In an interview with The New York Times Book Review podcast, longtime conservative commentator George Will offered a stirring and stark assessment of what Donald Trump’s presidency will mean for our politics and our culture.
Here’s the key bit:
“I believe that what this president has done to our culture, to our civic discourse … you cannot unring these bells and you cannot unsay what he has said, and you cannot change that he has now in a very short time made it seem normal for schoolboy taunts and obvious lies to be spun out in a constant stream. I think this will do more lasting damage than Richard Nixon’s surreptitious burglaries did.”
That’s George Will, folks. Not Rachel Maddow. And it’s George Will saying that what Trump is doing, has done and will do to – and with – the presidency is more destructive than the actions of a president who was forced to resign in order to keep from being impeached.
Sit with all of that for a minute.
Will’s broader argument is that Nixon’s coordinated burglaries at the Democratic National Committee were secret and, once revealed, broadly condemned by the public and the two political parties. What Trump is doing is happening right in front of our faces – and with the tacit assent of the Republican Party that Will left in 2016.
“What Donald Trump’s revolutionary effect has been [is] to make things acceptable that were unthinkable until recently,” Will said on the Times podcast, asking host Pamela Paul if she could even conceive of past presidents like John Kennedy or Dwight Eisenhower uttering any of the many things Trump has said in office.
The words of Will that run truest to me were these: “You cannot unring these bells.” I think he is 100% right on that. The idea that once Trump leaves the White House – whether involuntarily in January 2021 or voluntarily-ish in January 2025 – the impacts and reverberations of what he has done to the presidency (and to the way in which the presidency is covered) will disappear is a fallacy.
Politics is a copycat game. Always has been. What Trump has taught politicians is that telling the truth isn’t all that important – especially if you have your own bullhorn (in Trump’s case Twitter + Fox News) to make your own “alternative facts.” And that presidential norms and the idea of “being presidential” is a meaningless construct. And a lot more “lessons” that will be destructive to the way in which people run for president and act once they get elected.
The Point: What Will knows is that Trump has already changed the presidency – and our culture – in profound ways that will not simply “snap back” once he leaves office. His imprint on the office is deep and wide.