Considering Mr. Trump—Part One

by Glenn on March 25, 2018

A month or so ago, I worked at a conference where a speaker said, essentially, “I don’t care what Donald Trump thinks or says. I care about what he does.”

The speaker was Jewish and he referenced Harry Truman who the speaker said referred to Jews in private correspondence as “kikes,” but then was the first world leader to recognize the State of Israel. He didn’t care that Mr. Truman may have had private prejudices about Jewish people, because his public decisions supported them.

Similarly, he was happy with President Trump’s job performance so far, citing first on his list of reasons for his satisfaction with the President the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

I’ve been thinking about this idea of “I don’t care about private thoughts; I care about public actions.”

One the one hand, I think it makes sense. When all is said and done with this presidency (which may be sooner than later), what becomes law is what the President signs into law. What he says doesn’t constitute law.

But you can’t say that what President Trump, or any person, says doesn’t matter. You can argue that what the President says matters more than a “regular person,” because so many people pay attention to it.

There is a connection between the private and the the public. Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood comments about an attractive soap star were, we assume, meant to be kept “private”—

[Donald Trump:] “Yeah, that’s her. With the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. … Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

—except they never were private. They weren’t public, until a month before the election, but they weren’t private. What he is describing is not right either as “locker room talk” (which, if I recall correctly was how he explained or justified himself—I think at some point he began denying that he had said this) or, especially, as actual statements of his behavior.

Further, speech may influence my actions or be a form of action itself.

If I had some reprehensible opinion of a certain ethnicity, it’s likely (at least for me) that that opinion would influence my actions toward a person of that ethnicity. And that’s not right.

And, God forbid, if I should utter that opinion to another human being, particularly someone of that ethnicity, that would be wrong and hurtful. “Sticks and stones” are bad, but it’s a lie to say that names do not hurt. (Whether those words should be punished, i.e. with hate speech laws, I don’t know.)

The President has been over-the-top in his speech, who’s to say that he won’t be over-the-top in his behavior.

As a Christian, it’s tough to reconcile Mr. Trump to your faith. The teachings of Jesus on marital fidelity go beyond behavior and beyond speech into the heart—the world of thought and desire:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27–28)

The election of 2016 was a nightmare. On the one hand you had Mr. Trump, who didn’t seem “presidential” in any sort of way we had previously understood the word. (Someone pointed out, unhelpfully, that now, by definition, everything he does is presidential, which renders the term pretty much useless to describe future potential presidents.)

On the other hand you had Mrs. Clinton, who had already been in the White House for eight years with her husband. It’s an impression, but it felt like we were to vote for her because she was entitled—it was her turn. She had been rejected previously by her party. I had questions about her health. The Clinton Foundation appeared to be an organization for political friends to work in while they awaited the campaign and election. (Donations to this organization felt like political graft or opportunities to curry favor with a high-powered government official who was running to become its most powerful government official.) I was bothered by the arrogance and carelessness (if not outright illegality) she demonstrated with her email server. And then there was my memory of previous scandals, which I took as an indication of things to come—with the stock market, past performance is no guarantee of future results, with people the past feels more predictive. These scandals were neatly summarized this week by David French at National Review:

“You truly have to have lived through the Nineties to understand the sheer number and magnitude of the scandals. Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate, cattle futures, bimbo eruptions, the Lincoln Bedroom for sale, perjury, obstruction of justice, allegations of rape, groping, and — yes — an affair with an intern in the actual Oval Office. If you want to talk about foreign influence on elections, the funneling of Chinese money into the 1996 Clinton presidential campaign is still stunning, even these many years later.

“Liberals still mock conservatives for their alleged “obsession” with Clinton scandals, but the scandals were real, they were significant, and they never stopped. The Clintons remained the Clintons, after all, and Emailgate was greeted with such fury in part because it was all happening again. Could anything finally rid us of this troublesome family?”

The bottom line is you had a choice between two people neither of whom I thought should be anywhere near the White House.

The Evangelical Christians I know tended to vote for Mr. Trump for any or all of the following reasons:
–He wasn’t Mrs. Clinton.
–He appeared to be tough.
–He seemed to have enough energy for the job.
–Court appointees are an important legacy for an administration and the best chance for conservatives would come with Mr. Trump.
–He took a hard (and graphic) stand against abortion.

When I questioned friends about why they were voting for Mr. Trump and expressing concerns about his character, temperament, judgment, etc., their answers included:
–“As though Mrs. Clinton was any better.”
–“I’m voting for a president, not a pastor.”
–“We need someone who will get things done.”

Fourteen months in, I don’t know what to think. It’s not that I wish Mrs. Clinton had won. I do resonate with those who like some things that he has done. But whatever hopes I may have had about how Mr. Trump might comport himself in office have proven to be unfounded. I’ve read a number of books about Mr. Trump since the election and will reflect on them soon.

I remember my sadness thinking about this poster in countless classrooms around the country:

It’s hard to picture Mr. Trump’s image on a poster like this.

* * *

This will be an interesting day for Mr. Trump with the 60 Minutes interview of Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) scheduled to play this evening. Jonah Goldberg this weekend somehow managed to catch the significance of the moment and lighten the mood without too much “See I told you so” tone.

A couple of observations:

1. The President has been quiet on the subject of the alleged affair with Ms. Clifford. That’s unusual for him. When someone attacks him, he tends to push back rather hard and is unafraid of doubling-down on things he says.

2. When a person says objectionable (and horrifying and disgraceful and disrespectful and inappropriate and misogynistic) things, for example the before-referenced Access Hollywood conversation with Billy Bush, it makes denials of that sort of behavior harder to believe.

Ultimately, are we going to learn anything we didn’t know or should have known? Is there anything to do with that knowledge?