A portrait of George Washington hangs behind President Donald Trump as he speaks about the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Aug. 14, 2017, in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
2017 is year one of the Flight 103 presidency: if the plane crashes, the entire airline is going down with it. It may go down anyway. You – or the leader of your party – may win a court battle over responsibility only to find out your brand has suffered irreparable damage. There are no guarantees.
Except one: if the bomb doesn’t go off, the plane won’t crash, there won’t be a trial, and the company may survive. To compound the metaphor: the Donald Trump presidency is both the bomb and the plane. Without him, at least you can land and take your chances.
To conservatives, that opening may sound slightly familiar. It’s a take on the disastrous (we also would have accepted “preposterous“) “Flight 93 Election” article from 2016 that suggested it was every conservative’s solemn duty to play Russian roulette with Donald Trump because at least with him, unlike Hillary, we might get the empty chamber.
Bad news, friends. None were empty. All the chambers had bullets. (Take heart, we’re almost through the metaphors.)
Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Too many times, Trump has been counted out and come back anyway. Too many times, it has been declared that this, finally this, ultimately and at last this will be the end of Trump. And yet time after time it wasn’t. He remained. People keep calling the time of death, he keeps coming back.
You may be tempted to think this is due to some miraculous staying power or indomitability. The alpha who can’t be beat; untouchable. He and his fruit loop “doctor” certainly believe that. But that’s not really it. No, the reason people keep declaring him dead is because he is always dying. He hasn’t stopped since he started the job.
It’s not winning we’re tired of. It’s dying.
I’m exhausted by this. I think a lot of people, maybe most, are likewise spent. As my great friend Erick Erickson said on Twitter Wednesday:
“Something’s got to give. I don’t know what, but I know 3.5 more years of this is not sustainable or healthy for the nation.”
And speaking of Twitter, Donald Trump’s self-selected primary means of communicating his message, let’s look at the landscape there for a moment. Before you dismiss it, this is, for better or worse, our functioning public square. And it shows a big part of the problem we face.
It’s a given on social media and among bloggers that those who to this day remain critics of Trump will be called stupid names and have base motives attributed to them by a certain sort of person. You are a “pet” conservative who wants liberal praise; you are an elite who lusts for power, or jealously guards it; you are a liberal wolf in conservative sheep’s clothing. There are other more vulgar ones. It’s a sort of perma-purge mentality. The join or die zealotry of that aforementioned disastrous column, carried on past the titular election and into the term of the roulette pistol.
That dynamic, however toxic and stupid, has held in place these past six months. The Republican rift turned into a 38th parallel, a North and South Korea staring across barbed wire and quietly building nukes. But that time is over, thanks to a different and American North and South. Now the reality of the bullets is upon us. They’ve been fired and we’re bleeding from the head. The plane is about to explode, the company to go bankrupt. The dying is at its peak. All the metaphors have realized their full selves.
You can see it in the tone and tenor of social media as well as on the news. We’ve had our share of Trump crises. But this is by far the most serious, and he has faced not only his fiercest backlash, but the most widespread within his own party. This is a moment.
Real conservatives know the phrase for such a moment. It’s a time for choosing.
Why now and why this? In the large, it’s because we are finally facing the exposed, raw, real President that is Trump. He has finally marked territory that can’t be unmarked. Even Steve Bannon said this was a “defining moment” for the Donald.
He failed us. In that defining moment, he failed you. He was inarguably late to condemn, he was wishy-washy, he made allowances and, to me, chief among the revelations of the past five days was his willingness to deliver praise. Listen to his words to hear what he says. That may sound redundant, but people are not doing it. Trump, in his outlandish plane crash of a presser on Tuesday, said that some among the Nazis and white supremacists who marched for racism and destruction in Charlottesville were “fine people.”
That is what he said. If you don’t believe me, you can watch it here. This is the full quote:
You had some very bad people in that group. You also had some very fine people on both sides.
There are three, and only three interpretations of that statement.
- President Trump thinks some Nazis and Klan members are fine people.
- President Trump has no idea what’s going on around him at any time and is dangerously without faculty.
- President Trump has chosen to say to the Nazis and Klan members things that will make them continue their love and support for him, which has so far been near undying.
All three things are unacceptable. There is no plausible fourth option. He said not all of the people were “neo-Nazis”. You guys. They were marching WITH neo-Nazis. They were standing in solidarity with swastikas and white hoods. Those are not fine people. But that’s what he said.
So you simply cannot blithely claim “that’s not what he said.” It is what he said. These are the only meanings he could have been communicating. Perhaps all three are true. Maybe just the first and third. The particular combination doesn’t matter. When the Klan, the neo-Nazis, and their white supremacist allies lit torches, formed a mob, marched through the streets denouncing non-whites while carrying Trump signs and stickers, and a woman was killed for objecting, the President had the opportunity to do and say the right thing. And He. Did. Not. Take it.
His campaign courted the alt-right. Steve Bannon gave them, in his words, a “home.” He retweets them. They adore him. And this week, he gave them aid and comfort. Again.
I see you, so-called conservatives, trying desperately to spin it. I see you pathetically arguing about the relative number of people who marched or despicably suggesting this domestic terror doesn’t even qualify as news because of so few casualties. I see you lashing out at the media, and whataboutting antifa. I see you distracting with tales of the future dismantling of all of recorded history by the mysteriously herculean left, who will tear down all statues everywhere and erase the past (while simultaneously not “letting go” of slavery or the holocaust somehow). But none of that distracting noise can change what Trump did not do.
No bitterness or anger can undo it. None of your frustration corrects it. No outrage drowns out his failure. Oh what a moment it would be if Trump had said some wonderfully eloquent and healing words, some ever-so-easy condemnation and rejection of the murder-minded would-be revolutionaries marching in his name, delivered powerfully and without equivocation. And that then the media, evil and nefarious, failed to give him credit and called him a racist anyway. What a perfect victory validating your entire worldview and all your grievances it would be. How glorious. Almost irresistible.
And so you did not resist. You simply pretend that this is what happened. And starting right after a woman died, and carrying on through this morning, five days later, a significant and consequential portion of the right has been acting out Trump’s horrific presser on their timelines, begging “is George Washington next?” and screaming “both sides ARE guilty” and lying “he didn’t say they were fine people.” You pretend that your glorious moment occurred. Steve Bannon is pretending that, too. You are the persecuted, they are the tyranny of evil men.
The truth, which it is now time for you to face, is that he is not a leader. He is not a commander-in-chief. He is the petty, tyrannical, vindictive, childish, unhinged person who we knew he was all along. The one who talks out of his backside. He is still the man who compared Ben Carson to a child molester and bragged about forcing himself on women while he was married. He is the conspiracy theorist who shamelessly painted Ted Cruz’s father as a presidential assassin and who lied about everything from the trivial to the grand. We pulled the trigger, the chamber was loaded.
Or to return to the Flight metaphor, he is the bomb on the plane and he is exploding right now before your eyes. What will you do? What can you? If it’s a time for choosing, what are the choices?
At The Federalist, Robert Tracinski says that “Donald Trump Needs To Not Be President Yesterday“. This is not an impeachment strategy but rather a protective one. Abandon him and flee. Remove from his vicinity all that can be destroyed by him. Get the bomb off the plane, in other words. Save the plane (the GOP as it exists today) save the company (the idea of the GOP as a persistent entity), to continue the Flight 103 framing.
This step is obvious to me, and has been since that despised July 19th of last year. You cannot continue as the party who isn’t quite ready to toss the white supremacist movement.
Stop it. Stop right there. Because now we have come to it. Despite all written above, I know for a fact a portion of the audience reflexively blanched just now at that sentence. “We condemned the alt-right until we were blue in the face” you instantly thought, “it’s never enough.”
No. That is not correct. If you continue to give cover to Trump’s remarks since Saturday, his equivocations and waffling, what he failed to say, and his ultimate “fine people” remark, then you are saying you aren’t ready to toss the white supremacists. That’s what you’re saying. That’s it. This is the test. Not, as that other essay prematurely opined, last year’s vote. The test of whether there is a GOP worth saving, that has any iota of self-preservation, any scintilla of respect for America, any shred of decency whatsoever. Now. Here.
Don’t for a minute fall for the siren song of those troll bloggers who appeal to your natural aversion and say “this is just giving the left what it wants.” This will not be what the left wants. They are the opponent. They will say “why was this the test and not the Muslim ban? Why is this the line and not the “grab the p*ssy.” Those are moot questions of the perpetual adversary. An adversary with the moral high ground at the moment. So forget about what they’d say.
I know that one is hard so I’m going to repeat it. Forget about them. This isn’t their test. It’s ours. It is yours.
End the apologia. End the charade. At last and evermore speak the truth. And what truth is that? What more can I demand of you? Here, watch and listen to this Republican speaking on the President’s favorite show, Fox and Friends:
The very moral fabric in which we have made progress when it comes to race relations in America. He has failed us. And it’s very unfortunate that our president would say things like he did in that press conference yesterday when he says there are good people on the side of the Nazis. They weren’t all Nazis and they weren’t all white supremacists.
Mr. President, good people don’t pile around with Nazis and white supremacists. Maybe they don’t consider themselves white supremacists and Nazis, certainly they hold those views. This has become very troubling for anyone to come on any network and defend what President Trump did and said at that press conference yesterday is completely lost and the potential to be morally bankrupt. I’m sorry, no I believe that and I’m being very honest as one who has been talking about these issues for a very long time. I’m sorry that this is where we are right now. I hope the president learns a lesson from his press conference on yesterday. It’s disturbing.
I truly hope you listened rather than just read. I hope you heard his voice and saw his face. That is speaking to you, and to this party, about what is really happening right now. Squabbling about who covered what other news story sufficiently is absurd minutiae in the face of this existential crisis for the Republican party. It is not your ego or your fair treatment at stake here. It’s your soul.
Stop making excuses. Something’s gotta give. Yesterday.
A long time ago (in internet time) I asked, on the topic of the Confederate flag flying on a statehouse grounds, that we seek the sky. Charleston was a change moment for me. This week will be a change moment for others. You may not see those people in your bubble on social media or hear them in the feedback loop of your weekly editorial meeting or meet them in your office on Capitol Hill, but people are changing their minds about the President, and necessarily Republicans and conservatives as a whole, based on what is happening right now.
This is finally it. We can seek the sky or swim in the gutter. Who are you with? The Klan? Or REAL Americans?
I ask and demand nothing, actually, here at the end of this. Instead I offer you something. The chance to land. The plane is in your hands, and with it the company. Stop whatabouting. Stop covering up. Stop carrying water. Stop pretending. And stop being silent. Say “Donald Trump was wrong. What he said does not represent me. I won’t belong to a party his words represent.” Say it without qualification or addendum. Because it is necessary. And because, I deeply hope and pray, it is true.
And if you are in the position to do so, take the steps advised by Tracinski, and predicted by Rich Lowry: steer clear. Strip him and his alt-right friends of legitimacy. Follow the example some Senators and Congressman have already taken and call him out by name.
Then, later, we can talk about the rest and every what about you’ve got. But first this. First stop letting him off the hook. Say what’s true. That’s all. Do it for yourself, or for the party, or because it’s what a human being with a conscience ought to want to do. Any of those reasons is fine.