Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Respect The Office?

Last night Stephen Colbert issued a crass monologue against Trump. Among other things (such as saying Trump "attracts more skinheads than Rogaine") he said that Trump's mouth was "only good to be used as Putin's cock-holster." Leaving out the irony of the right-wing's defense of Coulter--but calling for Colbert to be fire--there is a decent question to be raised here: should we "respect the office" of the presidency--even if we don't respect the person?

Tom Nichols, a conservative author of a book about the Death of Expertise, holds that we should. He says (on Twitter) that if you don't respect the office in every case--then you simply do not respect the office. Worse, he holds that if you treat the office with enough disrespect you can't simply turn that back on when your guy wins.
Is this true? If so--what should people who are horrified by Trump actually do?

Respecting the Office--But-Not-The-Man

There is a very strong case to be made that we, as Americans, should respect the office. For one thing, so long as America is America, the office will exist. The rules for populating it, while perhaps somewhat arcane, are well understood, the same for everyone, and seem to do at least a decent job of going back-and-forth (and keeping, for example, Jill Stein from coming anywhere near it).

Secondly, we've had bad presidents before--some serious stinkers--and survived. If, indeed, disrespecting the office-holder damages, in some cumulative way, the institution of the presidency, then we should probably refrain from hurting the thing we all at least theoretically hold dear, America herself.

Finally, for people who supported Obama, wasn't it at best tiresome--at worst destructive--to continually attack Obama? To be sure, things like demanding to see his birth certificate--and then declaring whatever he produced a forgery--seems like the kind of thing that a nation should generally refrain from if they can.


On The Other Hand, The Birther-In-Chief Won

On the flip-side: what if the speech about the presidency isn't driving disrespect for the office--but just exposing it. If we start from the standpoint that Republicans going new places (that the president is an illegitimate foreign-born fraud) indicates that the respect is already broken--then maybe whatever disrespectful speech there is just the result of that. In other words, the damage is done--say whatever you like.

There's also the case to be made that disrespect won. There can be no question that Trump--albeit by slim margins, against a non-ideal candidate, and due to specific geographical and demographic topography--won the election. Ask a professional athlete: if their tactics aren't actually against the rules they're legit. Sure--there's sportsmanship in how you comport yourself--but first and foremost you play to win. If the win is legitimate then how you get there . . . is also legitimate.

Finally, although Tom makes a point The Omnivore thinks we all kind of understand, there is no clear guide-book for respecting the office but not respecting the man. Where do you draw the line? Is it just the etiquette of critiquing Trump? Is it just not-getting-personal? The Omnivore isn't sure there's an agreeable standard.

Will This Help Trump in 2020?

One of the most foolish rejoinders against people spewing tacky attacks at Trump is that this'll help him. That's not true. All the racism and crassness of Trump's supporters sure didn't hurt Trump, right? Guys wearing "Fuck Your Feelings" t-shirts won last year. Does this only go one way?

Secondly, are we sure that no one can "restore dignity to the office"? Trump is undignified in several ways that are thus far unique. The first is his Twitter-use. While Obama tweeted some snarky things (as did his rivals), Trump goes well above and beyond any previous line you care to draw (including some wild accusations of criminal activity, for example).

Secondly there is some very trivial lying--crowd size, for example. Obama said "you could keep your doctor" when he knew his health care plan would be disruptive. Trump claims his inauguration crowd was larger than Obama's and that it didn't rain on him. Both are clearly lies. Trump didn't just say this stuff once either: he keeps saying it.

Trump breaks the rules in other ways--not placing his business holdings in a blind trust. Not releasing his tax returns for what-do-you-take-me-for false reasons (while proposing a tax plan that we have reason to think would benefit him strongly). Trump surrounds himself with highly dubious and poorly vetted people (Flynn, Gorka, etc.) and seems to want a banana-republic style suite of roles for his direct family.

If the next office holder refrains from meeting this bar, maybe Tom is wrong: the above is all so unusual that perhaps dignity could be restored just by electing someone like, say Mitt Romney (who, whatever you may think of his policies, was certainly a gentleman--if you protest that Romney lost, you're making the case for being disrespectful to Trump. If you make the case that the press was savage to Romney, you have badly selective memory--go ahead--throw down with The Omnivore. You won't like the results).

If Trump Could Cure Cancer

An Omni-Friend (and Trump-Supporter) held that "If Trump could cure cancer The Press would say he was putting doctors out of work." She was frustrated in the constant attacks of the press--and no one giving him a chance to enact his agenda which she felt would be politically centrist and a result of compromise.

Never mind that this lament (Cancer-Doctors-Jobs) is an old one (The Omnivore heard it in presidential politics about Obama and the Republicans first)--but certainly, if you think Trump has shown that he deserves a chance you get to be frustrated that he sure doesn't seem to be getting one. If the country is now so broken that the other side's president will always and forever be seen as plainly illegitimate then maybe Tom is right: maybe that Rubicon, once crossed, is irreparable.

The Omnivore's response to this, however, is that Trump's problems are almost entirely of his own making. Trump claimed that 3 million people voted illegally in the election--the margin he lost by--his call for an investigation was quickly dropped (The Omni-Friend probably doesn't know why--but The Omnivore does: if Congress really does investigate wide-scale voter fraud they will be forced to announce there wasn't any--awkward for their Voter ID agenda!).

Team Trump is under a breathtakingly unique FBI investigation for collusion with Russia. Yes, Hillary was under investigation--but for mishandling classified documents--not colluding with the enemy.

Trump's method of communication seems to be to make wild claims (Wiretapped-By-Obama) and then, when no evidence shows up, just move on to something else: even if you think Trump deserves credit for "not being a politician," shouldn't taking that bull-in-a-china-shop approach to messaging to the American people (not just his voters, remember--all of us) have some negative consequence?

And speaking of not-a-politician, Trump seems to be having problems with the basic mechanics of governance. He has failed several executive orders. He has problems passing a ACA-repeal in even one chamber of congress. He has unfilled positions. His staff is using private messaging systems that far exceed what his party was upset at Hillary for doing. Trump has staffed his office with the kind of people that Mainstream has been afraid of: The 1%. If Trump is going to get credit for not-being-a-politician, can he also be legitimately criticized for not-being-politically-competent?

You'd think so, right?

The End Game

So do we "respect the office"? Or do we "go nuts"? The Omnivore thinks there's a few lines to be drawn here--and for the most part they are being drawn. Fellow office holders should, in The Omnivore's view, not be saying Trump's mouth is good for sex-with-Putin. That's bringing indignity to their office and their constituents.

Provocateurs like Colbert and Coulter are free to be as crass as they want--that's part of their job description (and the public should vote with their eyeballs). Common people, likewise, should say what they want--their words will reflect on them first and foremost before Trump (or Obama, etc.).

Don't believe anyone who says the behavior of "the other side" will help "the opposite side." That's wishful thinking.

Finally, whoever replaces Trump will have work to do in restoring the dignity of the office. This is one reason why the Democrats probably shouldn't run, for example, Mark Zuckerberg or The Rock. We need a statesman in the Oval Office. Obama met the bar for that (you can say "just barely" if you want--The Omnivore won't quibble by how much)--but Trump does not. If someone is going to usher in an age of tax reform, they should at least release their tax returns.


  1. I'm reading Tom Nichol's book right now and his twitter message seems somewhat at odds with his messaging in the book. If a hobo breaks into your house and smears crap on the walls and you are understandably disgusted by the act, you don't blame the house for this blame the hobo. But if you gave him a key because he's also your crazy uncle, then some self-blame may also be in order, right? This analogy may have gotten away from me.

    1. I'm gonna say that I don't EXACTLY know how to apply this to my argument--BUT I WHOLLY ENDORSE IT!!