Author’s Note: This is one of those rare days when inspiration struck more than once. Rather than combine my inspirations into one lengthy post, I will separate them because they are two very different ideas. This one concerns comments attributed to the president.”
The Atlantic is reporting that the president did not want to attend a memorial service on Memorial Day because he didn’t want to get his hair wet. They also reported that he called soldiers that died in war “losers” and “suckers.” As per usual, when we hear something outrageous we consider the source and consider the strength of the account.
The account is not necessarily as strong as it could possibly be. The president and his current staff are denying that he ever said this. The reports have unnamed sources that worked (or currently work) in the administration. Unnamed sources are always a tricky game in journalistic circles. On the one hand, how can you trust anything when someone doesn’t put their name on it? On the other hand, you can definitely see how those that commented probably fear for the jobs and maybe worse.
The Atlantic is a fairly reputable and well-respected publication. They may lean a little left, but the vast majority of what they print is factual. Other journalists have come forward to collaborate these stories. So, on the sliding scale, we can probably trust that four people that worked for Trump did tell journalists that he said that. From there, you reach your own conclusions.
The problem Trump is going to have is that it will be difficult for people to believe this is beyond the pale. He criticized John McCain because he shouldn’t be considered a war hero because he was captured. He went after a Gold Star family. He did these things publicly. How difficult is it to believe that he would say the things above in private?
The harder question is whether we should care. In a normal universe the answer of course would be yes. In a normal universe this kind of revelation would be death for a candidate. We don’t exist in a normal universe. We have long since passed the point when anything Trump has said would be considered to be a death to his political life. It’s not even so much that anything sticks. It’s more about the finishing of the phrase from the headline. If you are in for a penny then you might as well be in for a pound.
I recall back to fourth grade when our family visited Hawaii. We went to tour Pearl Harbor and I spit out some gum in the water while we were there. My dad was horrified. He ripped me a new one. I quickly learned where I was and the importance of where I was. I was ten years old. Trump is 74. Apparently, he didn’t have anyone to slap him in the back of the head when he said stupid stuff like this. No one is slapping him in the back of the head now.
Furthermore, we get the question of how much we should judge people by what they say privately. LBJ and other presidents have famously said awful things behind closed doors. A racial slur here and a sexist comment there seems to be par for the course. It’s wrong, but it’s par for the course. I’m reasonably certainly no president has ever said this. I’m reasonably certain no president has excessively worried about their hair. I suppose I could be wrong on that front.
Trump said some awful things here, but he has always said awful things. Some people chose to support him because he says awful things. Maybe it unlocks those things from deep down inside. Maybe they love him because the awful things they say don’t seem so awful by comparison. Maybe they acknowledge they are awful but love the conservative judges and tax cuts. Maybe they acknowledge the awful things he says and just hate Democrats that much. Either way, I don’t think any of us really expect this recent revelation to really change the tide that much.
If you acknowledge he is awful then does this make him that much more awful? If you’ve been okay with him before does this change your mind? He can say awful things about John McCain. He can say awful things about women. He can insult and mock a physically challenged reporter. He can disparage people of color. He can throw shade onto racists. He can incite violence. He can fail to show a shred of compassion for thousands of Americans that have lost their lives. Yet, if he insults dead soldiers that’s a bridge too far?
If you are going to beat Donald Trump you have to stop playing the “he’s awful” card. We know he’s awful. If you don’t know he’s awful you are either awful yourself, don’t care that he’s awful, or living under a rock. You aren’t changing any minds there. The best thing you can do is demonstrate his lack of competence. That should be an easy case to make. Still, you have to remain focused. He probably even welcomes this latest report secretly. It gets people talking about how awful he is for a few days. Those are several days people aren’t focused on the bad job he’s doing. That’s a win for him. Yup, it’s awful but as he has said, it is what it is.