Pardon my nausea. President Trump’s often egregious behavior is on trial, and the prosecutors are not winning. Conviction looks impossible absent the emergence of felonious conduct. And Trump’s Ad-makers are attempting to define his conduct, “tough guy” in “tough times.”
Post-impeachment (indictment) we will be left with social/political distemper. Rather than candidates being forced to address issues, the election will be almost exclusively about Trump. More alarmingly, his conduct, if not rising to a convictable offense, will lower still further standards of political conduct.
Benjamin Disraeli, an iconic British Prime Minister, called politics a “greasy pole.” Indeed. But in America, history rewards those who, even though imperfect in their climb, strived to overcome their imperfections. It was thought, hopefully still is, that an elected leader can come back from a fall if he/she will yield to an aspirational set of values and show a modest amount of remorse.
Okay, aspirational values, what does that mean? I believe “truth” in politics is an aspirational value. Fair play—well hard to define. Passing up the cookie jar, for certain, embezzlement is not favored. Consult Proverbs and come up with your own list.
Trump understands two things well. He is the leader of a tribe called Republicans whose elected officials want nothing more than to be reelected. Fear is his weapon. A loyal cadre is his spear.
And he understands news biases and cycles. He excoriates the news outlets that tend to shape the news around their biases. They become the enemy, and unfortunately, they are an easy one. Twitter gives him a very useful weapon. He can use it to create the news cycle—he is hours ahead of them. He also is a good whiner. He couches his tweets in inflammatory language and picks his targets from the Tribe’s enemies list. In Republican circles, the New York Times tops the list.
His behavior, to me, sets a new low in the conduct of a political leader. But his enemies need to understand the game and the opponent. While they confer, he tweets. While they seek some operational consensus, he is a consensus of one with his elected followers (at least most of them) awaiting White House instruction. He has set new standards of political conduct, and even those in his Party who despise him quiver in the corner fearful they will lose their job if they talk back. Profiles in cowardice.
This predatory set of values will not be removed through a legal process; it will only succumb to a political one. The voters are going to have to lead the leaders.
I will repeat my recommendation one more time. Put this conduct to a vote. Strive to get some level of bi-partisanship by moving from impeachment to censure and then force the tribal leaders to go on record about conduct, not removal from office just months before the election.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.