A few months ago, some conservative media types were sitting around a dinner table and contemplating whether Trump could win, or ought to win.
“Come on, this is the Oval Office,” I said. “This is where Lincoln struggled to reunite the states, where FDR and Truman plotted the defeat of the Axis Powers, where Reagan set out the policies that would end the Cold War. Can you really picture stuffed-crust-pizza endorsing, Rudy-Guiliani-smootching, stormtrooper-berating Donald Trump sitting in that chair, behind that desk?”
My less-Trump skeptical friends shrugged. “That’s where John F. Kennedy devirginized 19-year-old interns, where Bill Clinton met with Monica and signed Marc Rich’s pardon, and where Obama sits now, writing executive orders and dismissing intelligence that contradicts his worldview.” (They didn’t mention Nixon’s misdeeds, but you could throw those in there, too.) In other words, the presidency no longer has any inherent reverence or authority. It’s just a seat of power, and the men who have occupied it are as flawed as anyone, perhaps worse.
It is now clear that the next president will not be a role model. There’s been an effort to force Hillary Clinton into the mold of a traditional heroine – think of the children’s book written about her – but ultimately, there’s broad agreement beyond Republicans that you would be a fool to trust her or to believe she’ll put the national interest ahead of her own. Similarly, there’s broad agreement Trump is a rude, ill-informed and uninformed cad, a pathological liar, and a vindictive, shameless narcissist.
It would be preferable to have a president who was a good person. But maybe there’s an upside to the election of a president who so many Americans see as deeply morally flawed. Every president and his defenders try to blur the line between the man and the office: sneer at the man and they’ll accuse you of disrespecting the office – casually ignoring how the president disrespected the public.
Press coverage and discussion of Obama sometime reached messianic heights. Newsweek’s cover called depicted him as “The God of All Things,” children sang songs to him, and Demi Moore, Ashton Kucher and other celebrities pledged to “be a servant to our president. ” Such blind devotion is unhealthy at just about every level.
After Bill Clinton’s impeachment, Richard Posner wrote, “Americans have reached a level of political sophistication at which they can take in stride the knowledge that the nation’s political and intellectual leaders are their peers and not their paragons. The nation does not depend on the superior virtue of one man.” Or woman, thank heavens.