The Real Problem with Trump

Patterico // Posted at 11:00 am on October 13, 2017

This week, Donald Trump has been in rare form on Twitter: telling citizens of our country not to expect help for too long; threatening broadcast licenses as retribution for content he dislikes; and the other usual jackassery.

OK, “rare” form is not accurate. “Everyday” form.

So are Trump’s tweets actually a problem? Allahpundit at Hot Air suggests that we shouldn’t worry about them so much, because you can’t take what Trump says seriously:

It’s ominous for any president to threaten a broadcaster’s license for “unfair” coverage but the hard fact is that most people simply don’t take POTUS’s Twitter farts seriously anymore. Journalists will hyperventilate and content-hungry hacks like me will churn out posts but we’ve already reached the “pay him no mind” point of his presidency. His authoritarian tendencies seemed frightening during the campaign at times because you never knew how much he’d indulge them if he became president. Now that we’ve had nine months to watch him, the answer is: Not much.

When I read that, I thought to myself: Allahpundit has a point . . . kind of. If you take “possible international destabilization due to world leaders overreacting to his tweets” out of the equation, Trump’s tweets aren’t that big a deal, it could be argued. After all, many Americans are by and large learning that their President is just a nitwit with a smart phone, and they tune him out. So what’s the harm?

And yet I didn’t find the argument convincing. And then I read David French, who says we do need to worry about Trump’s tweets because of the corrupting influence they have on grassroots Republicans. His piece is titled Trump’s Tweets Are Damaging the Republican Character. I almost didn’t write this post because French encapsulates so many of my thoughts so nicely. (But, as you’ll see, I do have a slightly different take in the end.) French uses Trump’s “maybe we’ll revoke your license” threat as a taking-off point:

It shouldn’t take a lawyer to note that any action to challenge “licenses” on this basis would be unconstitutional. It’s Civics 101: The First Amendment protects press freedom, and that protection is easily broad enough to encompass any effort to silence journalists simply because the president believes their work is “partisan, distorted and fake.”

Yet, incredibly, across the country rank-and-file Republicans react to such messages not by rebuking Trump but by trying to find a way to rationalize or justify them. Many go even further, joining Trump in his attacks regardless of their merit. These folks are degrading their political character to defend Trump, and the damage they do to their own credibility and their party’s in the process will endure long after he has departed from the political scene.

The controversy over Trump’s threats to revoke broadcast licenses is such a good example, I hope you’ll forgive me if I take a few extra pixels here and go on a bit of rant.

First, let’s clear way the chaff: the fact that NBC as an entity does not have a “broadcast license” itself, but member stations do, is not the Big Refutation people seem to think it is. (Take him seriously but not literally, people!) A President whose first urge, upon being confronted with news he doesn’t like, is to muse upon the ways that he can use the power of the federal government to lash out at the news organization . . . that is a problem, folks! I don’t care that he would actually have to go after individual stations instead, or that the FCC wouldn’t necessarily be on board.

The same would be true if he threatened to audit them. You can claim that, hey, the IRS is an independent entity — why, they would never go after people for political reasons! Yeah, I don’t find that reassuring, and neither should you. Yes, maybe the doltish chief executive has not yet found the best method for using the government he controls to retaliate against his opponents — but if that is his desire (and it quite clearly is), he’ll find it eventually.

But even if you don’t take the threat from Trump seriously, or literally, the fact that so many people support him on it is what I find terrifying.

As I looked around the Internet after reading Trump’s comments, I was appalled and disgusted to see many conservatives thoughtfully stroking their chins and waxing philosophical about the “public interest” and the alleged need of government to ensure that broadcasters are living up to their responsibilities. Hello! This is exactly the sort of defense that Harry Reid and Barack Obama have employed in the past as they threatened to regulate out of existence broadcasters who did not toe their line. And the very same people who used to decry this sort of thuggery now use the language of the left to defend Trump.

This isn’t supposition on my part, by the way. I have the evidence. Some of these Internet denizens have been around a long time. And they have compared identical leftist threats in the past to threats by the Mafia, or by thugs like Putin. I’m not going to personalize this by citing you chapter and verse. But as French says of the more wild-eyed Trumpers: “There is of course always a measure of hypocrisy in politics — partisanship can at least partially blind us all. But the scale here beggars belief.”

So where do I disagree with French? He says Trump has “damaged” the character of the Republicans who employ such staggering hypocrisy to defend him. Well, I’m not so sure their character was that unsullied to begin with. One could argue that Trump has instead “revealed” their character.

So which is it?

I think the truth is somewhere in between. Trump has not taken pure people and “damaged” their character. Neither has he taken purely evil and laughably partisan people and simply exposed them for what they are.

No, instead what he has done is bring out the worst in people.

I have quoted Alexandr Solzhenitsyn before to the effect that both good and evil lies within the hearts of most men. Almost all of us have the capacity to do great and good things — or to do very bad things. And leaders, by their own example and character, can bring those good or bad qualities to the forefront.

If you study world history and current foreign policy, or just human psychology, you know that people are sheep who tend to unthinkingly follow orders. They are perfectly willing to support the craziest and the most evil actions of leaders — leaders 100 times worse than Trump has ever shown himself to be.

As many wiser heads before me have mentioned, perhaps the most dismaying thing about the way that Germany knuckled under to Adolf Hitler is the fact that Germany was a bastion of culture and intellect. If it could happen there, it literally could happen anywhere. As Solzhenitsyn has said:

There always is this fallacious belief: “It would not be the same here; here such things are impossible.”

Alas, all the evil of the twentieth century is possible anywhere on earth.

Idiots read allusions to Hitler or Stalin in a post like this and make the stupid argument that I am comparing Trump to Hitler or Stalin. It galls me to have to stop near the end of a post that is already very long to say: I am not making that comparison. That is not my point at all.

My point is this: there are many examples in history of people supporting really bad things. Don’t think you are different. And when you sign on to defend blatantly unconstitutional suggestions because you hate hate hate the media, you are surrendering a bit of your soul. You should be able to take on the media without agreeing to surrender to the government the terrible and terrifying power to silence them. And the fact that this does not appear likely to happen tomorrow does not mean it can’t happen next year. Or that it can’t happen here. Human nature is the same everywhere.

The real problem with Trump is that he brings out the worst in people. And bad things happen when the worst in people is brought to the surface.