I bet everyone has forgotten about this series, which began on Ethics Alarms almost a year ago. I haven’t.
The first metaphor for the Trump Presidency was that of the passengers in an airplane navigating a storm voting to let a dog (in some versions, a chimp) try flying the craft. The metaphor was apt, and it’s still apt, even though moral luck worked its magic, and not only did the plane not crash, the dog turned out to a better pilot than anyone could have predicted. It was still irresponsible for this country to permit a man with Trump’s well-documented character flaws and proven proclivities both and executive and a human to be given such control over the destiny of the nation.
The second metaphor was from “Animal House”:
As I wrote:
A segment of the population decided that the system was rigged against them, that Democrats and Republicans were both involved in a massive, decades long con in which their primary goal was not to do what was in the public interest, but what was most likely to keep them in power and eventually line their pockets, and that their voices were not just being ignored, but that they were being insulted while being ignored. The so-called “deplorables” were mad as hell, and they weren’t going to take it any more. Voting for Trump was an “Up yours!” to the elites, the sanctimonious media, the corrupt Clintons, the hollow Obamas, and obviously corrupt Democrats like Pelosi and Harry Reid, machine Republicans like Mitch McConnell, and pompous think-tank conservative like Bill Kristol…It’s idiotic, but the message isn’t. It’s “Animal House”! and “Animal House” is as American as Doolittle’s Raid….In Germany, The Big Cheese says jump and the Germans say “How high?” In the US, the response is “Fuck you!” Obama never understood that…. I love that about America. And much as I hate the idea of an idiot being President, I do love the message and who it was sent to. America still has spunk.
That message needed to be sent, and it is, fortunately, still resonating, perhaps more strongly than ever. Trump was a symbol and a catalyst; not the best of either in an ideal world, but still what was desperately required.
The third metaphor is expressed by lawyer Barney Greenwald (Jose Ferrer) in the clip above from “The Caine Mutiny.” In two posts on the ethical obligation to give a President a chance to succeed (or fail), I wrote,
“[T]he fair, patriotic, ethical and rational approach to the impending Presidency of Donald Trump is to be supportive of the office and the individual until his actual performance in the job earns just criticism. Attempting to undermine a Presidency at its outset is a self-destructive act, for nobody benefits if a Presidency fails.”
I wrote that first before Trump took office, and was stunned the degree to which the “resistance”/Democrats? mainstream media defied its obvious wisdom. Later, I wrote,
How could I know, at a point where the term “the resistance” hadn’t even surfaced yet, that the unparalleled assault on a President would not only continue, but escalate to the point where a newly minted Congresswoman would announce to a cheering mob, “We’re going to impeach the motherfucker!”?
The quote from the clip that is the operative metaphor for Trump’s Presidency—and Joe Biden’s—is when lawyer Barney Greenwald says,”You don’t work with the captain because of how he parts his hair…you work with him because he’s got the job, or you’re no good.”
I wrote in 2017, as every Facebook friend seemed to be posting venom about Trump, his skin color, his hair and his tweets daily and when late night TV was nothing but anti-Trump venom, hour after hour,
If you are a citizen, Trump is your President. We don’t have, or allow, citizen states. You can dissent, and support political opposition, but you still must obey the laws and be loyal to the nation, which means loyalty to the nation’s elected leadership. Loyalty doesn’t require agreement, but it does require respecting legitimate authority, and seeking what is best for the United States of America. Constitutional crisis is never good for any nation. A crippled government is never good. A leader estranged from the public is never good. Seeking these things is irresponsible and foolish, but more than that, it is dangerous.
Donald Trump is in over his head. He knows it, I think. Maybe, just maybe, with a lot of help, a lot of support and more than a lot of luck, he might be able to do a decent job for his country and the public. It’s a long-shot, but what’s the alternative? Making sure that he fails? Making him feel paranoid, and angry, and feeding his worst inclinations so he’s guaranteed to behave irrationally and irresponsibly? How is that in anyone’s best interest? That’s not how to get someone through a challenge, especially someone who you have to depend on.
The American Presidency has always been a merger of man and office. This is a very important and powerful tradition. It means that every new occupant of the office is immediately, with his election, imbued with the virtues and stature of the men who came before him. This provides instant legitimacy, but also an instant obligation. The new President feels the immense burden of having to meet the standards set by his predecessors, and it is a daunting challenge. Yet many of our elected and unelected Presidents (the Vice-Presidents) rose to exceed all reasonable expectations based on what they had done before. Arthur, Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Ford qualify for this description. Only one President faced public ridicule and political antipathy from the moment he was sworn in, and that was Andrew Johnson. He was a failure, at a time when the task facing the President might have even defeated his fallen predecessor, Abraham Lincoln. Might Johnson, whose rise remains the most impressive “anyone can grow up to be be President” life story we have ever seen or are likely to see, have found the strength and character to be a successful leader had he not faced disrespect, hatred and mockery from the start? Probably not, but he hardly could have done worse.
Either the Presidency will make Donald Trump a better man, or Trump will permanently harm the Presidency and weaken it, thus making the office less of an inspiration and source of strength for future occupants. (Nixon wounded the office; so did Carter, and Clinton.) It is absolutely in the nation’s best interests to seek the first result. That requires focusing on the office and its strengths, and uniting as a nation behind that office. The relentless, unprecedented assault on Trump since his election by Democrats and the news media may have already done irreparable damage.
Well, congratulations, Trump-haters, that damage was done, and not surprisingly, the next President is feeling the effects.
This weekend, President Biden had a bad day, speech-wise. At the Commissioning Commemoration Ceremony of the USS Delaware, he recalled the days when Michelle Obama was Vice President. Biden said of wife Dr. Jill: “And I’m deeply proud of the work she’s doing as First Lady with [the] Joining Forces initiative she started with Michelle Obama when she was vice president, and now carries on.” Conservative pundits, as they say, “pounced.” Wrote Robert Spencer,
His misstatement here is not just some innocuous slip of the tongue to be matter-of-factly corrected as if it were an insignificant typographical error; it is just the latest in a long string of weird statements that should arouse genuine concern about the mental state of the president of the United States, if such concern weren’t immediately dismissed as tendentious partisan mudslinging. The Joe Biden who recalled when his wife served as the vice president asked on March 4: “How did we get to the place where, you know, Putin just decides he’s gonna invade Russia? Something like this hasn’t happened since World War II.” Biden declared in his State of the Union address that “Putin may encircle Kyiv with tanks, but he’ll never gain the hearts and souls of the Iranian people.” On Equal Pay Day (March 15), Biden called his ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, “Linda Thomas Greenhouse.”
Biden has never been very bright, and is less so than ever; he’s always been less than articulate, and a jerk as well. Now he’s over his head in a job he’s unfit to handle, and he feels the walls closing in, because they are.
Obviously, that paragraph still applies, but I’m feeling more sympathetic today. Harping on Biden’s verbal gaffes is not helpful or constructive. He’s old, and old people whose minds still function well in other ways often begin having trouble sorting through names and words. I’m a lot younger than Joe, but a few years ago at a D.C. Bar ethics presentation, while discussing an ethics issue illustrated in a “Perry Mason” episode, I called actor Raymond Burr “Aaron Burr,” and didn’t even realize it. More to the point, after President Eisenhower has his stroke, he often grappled for words while speaking and answering questions. (In one book, Richard Nixon revealed that sometimes Ike faked aphasia to duck questions he didn’t want to answer.) But even Democrats muted criticism of this, because they knew the old General was trusted and respected.
And just maybe they had seen “The Caine Mutiny” recently (it was released in 1954in Ike’s first term) and they got the message: You don’t work with the President because of how well he talks…”you work with him because he’s got the job, or you’re no good.”