AFTER HIS latest execrable tweets, it’s obvious that there is no point in urging President Trump to act with greater dignity, respect for his office or, for that matter, self-respect. It isn’t going to happen. That makes it all the more urgent for the rest of us to think about how to safeguard civility and democratic values until his presidency ends.
It would be wrong to say that Mr. Trump’s attacks on Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough Thursday were shocking, because his boorishness no longer can shock. But the hateful insults directed at the MSNBC co-hosts (and, in Mr. Scarborough’s case, Post columnist) did seem to take the capital city’s collective breath away. “Please just stop,” Republican Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.) tweeted in response. “This isn’t normal and it’s beneath the dignity of your office.” Many others chimed in, urging Mr. Trump to apologize, to stop tweeting or even (in a moment of extreme wishful thinking) to resign.
Yes, Mr. Trump should apologize, he should stop tweeting insults, he should respect the awesome history of his office. Similarly, he should stop attacking the news media, which plays an important role in American democracy. He should take questions from the press more often, and he should answer truthfully. He should show more respect for women. He should, in short, act presidential, and he should continue to be urged to do so, not only by editorial pages but also by other leaders, especially in his own party, and by people in his administration.
But assuming he remains immune to such importuning, what can the rest of us do? We’ve given this some thought in the context of international relations, because the world had become accustomed to looking to the United States as a defender of democracy, human rights and liberal values. Admittedly the nation has played this role imperfectly, with dollops of hypocrisy and inconsistency along the way. But from World War II until now, the United States had not been led by anyone espousing selfishness as a lodestar. And that has made it crucial for others to fill the gap — crucial for Congress, civil society and citizens across the nation to stand up for freedom and for the United States remaining a beacon of freedom across the globe.
We’d say the same now about plain old courtesy and decorum. It may be beyond the power of any other politician to change Mr. Trump’s behavior. But all of us can model a different way of acting and interacting.
What gives us hope is the conviction that the American people are better than the misogyny and rudeness we see spewing from the White House. Our politics have always been rough-and-tumble, but most of us don’t want to see this kind of ugliness become the dominant trait. We should all be focused on preserving a little flame of decency so that, whenever the Trump era ends, that flame can be rekindled into the kind of discourse that would make the country proud again.
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