President Trump’s decency deficit quite evident in accusatory tweets
The nation’s capital today suffers from multiple deficits: The budget deficit, a failure to match resources to appetite, measured in hard dollars and red ink. The institutional deficit, the misalignment of national needs and political capacity to respond, displayed in legislative gridlock and partisan bickering. But also, and maybe most worrying, the decency deficit, etched in acid sound bites and accusatory tweets that forsake stating facts for impugning motive.
This deficit of decency, of course, is trickle-down, with Donald Trump as its most masterful practitioner. And so, because presidential indecency no longer surprises, we scarcely pause to note the latest iteration. And, in turn, we become numbed to its presence when practiced by others, who may be in less exalted positions but who ought to know better. We shrug and move on.
Pinpoint of decency
Not this column. It is both a lament about the latest manifestation of the decency deficit and a celebration of a recent pinpoint of decency. And it is a reminder to courtiers brought low by Trump: Some reputational damage is beyond repair. Someday he will be gone, but people will remember what you were willing to say and do on his behalf.
The immediate target of this advice is White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who took to “Fox & Friends” recently to urge the confirmation of Mike Pompeo to be secretary of state. “Look, at some point, Democrats have to decide whether they love this country more than they hate this president,” Sanders said, thus equating support for the president’s nominee with patriotism.
This was, as The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake noted, no accidental rhetorical overstep but a calculated administration talking point. Sanders used a similar formulation in January to talk about Democrats and DACA. She did it again after Democrats’ refusal to applaud during Trump’s State of the Union address, observing, “Democrats are going to have to make a decision at some point really soon: Do they hate this president more than they love this country? And I hope the answer to that is ‘no.’”
Give Sanders a smidgen of credit for that last sentence – she did not go as far as Trump, who suggested that Democrats’ lack of applause was “treasonous.” But Republican National Committee Chairman Ronna Romney McDaniel abandoned any filigree of restraint, and betrayed her family heritage of decency, when, at the party’s winter meeting in February, she flatly asserted of Democrats: “They hate this president more than they love this country.” Again, no momentary lapse – McDaniel tweeted it again, last month.
This is not acceptable. It is fair game to go after opponents for being wrong on substance or excessive in terms of tactics and partisanship. Say that their vision would harm the United States, but do not accuse them of not having the country’s best interests at heart. That is the vilest calumny.
I have gone down the patriotism road myself, reluctantly and deliberately, in writing about Trump and his negligent response to Russian election meddling: “This is a terrible thing to have to say, but the president is not a patriot, if an essential part of patriotism means being willing to stand up for your country when it is under attack.” But that is the point – it is a terrible thing to say. It should not be done lightly.
I end with a grace note, which, like Sanders’ ugly remark, also involves Pompeo. It was the move by Delaware Sen. Chris Coons to allow Pompeo’s nomination to go forward. Coons, a Democrat, planned to vote against Pompeo in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
But his Republican colleague, Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, was to speak at the funeral of a close friend at the same time. So rather than force Isakson to race back to vote later that day, Coons instead voted present, letting the Pompeo nomination proceed, which it did, and Pompeo was confirmed.
Graciousness knows no partisan boundaries. South Dakota Republican Sen. Mike Rounds performed the same service for Coons when the senator’s father died last year. But it is a measure of our frayed national temper and poisonous politics that what Coons described as his own “small gesture of kindness” brought committee chair man Bob Corker, R-Tenn., to the brink of tears. The decency deficit is wide and widening.
Washington Post Writers Group