Friday, June 3, 2016

Trump vs. Orwell? No contest

Hoping that no one would notice, House Speaker Paul Ryan chose the Janesville (Wisc.) GazetteXtra — a newspaper whose lead story the same day was SHELTER HOLDS FREE CAT ADOPTION DRIVE — to announce his endorsement of Donald J. Trump for president this week.

He thus joins John McCain ("it would be foolish to ignore" the "will of the people"), Mitch McConnell (we shouldn't worry that a President Trump will abuse the power of the presidency and the law because “he’ll have a White House counsel [to] point out there’s certain things you can do and you can’t do”), and the several courageous Republican senators running for re-election in Democratic-leaning states who have boldly declared that they "support, but do not endorse" the party's nominee.

I had actually been holding out a glimmer of hope that a few Republican officials would place principle, patriotism, decency, honor, (true) conservative values, and concern for the survival of the republic ahead of craven political expediency. But then that would have required a microgram of leadership and courage.

In a way even more amusing (if that's the right word) than the excuses given by members of the GOP leadership for their sudden reversal in favor of Trump (the "madman who must be stopped," in the not so former words of recently converted Trump supporter Bobby Jindal), have been the excuses given by members of the GOP leadership for why they just won't be able to be there when Trump receives the nod at the Republican convention in Cleveland next month ("I can watch it on TV," said Lindsey Graham of South Carolina).

It really should not have been that hard to enunciate a few words to explain why they cannot support, for the most important office in the world, a man utterly devoid of moral principle, knowledge, honesty, decency, or respect for democratic values or public service.

Just in case we've forgotten a few of the things the nominee-to-be has done that ought to place him beyond the pale of support by any decent American political leader, he has:

   threatened to use the power of the presidency to punish his critics in the press;

   attacked a federal judge hearing a civil lawsuit brought against him for defrauding students at his now-defunct "Trump University" (Judge Gonzalo Curiel is "a total disgrace," Trump said, adding today that because Curiel is of "Mexican heritage" it is an "absolute conflict of interest" for him to hear the case);

   endorsed and spread fringe, fear-mongering conspiracy theories about government coverups of disease outbreaks and the 9/11 terrorist attacks ("You will find out who really knocked down the World Trade Center" when he is president);

   fomented ethnic, religious, and racial hatred, and refused even to disavow a barrage of truly vile anti-Semitic attacks by his supporters against Jewish journalists ("I don’t have a message to the fans");

    mocked and belittled political opponents and critics for their physical disabilities and personal appearance;

    declared his impatience and contempt for the law and America's treaty obligations;

    expressed admiration for dictators and brutal authoritarianism (on Kim Jong-un: "He goes in, he takes over, and he’s the boss. It’s incredible. He wiped out the uncle. He wiped out this one, that one." And North Korea returned the compliment yesterday, calling Trump "a wise politician" and the right choice for president);

    refused to release his income tax returns and offered a patently false reason for doing so;

    been dishonest and unscrupulous in his business dealings;

    made grotesquely boastful claims about his (nonexistent) military expertise ("I know more about ISIS than the generals do") and (unapparent) Christian faith ("I am a great Christian—and I am. I am.")

Trump's total lack of personal principles is probably part and parcel of a true personality disorder. But the consequences are chilling for a democracy when combined with the power of the presidency. Principle and the rule of law are the only things that stand in the way of authoritarianism in government, and brutality in society. To uphold a principle means that at least once in a while one is required to admit that the right thing to do differs from what is in one's own immediate self-interest. Trump has never done so in his entire lifetime.

He has taken it even one Orwellian step further, though, by invoking the language of principles and values just when he is being his most coarse and crudely self-serving: anyone who criticizes him—such as the journalists the other day who asked him why it took him five months to cough up his promised $6 million donation to veterans' groups, and in fact only made good on his personal $1 million pledge after a Washington Post investigation last month discovered he had not yet done so—is "dishonest" or "disgraceful."

Especially when they are pointing out Trump's own dishonest or disgraceful conduct, of course.