Mitt Romney’s article argues a premise that seems, to me, inarguable: that President Donald Trump lacks moral character. To its credit The Burkean Conservative does not seem to argue against this premise; rather, the Burkean Conservative seems to argue that we should move on from such arguments and focus on what Trump has done in office.
In this post, I shall do just that.
On Trump and “Fake News…”
Argument, paraphrased: “Trump is doing a good job handling the fake news media.”
Rebuttal: One would think a good messenger for the idea that the media is flawed and biased would not be a serial liar and birther known for planting false stories in tabloids about himself hooking up with supermodels in the 80s, and who once claimed that Ted Cruz’s father had something to do with the JFK assassination. I’ll leave the list there, but everyone knows I could keep describing Trump’s own promotion of fake news stories for the duration of this post, and just doing that would make it longer than it is in its present form.
This is not to say that the media is not flawed and biased. It is to say that the idea that Trump is doing a great job illuminating the media’s flaws and biases is ridiculous. Absolutely no one believes that Trump has deep-seated beliefs about the need for a fair and accurate press, because he has spent decades trying to ensure that press about himself and his enemies is not that. If you ask him for the names of the best journalists working today, he will give you the names Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro. That is not because they are more fair and accurate than the average journalist—they are far, far less—it is because they like him. That is Trump’s only metric of fairness and accuracy: whether people are saying nice things about him.
Remember, the term “fake news” became popular as a description of Trump. He then co-opted it to describe any negative news about him, and because branding is the only thing he’s genuinely good at, the rebranding worked. This post-truth attitude of our president is much more poisonous to our nation’s collective notion of truth than anything the mainstream media has been up to for the past decade.
So no, he is not doing a great job handling the media. He bashes the media whether they are accurate or not, based entirely on whether they are telling him things he wants to hear about himself. That is not “doing a great job.”
On Trump’s moral character
Argument: “Put aside his private moral character. He was elected, and he’s doing a good job if you look at policy.”
Rebuttal: A presidential candidate’s moral character does not stop mattering once they are elected president, and the idea that it does would have been inconceivable to The Burkean Conservative before Trump. The Burkean Conservative authors have allowed Trump to lower their standards.
Obama was, overall, a man of good moral character. As was Bush. Trump is not. This matters. But even if one chose to put aside Trump’s private behavior and just focus on how he governed, it is hard to see how he has done so morally. Here are several examples elaborating on this point:
- Travel ban. One of his first acts was to ban people from seven countries from coming to the United States simply because of their nation of origin. He claims to have done this for national security reasons, but the fact that he did not consult with the Pentagon first puts the lie to that, and his campaign statements make it clear the act was motivated by religious bigotry. He did this with no plan, creating chaos at airports across the country.
- Trans-gender service members. He banned trans people from the military, again citing phony national security concerns, again without consulting the Pentagon, again because of bigotry.
- Cruel and inhumane border policies. His administration implemented a family separation policy, then denied such a policy existed, then lied that the policy stretched back to Obama or Bush. They did this with no coherent plan on how to track or reunite these families. They did this while reducing the number of immigration judges to halt the normal flow of legal immigration. They did this knowing they did not have the proper facilities for children, hence “kids in cages.” They did this despite immigration being fairly low by modern standards. Again, Trump insists this was done for security, and again, that is transparently false, because no credible national security officials agree this is necessary. Again, the reason was bigotry.
- Syria withdrawal. He just pulled out of Syria against the advice of his top generals, causing one to resign in protest, under the bizarre theory that he knows better than they do. This move helps ISIS.
- Tariffs. He has implemented tariffs against the advice of all experts on both the left and right, potentially throwing world financial markets into chaos.
- Campaign Investigation. He put undue pressure on his attorney general to influence an investigation into his own campaign, publicly demeaning said AG for recusing himself from an investigation he was ethically and legally required to recuse himself from, then firing said AG for that same reason. His current acting AG has refused to recuse himself from that same investigation against the advice of DOJ ethics officials.
- Dishonesty. He has repeatedly lied about matters relevant to said investigation, including his own involvement in criminal activity which his former lawyer and fixer just pleaded guilty to, while falsely accusing his predecessor and others of crimes that he himself is implicated in.
- Cronyism. He has installed incompetent, corrupt, unqualified, and obsequious cronies in various departments entirely for the purposes of sabotaging them from within. Many of these cronies, like Scott Pruitt, have used their positions to do little more than enrich themselves, because that’s what corrupt cronies do.
- Government shutdown. He has shut down the government because he can’t get funding for a wasteful government project that no one of consequence actually believes will achieve its stated purpose.
- Right infringement. He has twice been found by courts to have violated the first amendment rights of citizens and journalists.
- Support to dictatorship. He has assisted in the propaganda campaigns of dictators in Russia, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea, sometimes by publicly breaking with our own intelligence community in ways that further these dictators’ narratives.
- Use of public office for private gain. He has used the office to enrich himself and his family.
A moral administration would not even do a few of these things, let alone all of them. And this is only the corruption that directly stems from his position as POTUS. So be my guest: ignore his private behavior, his tweets, his demeaning comments, his incoherent rants at rallies. Ignore the corruption before he came into office, such as his hoax of a charity, defrauding people with Trump University, his shady business deals. Ignore the misogyny toward even many conservative women during the campaign. Just focus on what he’s done as president. That’s damning enough.
I hope these arguments are persuasive to at least some of those who insist we ignore Trump’s private behavior and focus on what he’s done as president. These are not partisan attacks, and should not be considered partisan issues. Whether you are on the right or the left, we should all be able to look at the list above and see that many of Trump’s actions as president have been objectively awful.