The Corner

Politics & Policy

Our Flag Is Drooping

(Jonathan Bachman / Reuters)

A Trump tweet from this morning: “Little Jeff Zuker, whose job is in jeopardy, is not having much fun lately.” Jeff Zucker is the head of CNN. How tall he is, I’m not sure.

Trump likes to say “little” about those he wishes to disparage: “Little Marco,” “Liddle’ Bob Corker,” “Little Adam Schiff.” Big men don’t have to do this. In fact, it makes them little.

I am told every day by the Right that populism is part of conservatism. And that Trump “tells it like it is” and “fights.” I’m not sure he tells it like it is, frankly. And his fighting often seems like brattishness to me.

In any event, good manners and decency are part of conservatism, for sure. These are not loser traits, as many on the right constantly claim. WFB (no loser) valued them. And exemplified them.

In 1968, he lost his cool against Gore Vidal on television (understandably). (I’d have done much worse.) For years, fans of his congratulated him for it. Nothing could get him to change the subject quicker. He was deeply ashamed of the episode.

Conservatives have long preached responsible parenting, personal responsibility, an adult nation. Character in office. Do we really expect less of our president than we do of ten-year-olds on a playground?

Another Trump tweet from this morning: “Thank you to Rasmussen for the honest polling. Just hit 50%, which is higher than Cheatin’ Obama at the same time in his Administration.”

“Cheatin’ Obama”? Does that refer to his marital life? Plus, do you remember how conservatives and Republicans knocked President Obama for slighting his predecessor, time after time?

Trump recently said that George W. Bush lacked the “smarts” to deal with Russia. Yeah, right. And that Obama and Clinton lacked the “energy or chemistry.”

The president has decided to wage a personal — and presidential — war against a company, Amazon. More than anyone else, conservatives should be alarmed by this. It is a gross abuse of power. FDR might blush. But our present era has clouded minds and tied tongues.

Vladimir Putin arranged another sham election — his shammest one yet. His two main opponents were not on the ballot. One, Boris Nemtsov, had been murdered. The other, Alexei Navalny, has not yet been killed but was barred from running.

Trump called Putin to congratulate him. His aides advised him not to do it, but he did it anyway — as is his prerogative. They also advised him to condemn Putin’s latest poison attacks in Britain — which he refused to do. Again, his prerogative. Also, he invited Putin to visit the White House, according to reports.

He called the Egyptian dictator, too — to congratulate him on his own sham election. Sissi hand-picked his “opponent” in the “election,” a warm admirer of his. Sissi had jailed or intimidated all his real opponents — and not just the Islamists, as his apologists would have you believe. The democrats, too.

What foreign-policy interest did Trump’s congratulatory phone call serve? What imperative of Realpolitik did it fulfill? It’s possible to maintain a necessary alliance without pretending that sham elections are elections. Where are American values?

Trump and his army wrapped themselves in the flag when doing battle with the NFL. (Have you seen this painting?) “America First,” they cry. Rah rah. But when it comes to upholding American values in the world — our flag is drooping.

People who wet themselves at the sight of football players kneeling are completely blasé when it comes to these congratulations, offered to dictators who steal elections. (And one of those dictators, Putin, is baldly, proudly anti-American.)

Yesterday, David Brooks had a column saying essentially this: Vladimir Putin is the leader of the authoritarians worldwide. He is sort of the pope of that church. Yet there is no leader of the liberal-democratic side. That is true. But no one person can fill this role, I think. Ben Sasse gives lovely and necessary speeches, but . . .

Liberal democracy has to be upheld by millions of people schooled in this democracy. Leadership counts, of course. In fact, it’s critical. But there is no substitute for parents, teachers — a society that knows the past and knows what is at stake, always.

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