A high-profile and powerful man takes to social media – where he has tens of millions of followers – to allege a prominent woman was “bleeding badly” after a plastic surgery operation.
If that high-profile man was the CEO of a major company, he would, at minimum, be forced to apologize, and, at most, be fired. If that high-profile man was an actor, he’d likely be blackballed by Hollywood for future roles.
Then why, when that person is the President of the United States, should we treat that sort of behavior any differently?
Donald Trump, from almost the moment he became a candidate for President two years ago, has set about making the outrageous ordinary. Attack John McCain for being captured and held for six years as a prisoner of war? Check! Reference the size of his genitals in a debate? Check! Make lewd comments – on tape – about how a prominent man can expect to be treated by women? Check!
There’s a natural human tendency when faced with a series of behaviors considered outrageous or unacceptable to begin to slough them off. To normalize them. That’s just Trump being Trump! He says stuff!
But, this is the President of the United States we are talking about. Someone who, whether he likes it or not, is a role model. Someone who has a profound influence on how not only we adults treat each other but how our children view the acceptable bounds of how to act toward one another.
Which brings me to Trump’s tweets this morning in which he savaged “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski.
“I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came..,” Trump tweeted first, following it up with this: “…to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!”
The reaction was swift, with Republican senators like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ben Sasse of Nebraska tweeting out condemnations. “Your tweet was beneath the office and represents what is wrong with American politics, not the greatness of America,” wrote Graham. Wrote Sasse: “Please just stop. This isn’t normal and it’s beneath the dignity of your office.”
The Trump White House, as is their custom, refused to back down.
“I don’t think that the President’s ever been someone who gets attacked and doesn’t push back,” White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Fox News Thursday morning in the wake of the Trump tweets. “There have been an outrageous number of personal attacks not just to him but people around him.”
Trump is, without doubt, the subject of lots and lots of rhetorical attacks – some of them personal – every single day. But, his problem is that he is incapable of differentiating between disagreements about policy or even tone and genuine attacks on him personally.
Saying that his health care bill is bad policy that could endanger peoples’ health who might lose their insurance is a policy disagreement. Saying that calling the House health care bill “mean” is a bad strategic move is a political disagreement. Neither are personal.
Trump is also seemingly incapable of grasping the fact that as President of the United States, he needs to hold himself to a higher standard of conduct. Because of the power and prominence of his office, his words and action matter more than if he was simply a private citizen. He can’t simply pop off because his words have ramifications – whether that’s about foreign policy or face-lifts.
The White House spin here – he punches back when punched – is not even close to good enough.
Look. This is bullying, plain and simple. And, it’s bullying by a powerful man against a woman because of her looks. He also attacked her intelligence and her sanity.
Condemning Trump for this should not be a political decision. It should be a moral one. We don’t want to live in a society where a powerful man (or any man!) can use his social media following to intimidate or bully a woman. Or anybody. Is it acceptable to bully a reporter with a disability just because the reporter is a man? That’s something we should all be able to agree is not a good thing. And is the sort of thing we need to stand up against because we don’t want our kids growing up in a world in which that sort of thing becomes even marginally acceptable behavior.
Donald Trump pledged throughout the campaign that he would be a president the likes of which politics has never seen before. It’s how, in an electorate sick of politics and politicians, he won. But this isn’t about what it means to be “presidential.” This is about what it means to be decent to one another. It’s about what sort of community we want to live in and what sort of standards of conduct should govern that community.
Retreating to partisan camps in the aftermath of these latest Trump tweets isn’t good enough. This is about way more than just politics.