News & Politics

Mr. Trump Has Changed the Presidency from a 'Bully Pulpit' into a 'Bully Sandbox'

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures while speaking at a rally at Macomb Community College, Friday, March 4, 2016, in Warren, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

With his legions of brainless fans cheering him on, the man I used to call “President” Trump let loose a Twitter volley at MSNBC “Morning Joe” hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski that shocked and sickened even many on the right.

Has it really been that long since we expected a certain level of decorum and civility from a president? Politics is a full-contact sport, but there used to be boundaries that simply weren’t crossed. What does Mr. Trump hope to gain by crossing them?

He didn’t have to convince his right-wing base that calling someone mean, spiteful, and vicious names demonstrates “strength.” But what kind of strength is it? Is it the kind of quiet, confident, rock-solid strength exhibited by a Ronald Reagan, Harry Truman, or Dwight Eisenhower? Or is it the strength of a sandbox bully who pushes the other children around, steals their toys, and throws sand in their faces?

Jay Nordlinger:

Also, Trump likes to throw around the word “crazy.” When talking with Vladimir Putin’s representatives in the Oval Office, he called the former FBI director, James Comey, “crazy” and “a real nutjob.”

Is Mika Brzezinski crazy? Is Comey crazy, and a real nutjob? Is Joe Scarborough a psycho? What about the man who says these things?

There was a time when no conservative would have disputed that the character of a leader matters, and that the president, in particular, sets an example: an example for good or ill. During the Clinton years, we said that the president was “coarsening the culture.” I believe we were right. And I think that the coarsening has gotten a lot worse.

What makes Trump possible, what makes the screwy conspiracy theories possible, what makes the fear and anger possible, what makes the hate possible — what makes all of it possible is the tragically mistaken idea that we are at war with the left and that anything and everything is justified in beating down the “enemy.” Except, there are no casualties, no swaths of scorched earth, no destroyed cities, no refugees — I might point out that anything and everything is not justified in real war either. There are the Geneva Conventions and the simple strictures of humanity that restrain our worst impulses. The term used to describe the conflict between right and left is a metaphor. But there are many on both sides who take it to heart.

The overwhelming majority of the American people do not see us at war. Only the 14 million of us who are political and news junkies believe that. And yet, that tiny percentage of mostly misguided, misinformed, and emotionally immature citizens are destroying the America I grew up in. And they are using the most powerful communications tool in human history to do it. The internet isn’t destroying the country. The people who have learned to use it for nefarious purposes are.

Trump is unable to summon the better angels of his nature to argue his position and rather than engage his political opponents in actual debate, he debases himself and the office of the president by resorting to cruel, viscous name calling of the most personal kind. Decent people are embarrassed by this behavior. And if it is, indeed, “war,” the man who calls himself “president” is losing it.

Those who call themselves conservative, who, as Nordlinger points out, used to think of themselves as the guardians of civility, have gone off the deep end in defending this lout of a man. The only question Mr. Trump has left to answer is: will he bring the entire country down with him when the inevitable fall occurs?