By now most plugged-in news watchers know that with his health-care bill going down in flames, the North Korea crisis percolating, a special prosecutor investigating both the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia and President Trump’s own very public attempts to obstruct the investigation, Trump chooses to tweet two obnoxious, gross and misogynistic tweets in retort to criticism from “Morning Joe’s” two anchors. You can care to read them if you like; we find it unnecessary to amplify them further. His spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, asked about the tweets on the administration’s state TV, Fox News, blithely declared that he “will not be allowed to be bullied by liberal media or liberal elites in Hollywood or anywhere else.” The president is once again a victim of bullying, the poor dear. For the umpteenth time, we are obliged to ask what this suggests and whether it matters.
This time, maybe wearied from the routine and quite certain the president’s popularity is sinking like a stone, notable Republicans told him to clam up. Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.) tweeted: “Please just stop. This isn’t normal and it’s beneath the dignity of your office.” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) expressed a similar sentiment: “Mr. President, your tweet was beneath the office and represents what is wrong with American politics, not the greatness of America.” And Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), whose vote Trump needs to pass a health-care bill, responded, “This has to stop – we all have a job – 3 branches of gov’t and media. We don’t have to get along, but we must show respect and civility.” Several Republican House members chimed in as well. So far no word from GOP leadership, which was pleading for more civility in the wake of the horrific shooting of GOP House members at a baseball field.
Update: House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) did speak up, but in the mildest way possible. “Obviously, I don’t see that as an appropriate comment,” Ryan said. “What we’re trying to do around here is improve the tone and the civility of the debate. And this obviously doesn’t help do that.” Ryan, let’s not forget, stuck with Trump as the line of defamed, mocked and vilified victims of his verbal abuse grew longer. Like with so many other Republicans now morally compromised, any criticism he might mumble underscores the lack of moral stature within the GOP.
President Trump’s latest outbursts are not part of a brilliant strategy. He gains nothing, at a time when his grasp of his job is openly questioned. He gains no allies in the health-care debate. He reminds the country that Republicans who chose to ignore or rationalize this kind of behavior will go down as moral quislings. He reminds us that the conservative evangelicals who embraced him are not exemplars of moral or religious behavior. They are apologists and tribalists who rejoice in his exacting revenge on “elites.” No upside comes from this behavior; it’s the reaction of a man-child who cannot contain his belligerence.
As for Sanders, she joins the legions of those who will do anything, defend anything, justify anything for their moments(s) in the White House. Patriotism, decency, honor? These have no place in their calculus. We need shed no tears when they are humiliated, undercut and eventually fired by their boss. They’ve made their pact with the devil and deserve no sympathy.
If these tweets fortify his base, that speaks volumes about those who would be buoyed by such conduct. But that’s an exercise in diminishing returns. He is shedding support from those who see him for what he is and retain reason and decency in their political judgments.
Does this indicate his mental unfitness to serve? Yes, but there have been dozens of signals he is, as Sasse put it, “not normal.”
What is to be done? We’d applaud if Republican leaders rebuked him in some formal way (a resolution perhaps). But don’t hold your breath. Opponents of the president and defenders of democratic norms and simple decency should fortify themselves and redouble their efforts. They’ve been reminded who is in the Oval Office and the damage he does to our society on a daily basis.