By William H. Freivogel
Almost every day, President Donald Trump behaves the way parents tell their children never to behave. He lies, boasts, berates friends, threatens foes, acts like a spoilsport, blames others for his failings, objectifies women, demands the spotlight and relishes flouting the norms of public behavior.
To many of his supporters, turning the world topsy-turvy is refreshing, even fun.
But Trump’s rude, crude behavior must be jarring to millions of good, decent people who voted for Trump only to find him violating every rule of good behavior.
Trump’s speech to Eagle Scouts in West Virginia this week was a classic. After promising not to be political, he attacked President Obama, Hillary Clinton and the “fake media.” Somehow he worked into his speech a six-minute story of meeting a failed real estate developer at a Manhattan cocktail party — with references to fabled exploits on his yacht.
Bill Kristol, the conservative commentator, tweeted after the speech, “He’s so far beyond the usual bounds of even vulgar politicians’ vulgarity….” Former CIA Director John E. McLaughlin tweeted, “Trump’s Boy Scout speech had the feel of a third world authoritarian’s youth rally.”
Trump’s everyday actions challenge the Scout motto of “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” These are not character traits associated with the current president.
Think about the norms parents teach their children.
Don’t lie: This week Trump falsely blamed The New York Times for tipping off the leader of ISIS to a U.S. strike. He also claimed, “So many stories about me in @washingtonpost are Fake News.” These are among the 800-plus lies Trump told during the first six months of office, including fabrications about five million fraudulent voters for Hillary Clinton and Obama tapping Trump Tower.
Don’t deceive yourself: A year after Russians came to Trump Tower to interfere with the presidential election in their meeting with Donald Trump Jr., the president continues to say he is not convinced the Russians interfered. In a remarkable exchange with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, said the Russians are too slick to get caught hacking. “Somebody said to me yesterday, I won’t tell you who, that if the Russians actually hacked this situation and spilled out those emails you would never have seen it,” Scramucci said. “They are superconfident in their deception skills in hacking.”
When Tapper pressed who the anonymous source was, Scaramucci responded, “How about it was the president.”
Be loyal to your friends: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the first senator to support Trump for president, received a dose of Trump “loyalty” this past week. The president told the New York Times he wouldn’t have appointed him if he had known Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation. In other words, Trump wanted Sessions to protect him from the criminal investigation of Russian interference in the election that threatens his family and his presidency, even though Sessions’ recusal was required by Justice Department policy.
Don’t shift blame to others: After telling the Times last week that Sessions’ recusals was “very unfair to the president,” Trump came back this week with tweets about the “beleaguered AG” whom he then beleaguered with the Tuesday morning tweet: “So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?” Later in the day, he labeled Sessions “VERY weak,” something one doesn’t want to be in Trump’s administration of alpha males.
Don’t develop a persecution complex: Trump made it clear in the Times’ interview that the Russia investigation is Fake News pursued as part of a “witch hunt” by the mainstream media. He also criticized the acting director of the FBI, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, possibly as a prelude for firing one or more of them. He said Sessions’ recusal was “very unfair to the president.” He revised that Tuesday to say — inexplicably — it was unfair to the presidency, as if the presidency can’t withstand an attorney general’s proper recusal decision.
Don’t showboat: Trump starts most days by tweeting his grudges and grievances and grabbing the nation’s attention. Everything screams “look at me.” Look, I have big hands. Look, I attract the biggest crowds. Look, I’m really, really rich and smart and went to the best schools.
Don’t call people names: Trump has turned around this parental admonition and attached a nasty pejorative to every opponent. Crooked Hillary. Little Marco. Lyin’ Ted. Goofy (Elizabeth) Warren, alias Pocahontas. Low Energy Jeb. Crazy Bernie.
Then there are the norms of public life that Trump flouts.
He threatens to lock up political opponents such as Hillary Clinton. He ridicules cabinet members in public. He writes nasty, graphic tweets about women and their bodies. He refuses to embrace the unanimous conclusion of his intelligence agencies that the Russians tried to influence the election in his favor. He fires the FBI director after demanding loyalty and asking him to block a federal criminal investigation. His son meets with a Russian agent to get dirt on Clinton instead of reporting the contact to the FBI. Trump cuts off support for Syrian rebels, handing Russia a victory in Syria. He blasts federal judges for incompetence when they disagree with him. He calls reputable news organization fake and believes reports of disreputable news organizations. He told a Youngstown, Ohio, audience Tuesday night that he was trying to get beyond the filter of “Fake, fake, fake news.”
At one point in the Youngstown speech, Trump addressed the criticism that he is not presidential.
“Sometimes they say: ‘He doesn’t act presidential,’” Trump told the audience. “And I say: ‘Hey look; great schools, smart guy, it’s so easy to act presidential, but that’s not going to get it done.’ . . . It’s much easier, by the way, to act presidential than what we’re doing here tonight.”
He added, “With the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president who has ever held this office. That I can tell you. It’s real easy.”
If it’s so easy, Mr. President, give yourself and the American people a breather and try a few months of being presidential.