Over the past three years, the American public has developed a tolerance to President Donald Trump: Things that might have once shocked now merit merely a raised eyebrow. Or an eyeroll. Or nothing at all.
This is not a good thing. It speaks to the inevitable normalizing of Trump, the acceptance of words (and actions) that would be disqualifying for past presidents. And yet, even with that increased tolerance, there are times when Trump still retains the ability to shock and appall.
Take what Trump said about the late Democratic Rep. John Dingell (and his wife and current Rep. Debbie Dingell) on Wednesday in Michigan (it’s long but you need to read all of it):
“Then you have this Dingell. Dingell. You know Dingell from Michigan, you know Dingell, you ever hear of her, Michigan? Debbie Dingell, that’s a real beauty. So she calls me up like eight months ago. Her husband was there a long time — but I didn’t give him the B treatment. I didn’t give him the C or the D. I could have. Nobody would have – I gave the A+ treatment. ‘Take down the flags!’ ‘Why you taking them down?’ ‘For ex-congressman Dingell.’ ‘Oh OK.’ ‘Do this, do that, do that, rotunda.’ Everything. I gave him everything. That’s OK! Don’t want anything for it. I don’t need anything for anything. She calls me up. It’s the nicest thing that’s ever happened. ‘Thank you so much. John should be so thrilled. He’s looking down. He’d be so thrilled. Thank you so much, sir.’ I said, ‘That’s OK, don’t worry about it.’ Maybe he’s looking up. I don’t know. I don’t know. maybe. Maybe. But let’s assume he’s looking down. But I have him A+, not A, not B+, not B. I have him the A+, and she called me, so nice, oh. I won’t go into the conversation because it’s not fair to do that. But all you want to say is, let’s put it this way: it was the most profuse thank-you that you could ever get. On a scale of 0 to 10, it was a 10. OK. So that was what, February or something. Now they talk about this phony impeachment. And she’s out there. ‘Well, we have to look seriously at our president because he may have violated the Constitution of the United States. And I can’t be happy with that because I love our country. I love this and I love that.’ She loves everything. I said, ‘She’s a no, OK.’ No but I look at her and she’s so sincere and what happens? ‘I vote to impeach Trump.’ And you know what — I didn’t say — who the hell knew this was even going to come up.”
And, here’s what that moment looked and sounded like, which, is even worse than reading the words on a page:
Just to be clear here: John Dingell represented Michigan in the House for 59 years. He was – and is – the longest serving member of the chamber in history. He was on the House floor – he was a page – when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress on the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He joined the Army and eventually made the rank of second lieutenant.
This is how The New York Times described Dingell in the first paragraph of its obituary following his death in February:
“John D. Dingell Jr., a powerful and tenacious Michigan Democrat who pushed landmark legislation, exposed corruption in government and became the longest-serving member of Congress in American history, died on Thursday at his home in Dearborn, Mich. He was 92.”
It is this man that Trump “jokingly” suggested might be in hell. A part of the greatest generation. A man who dedicated 6 decades to public service. And Trump did it while in Dingell’s home state of Michigan. (To be clear: This would be classless anywhere. But it shows a true tone-deafness to attack Dingell in a state he did so much for a member of the House.)
And why did Trump stoop so incredibly low? Because Debbie Dingell has joined all but three of her Democratic colleagues to vote for both articles of impeachment against him Wednesday evening. That she did so wasn’t a surprise to anyone except perhaps Trump since Dingell has given no signal that she was even considering breaking with her party on either impeachment article.
Trump, it appears, believed Dingell owed him for giving her late husband the “A+” treatment upon his death. It’s not entirely clear what Trump means by “A+” treatment. Dingell did lie in state at the U.S. Capitol – a massive honor, to be sure, but one conferred on him by Congress, not the president. He is apparently hanging his entire claim of “A+ treatment” of Dingell’s passing on the fact that he ordered flag to fly at half-staff. And that he sent a tweet calling Dingell a “highly respected man.”
Which, well, ok.
While Trump’s words are shocking, they aren’t terribly surprising. This is who he is and what he does. He is a bully. With a wicked victim complex. He views the world as divided between people who love him and people who hate him – and he will say and do anything to that latter group because he believes them to be barely human.
What’s far more depressing – and corrosive to our broader culture – is that while some people in the Michigan audience groaned when Trump suggested John Dingell might be in hell, plenty of other laughed and applauded. Trump has so denigrated political speech and so stretched the limits of acceptable conduct that people in that audience felt either the freedom or the compulsion to laugh and applaud when he viciously attacked a dead person.
This isn’t trolling the media. Or the Democrats. Or anyone being a “snowflake” or suffering from “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” This is just gross. And unacceptable.
And it has zero to do with party politics or partisanship. That there are people out there who can’t see that truth is deeply concerning.