How will Americans normalize a morally unfit president?
Published 7:25 am Sunday, December 4, 2016
By BRIAN COONEY
“I support any president of the United States. It’s very important that the American people coalesce behind the president,” Warren Buffett told CNN’s Poppy Harlow. “He deserves everybody’s respect.”
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Really? What kind of respect do we owe someone whom Mitt Romney has correctly described as a “phony” and a “fraud,” someone whose “promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University?”
In countries such as Canada and the U.K., the office of head of state (Governor-General, Queen) is distinct from the chief executive (prime minister). People there can loathe their prime ministers (who come and go with the political tide) without disrespecting the head of state, who represents the nation itself. Because our chief executive is also the head of state, we have just elected a morally unfit person to represent our country to our citizens and the world.
To judge by the public record of his statements during the primary and presidential campaigns, Trump is a liar, misogynist and racist. His supporters have tried to dismiss these statements as just “campaign talk” designed to fire up his “base” and tap into the fears and resentments of people who feel oppressed by the liberal establishment and its political correctness. This defense completely misses the point.
Even if you buy the story that Trump doesn’t “really” regard females as inferior, his public behavior has been openly contemptuous of women and is a model for his admirers. Even if he doesn’t “really” believe Mexicans are especially prone to criminal behavior and the Muslim-American community is a network of terrorist sleeper-cells, he has reinforced these prejudices at one mass rally after another, often with a national TV audience.
Anti-Muslim prejudice is not just religious intolerance. It is also thinly disguised racism — a cover for white antipathy to the various ethnicities and skin colors that comprise most of the global Muslim community. “Make America great again” is to some extent a dog whistle for “make America white again.”
Trump is a misogynist, not just a sexist. As Naomi Wolf points out, sexists “can like women quite a lot in person but be very happy to support systematic discrimination against them.” Misogyny has undertones of contempt and violence; it comes from the subhuman part of the male soul that gives rise to the twin meanings of the f-word: sexual intercourse and harming someone.
On Dec. 21, Trump mocked Clinton for being slow to get back to the podium during the first debate. As the Washington Post noted, he asked the crowd four times where she had gone:
“I know where she went — it’s disgusting, I don’t want to talk about it,” Trump said, screwing up his face, as the crowd laughed and cheered. “No, it’s too disgusting. Don’t say it, it’s disgusting.”
What’s really “disgusting” here is the spectacle of a 69-year old man asking thousands of people to share a juvenile peeping-tom fantasy — cringing at the image of a 68-year old woman using the toilet.
He is notorious for publicly insulting women for their physical characteristics, including his fat-shaming of Rosie O’Donnell and Alicia Machado (1996 winner in Trump’s Miss Universe competition). According to USA TODAY, “In a 2006 interview on The Insider, Trump called O’Donnell ‘a disgusting person inside and out’ and . . . a ‘slob’ with a ‘fat, ugly face.’”
Clinton mentioned in the first debate that Trump had called Machado “Miss Piggy” for her weight gain soon after winning the Miss Universe title. Trump justified his language on Fox and Friends the next day: Machado was “the worst we ever had. The worst. The absolute worst … she gained a massive amount of weight.” The irony of his own weight was lost on him. For him, a male’s body is not his destiny.
Trump sees women as bodies for him to enjoy. If these bodies don’t meet his standards, they lose his respect. During a Rolling Stone interview (9/15) Trump noticed Carly Fiorina (a rival in the GOP primary) speaking on a nearby TV screen. Rolling Stone wrote his “expression sours in schoolboy disgust as the camera bores in on Fiorina. ‘Look at that face!’ he cries. ‘Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!’”
Trump is quick to spot promising female bodies at a young age. The Chicago Tribune reports that in 1992 Trump asked two girls in a youth choir what their ages were. “After they said they were 14, Trump said ‘Wow! Just think — in a couple of years, I’ll be dating you.’” Would he have felt free, two years later, to do to them what he boasted about to Billy Bush in 2005: “grab them by the p****?” Kristen Anderson claims he did that to her in the early 1990s at a Manhattan nightspot. Ten other women came forward this fall with similar complaints about Trump.
His habit of repeatedly and brazenly lying combined with his racism to promulgate for five years the lie that Obama was not born in the United States but in Kenya. He falsely claimed that he had people investigating it. This was a potent slur, since it implied Obama’s presidency was illegitimate, reminded racists of his African origins and further suggested he was a Muslim.
What he says in person and in spews on Twitter is so full of lies and contradictions that it deserves a new category: fake speech. Ordinarily, when people speak, we take it as expressing what they believe or intend. Not with Trump. He recklessly says what a particular audience wants to hear on a given day, then takes it back the next day, even expressing surprise or irritation at being taken at his word.
Will he represent the new American normal? We can hope he will be less harmful than we fear, but how can we respect him?