A fatal mistake of conservatives – character does count

Those who see themselves as conservatives end up with dilemmas, especially when someone like Donald Trump becomes a candidate, and then becomes president.

Bret Stephens writes in Why I’m still a never Trumper:

And want to preserve your own republican institutions? Then pay attention to the character of your leaders, the culture of governance and the political health of the public. It matters a lot more than lowering the top marginal income tax rate by a couple of percentage points.

This is the fatal mistake of conservatives who’ve decided the best way to deal with Trump’s personality — the lying, narcissism, bullying, bigotry, crassness, name calling, ignorance, paranoia, incompetence and pettiness — is to pretend it doesn’t matter. “Character Doesn’t Count” has become a de facto G.O.P. motto. “Virtue Doesn’t Matter” might be another.

But character does count, and virtue does matter, and Trump’s shortcomings prove it daily.

Maybe you think the Russia investigation is much ado about nothing. Yet Trump brought it on himself every step of the way, from firing James Comey after the former F.B.I. director wouldn’t swear fealty, to (potentially) admitting to obstruction of justice with that tweet about Mike Flynn’s firing.

Or maybe you regret the failure to repeal Obamacare. But that had something to do with the grotesque insults Trump lobbed at John McCain, the man whose “nay” vote sank repeal.

Look at every other administration embarrassment (Scaramucci) or failure (the wall, and Mexico paying for it) or disgrace (the Charlottesville equivocation). Responsibility invariably lies with the president’s intemperance and dishonesty.

Now look at the culture of governance. Trump demands testimonials from his cabinet, servility from Republican politicians and worship from conservative media. To serve in this White House isn’t to be elevated to public service. It’s to be debased into toadyism, which probably explains the record-setting staff turnover of 34 percent, according to an analysis from the Brookings Institution.

In place of presidential addresses, stump speeches or town halls, we have Trump’s demagogic mass rallies.

In place of the usual jousting between the administration and the press, we have a president who fantasizes on Twitter about physically assaulting CNN.

In place of a president who defends the honor and integrity of his own officers and agencies, we have one who humiliates his attorney general, denigrates the F.B.I. and compares our intelligence agencies to the Gestapo.

Trump is normalizing all this; he is, to borrow another Moynihan phrase, “defining deviancy down.” A president who supposedly wants to put a wall between the U.S. and Latin America has imported a style of politics reminiscent of the cults of Juan Perón and Hugo Chávez.

Everyone must have some concerns about some of Trump’s behaviour. Some choose to downplay it or try to ignore it because they put other gains as more important.

Conservatives may suppose that they can pocket policy gains from a Trump administration while the stain of his person will eventually wash away. But as a (pro-Trump) friend wrote me the other day, “presidents empower cultures.”

Trump is empowering a conservative political culture that celebrates everything that patriotic Americans should fear: the cult of strength, open disdain for truthfulness, violent contempt for the Fourth Estate, hostility toward high culture and other types of “elitism,” a penchant for conspiracy theories and, most dangerously, white-identity politics.

But but but tax cuts, Mexican wall, immigration, terrorism…

This won’t end with Trump. It may have only begun with him.

It hasn’t just begun with Trump, he and his strategists have just found a way of successfully exploiting and magnifying things that were already in place. So far.

But his support seems to have shrunk in his first year in office, and concerns have grown at least as much as support of his successes.

Trump is very contradictory. There is some validity to questioning media coverage and raising the issue of inaccurate news. But, especially when under the presidential spotlight, major media admit and correct their mistakes.

It is well documented that Trump has made many false claims and accusations. Whether they are deliberate lies or through ignorance the fact that Trump does not concede mistakes or correct in accuracies is a problem – and conservatives, and others who like some of Trump’s policy successes,  should have concerns about this sort of behaviour.

If Trump has enough people continuing to make excuses for his bad and hypocritical behaviour he may survive, and coukd possibly even win another term. If that happens Stephens may be correct, this could be just the beginning of a new normal, where only the end matters no matter how dishonest and immoral the means.