Friday, May 13, 2016

Profiles in cowardice

There was an interesting piece in the New York Times this week explaining the psychological immunity of Trump's followers to his bewildering series of contradictions. All politicians play this game a bit, denying inconsistency when they hedge or trim their stances, but Trump has taken it to Orwellian heights.

He has repeatedly announced diametrically opposed positions on issues on successive days, sometimes denying he ever said what he said before, but sometimes simply acting as if there is no contradiction in his contradiction.

In late March he said that women who receive abortions should be punished.

A few days later he said that doctors who perform abortions should be punished, not the women who have them.

Then he said that the current laws on abortion had settled the matter of the legality of abortion.

Then he said that as president he would change the law, to ban abortions.

Then he said that his original answer about punishing women was actually "a great answer" to what had been just "a hypothetical question" and that "as a hypothetical question you give a hypothetical answer, and I didn’t see the big, big, huge deal.”

All clear?

As Michael Lynch noted in his article, Trump's strategy of brazenly thumbing his nose at even being held accountable for what he says lets people hear what they want to:

Walking a comment back says you are taking responsibility for what you’ve said. Blatant contradiction puts the responsibility back onto the shoulders of the listener. If I simply deny what I earlier affirmed and act as if nothing has happened, then you are left having to decide what I really meant. And psychology, as well as common sense, tells us that human beings are prone to “confirmation bias.” That is, we tend to interpret evidence so that it conforms to what we already believe.
But there is something more deeply disturbing about the willingness of so many to drink the Kool-Aid —now including the daily growing parade of GOP whores willing to abandon any scruples in jumping on the Trump bandwagon — that can only reflect a profound erosion of once widely held values in American society regarding personal integrity, honor, and mature conduct expected of those in public life.

It is not just Trump's contradictions but the deep personal flaws revealed by them— the cowardly evasions, the shifting of blame to others, the whining about being treated "unfairly" — that would once have disqualified anyone from public office on the grounds of defective moral character.

When caught saying something particularly obscene or horrifying, Trump has repeatedly behaved like a shifty child, claiming he was just repeating what someone else said. When pressed about his absurd lie that he can't release his own tax returns because the IRS is auditing them, he said he would not "overrule his lawyers." How's that for manfully taking responsibility? When it looked like he might be beaten by Ted Cruz in the primaries, all he could do was pout like any five-year-old we all have known about how "unfair" it was that he could not automatically get his way.

To be fair, a few conservative opinion leaders have taken unwavering stands and made it clear that no short-term advantage to their party could ever justify supporting a man so manifestly un-American in his commitment to the values of our country; so crudely thuggish in his attitudes toward women, the disabled and downtrodden, and members of other religions and races; so personally bankrupt in his own private moral character. George Will, who knows enough history to recognize a pivotal moment in the rise of political evils when he sees one, went so far as to say that history will remember which side Republicans were on when faced with the choice between "honorably recoil[ing] from Trump" or becoming "Republican quislings."

And Michael Gerson, who still has a lot to answer for from his time as George W. Bush's White House speechwriter, and whose sanctimoniousness and pomposity I admit I always cordially despised from the time we were briefly colleagues together at U.S. News, gets credit too for perhaps the clearest and most morally forthright condemnation of Trump, and his brutal vision of the world, that I have seen from any writer across the political spectrum.

But as Paul Ryan's smarmy talk about "unity" showed following his meeting with Trump this week, when faced with a real chance to take a stand on the side of American values, morality, and democracy, most Republican leaders will reliably be on the side of the quislings and craven opportunists.