives think? Personally, I am not a fan of Schumer but not a fan of name-calling either, especially when the president does it. The president sets an example, we used to say. It’s still true.
I wrote that column yesterday, before Trump’s latest outburst. I will quote just a bit of that outburst: “low I.Q. Crazy Mika”; “Psycho Joe.” Is this the way a president should talk? Is this the way a man should talk?
Trump has long had an obsession with IQ, considering his high and his critics’ low. I noted this in a piece published last summer. Here is one of Trump’s tweets: “Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest -and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure,it’s not your fault.”
Also, Trump likes to throw around the word “crazy.” When talking with Vladimir Putin’s representatives in the Oval Office, he called the former FBI director, James Comey, “crazy” and “a real nutjob.”
Is Mika Brzezinski crazy? Is Comey crazy, and a real nutjob? Is Joe Scarborough a psycho? What about the man who says these things?
There was a time when no conservative would have disputed that the character of a leader matters, and that the president, in particular, sets an example: an example for good or ill. During the Clinton years, we said that the president was “coarsening the culture.” I believe we were right. And I think that the coarsening has gotten a lot worse.
In the past, I’ve written about the “scorecard” way of viewing Donald Trump: You praise him for the good things he does, and criticize him for the bad things. You keep score. You call balls and strikes. So, if you’re a conservative, you say something like this:
Gorsuch nomination, good. Carrier deal, bad. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, good. A trillion dollars in new infrastructure, bad.
That is certainly a legitimate way of looking at Trump, but not the only one. A president has an effect on the country in the way he thinks, talks, and acts. He leaves his mark on a country.
Of course, he is an expression of our country, too — an expression of our culture. He is not merely a shaper of it. Not even primarily so.
In a book, Trump bragged that he had bedded women who were “seemingly very happily married.” My feeling is, today’s public simply yawns. Even the GOP — once the Ozzie and Harriet party — is hip to the beat.
The Gorsuch nomination matters a lot, and so does infrastructure, and so does the rest of it. But when a president says “Sleepy Eyes Todd” (for the host of Meet the Press) and “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” and “Psycho Joe” — this matters, too.
Conservatives weren’t prudes when they emphasized the importance of character in office; they weren’t morally preening; they were recognizing something deep and true.