All of these harsh criticisms were lodged against Trump this month. But in each and every case, the name of the president wasn't even mentioned. When it comes to criticism, Trump is basically Voldemort — “he who must not be named.”
Why is that?
It's a fair question. Trump's opponents celebrate these critics for speaking out against Trump in unprecedented ways, for using their own statures to raise concerns about Trump's stability, character and policies. But their courage in standing up to Trump apparently doesn't extend to actually calling the president out by name.
To some extent, this is just what politicians do. You always want to give yourself some plausible deniability that you weren't actually attacking specific things or taking a firm up-or-down position. That's especially the case when you have former presidents criticizing their successors, something presidents are usually loath to do.
And, as The Post's Fred Hiatt argues, maybe their messages are more general than a point about just Trump. When Bush talks about nationalism turning into nativism, cruel discourse and "bullying," maybe he's also talking about certain figures on the left, or in addition to Trump on the right. Maybe when Corker talked about "chaos," he thought other figures in the White House were fomenting it, too. Maybe McCain is genuinely just upset about a system Trump exploited to avoid being drafted into war.
And indeed, that's basically what McCain said Monday morning on “The View.” Asked whether he believes Trump to be a draft-dodger, McCain demurred: “I don't consider him so much as a draft-dodger as I feel that the system was so wrong that certain Americans could evade their responsibilities to serve the country.”
As with McCain, it could be argued that each and every one of these criticisms isn't really about Trump. But the totality of them all next to one another makes clear who they're about — at least to a high degree. McCain didn't happen to bring up the specific medical ailment Trump used to avoid the draft by sheer coincidence. Corker would later make it clearer exactly whom he was talking about in regards to “chaos” — albeit after Trump upped the ante by hitting back at him.
But to some extent, failing to call Trump out by name undermines these criticisms. If Trump is indeed a unique threat to our political process, and if his rhetoric is so irredeemably out of line, mincing words and obscuring one's criticisms seem like a half-measure — almost as if one doesn't truly believe the things said about him. Why worry about covering one's own backside if the president of the United States is such a hazard? Isn't that the time for drastic measures and for going beyond the usual veiled criticisms? Isn't that precisely when one should set aside the usual decorum?
Perhaps we are getting to that point, as high-profile rebukes of Trump appear to be proliferating. But for now, there is undoubtedly a certain amount of cognitive dissonance in these critiques.