Let’s review how we got here:
On March 8, Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields claimed she was asking Trump a question when campaign manager Corey Lewandowski yanked her away from Trump, grabbing her hard enough to leave bruises on her arm. The Trumpers and her own employer turned on her, saying she made it up.
Video and audio then surfaced, confirming that Lewandowski grabbed her. At least one reporter supported her account. They were called liars and told they were exaggerating. “Why don’t you file an assault complaint!” the Trumpers said. So Fields filed an assault complaint. And yesterday, Lewandowski was charged with one count of simple battery.
The response from the Trump camp has been nothing short of astonishing. They’ve been coming up with all sorts of explanations for what happened other than that Lewandowski manhandled her. Trump speculated that she might have gotten those bruises anywhere. They claimed that Lewandowski thought she was a danger to Trump. They brought up a video still showing something in her hand and claimed it could have been a pen-shaped bomb (Fields apparently being a secret Islamist or something). By now, they might be claiming she accidentally fell down a flight of stairs.
Of all the political stories of 2016 so far, this has be the most bizarre. This should have been a minor incident. A reporter claims she was grabbed, the campaign says they’re sorry without admitting anything, story done. And yet, here we are, with battery charges and accusations of assassination attempts.
Normally, I wouldn’t write about this sort of thing. But it has provided an astonishing insight into Trump. Bear with me for a moment.
In Robert Heinlein’s Expanded Universe, he has a great essay called Pravda Means Truth. He distinguishes between Pravda, the Russian word for truth, and Truth itself.
Truth, to the West, consists of all the facts without distortion.
Pravda is that which serves the World Communist Revolution. Pravda can be a mixture of fact and falsehood, or a flat-footed, brassbound, outright lie. In rare cases and by sheer coincidence, pravda may happen to match the facts.
Heinlein was in the Soviet Union when the U-2 incident occurred. And he goes through the incident, point by point, showing how the the “pravda” changed from day to day. At first, the pravda was that nothing had happened. Then the pravda changed and it was the the U-2 was shot down at the border and was an act of war. Then the pravda changed and the Soviets were more saddened than angry.
This is standard propaganda. You tell a lie. When that implodes, you fall back on another lie. When that implodes, you fall back on another lie. It’s lies all the way down.
(Franklin Harris has a slightly different take: that Trump is a bullshitter who just doesn’t care about the truth and says whatever he thinks people want to hear. He’s probably right. Either way, the script plays out the same.)
With the Fields incident, we’ve gotten a series of pravdas:
- We don’t know who she is.
- She’s a liar and an attention seeker.
- Someone else grabbed her.
- There’s no police complaint.
- There’s no video.
- The video doesn’t show anything.
- It wasn’t that bad.
- Maybe she had those bruises beforehand.
- Maybe she was holding a bomb.
It’s insane. In a span of two weeks, Trump and his supporters have gone from claiming the incident was made up to claiming that Lewandowski was a hero for saving Trump for a potential suicide bomber.
This is par for the course. Trump lies. Frequently, flagrantly and without ever backing down. As Phil Plait said the other day, trying to fact-check Trump is like digging a hole in water. The minute you get rid of some lies, more rush in to take its place. The idea of simply telling the truth never occurs to him.
Is this the kind of Administration we want? One that is constantly flagrantly hopping from lie to lie, from bullshit to bullshit, all to avoid ever admitting that they did anything even slightly wrong?
It bears repeating: all this could have gone away instantly if Lewandowski had just said, on day one: “I didn’t like the way she was hassling Trump and I probably over-reacted. I didn’t think I’d grabbed her that hard and I apologize if I hurt her.”
Done. Finished. Ended. But that kind of admission of wrong and apology is simple impossible for Donald Trump or the Trumpers. Trumpism means never having to say you’re sorry. It means never admitting that you’re wrong.
And that mentality is dangerous in a President. First of all, half the problems we have in this country are a result of our unwillingness to admit we made a mistake. We can’t admit that the War on Drugs or the War on Sex was a mistake. We can’t admit that Iraq was a mistake (or at least our plan for it was). We can’t admit that locking up two million people was a mistake. We can’t admit that Obamacare was a mistake. We can’t admit that building Social Security as a “pay as you go” pyramid scheme was a mistake.
How the hell is Donald Trump going to change Washington if he can’t ever admit to getting it wrong? Just the other day, Paul Ryan gave a fantastic speech where he admitted that we over-compensated on criminal justice and we need to stop putting so many people in prison. In doing so, he gave a huge boost to efforts to reform the system, to orient it more toward rehabilitation. Can you imagine Trump saying something like that? (Trump famously took out a full page ad calling for the death penalty to be reinstated after the Central Park Jogger case. The Central Park Five later turned out to be innocent.)
Second, the primary theater of the President is foreign policy. Foreign policy is harder than it sounds. Better men than Trump have screwed it up. It involves a balance of asserting America’s interest while not disrespecting those of other countries. It involves recognizing that they have their own interests and agendas and finding common ground to advance ours. You are constantly dealing with men with their own outsized egos who think that the world revolves around them. It’s not the place for men who confuse certainty with being right and bluster with strength. By far, the best foreign policy President of my lifetime was George H. W. Bush, who managed to put together a coalition against Saddam Hussein while keeping Israel out of it and deftly managed the end of the Cold War. That is complete opposite of the whining man-child that is Donald Trump. I can just picture him standing over the smoking rubble of a nuclear exchange and saying, “China started it!” Or backing out of a critical defense agreement because some minister said something nasty about him.
(Trump recently gave an interview where he talked about foreign policy. Not only was he dangerously misinformed, he doesn’t understand the basic tenets of foreign policy. Example: yes, it’s a “bad deal” that we pay to keep our troops in South Korea and Saudi Arabia. But we do that so that they won’t feel the need to provide for their own defense and build nuclear weapons, which would be a far more dangerous situation.)
A Presidential election isn’t just about issues. It can’t be because we don’t know what the big issues of the next four years will be. Who, in 2000, knew that the biggest issue George W. Bush would deal with would be terrorism?
It’s about character, too. It’s about who do we trust to be in the White House for four years. Every day, we see more reasons why Trump should not be President. It’s not just Michelle Fields. It’s him backing out of his pledge to support the GOP candidate because of how he’s been “treated”. It’s him threatening lawsuits over Louisiana because Ted Cruz played by the rules and got more delegates than he did. It’s his pathological response to jokes about his hands. It’s his buddy at National Enquirer running a poorly sourced story alleging Ted Cruz has been cheating on his wife. It’s the pointless attacks on Heidi Cruz.
This isn’t a game. This isn’t reality TV. This is our future. And electing a horse’s ass who can find no end of outlandish lies and excuses for why his campaign manager grabbed someone is not the way to fix things. I would rather the GOP lose than to become the party of Trump.
Look, I’m sympathetic to the reasons most people are supporting Trump. I’ve been simmering a post on this for a while. I don’t think they’re racist or misogynists. I don’t think they’re idiots. I don’t think they’re crazy. I think they’re frustrated with the way this country is headed and are turning desperately to someone … anyone … they think can shake things up. That is where their need to believe that Michelle Fields was a suicide bomber comes from. Because they want to believe that Trump is the man to fix this broken system and any problems he has are a result of the system fighting back.
(There’s also a contingent, including recently Susan Sarandon, who hope Trump burns the whole thing down. Because wrecking a country always sets the stage for rebuilding it. Or something).
Trump is not the cure for what ails us. He’s a Washington insider. He’s a beneficiary of government abuse and crony capitalism. And as this incident and dozens like it are showing, he is temperamentally unsuited to office. He can’t even deal with his campaign manager grabbing a reporter without turning into a public fiasco. What the hell is going to do when Putin invades another country?