Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Twelve Stages of Trump Rejection

It's hard to be surprised by the president these days.  There's no rumor that's so crazy that it seems impossible, since the man does and says crazy things all the time.  This is the Tyson Zone -- a state of infamy where the subject seems so erratic that no rumor is implausible.  Trump just says offensive or lunatic things on a daily basis, and we've all accepted that he has no shame.

Other Republicans do have shame, however -- as well as constituencies and some sense of history.  But tribalism is really strong.  If you're a Republican official, it's really hard to publicly oppose your own leader.  You don't want to damage our own access or your own Republican credentials, even if you are ashamed or alarmed by something Trump says or does.

Thus, the Twelve Stages of Trump Rejection.  Many Republican leaders have been gradually evolving through these stages, pushed forward by successive scandals.  Some people of conscience began their journey very near the end, unwilling to cut a demagogue any slack just because he was "one of us."  Those leaders should be commended.  The others... well, watch them evolve.

Imagine the president said that he likes when fire burns down buildings, and thinks arsonists are fine people.  He didn't, but it's completely plausible.  If you read that in a headline tomorrow, you'd sigh and roll your eyes, but it wouldn't change your judgment of the man himself.  How do Republican leaders make that journey, as reporters ask them for comment?

They start out by saying that It's Fine.
You're exaggerating, taking it out of context.  He didn't mean to say that.  The fake news media is probably misquoting him.  This will all be cleared up soon, no comment, sorry.
Oh, he really said that and meant it?  Well, it's Not What I Would Have Said.
But the president isn't a politician, so he's just not used to this world.  The media leaps on every little thing he says, so he gets to mis-speak every now and then.
He repeated his statement the next day, doubling down?  Well, then leaders might start Articulating Facts.  Marco Rubio does this a lot, saying absurd things like, "That is a statement that he has made."  The key here is that they're not wrong when they state these facts, but they're trying to avoid actually offering any opinion.
He is the President of the United States and he has the right to make statements on all sorts of matters.  There's no law against him saying things or making appointments.
Eventually, there's no avoiding the reality that not only did Trump say the thing, he really meant it.  Well, then, it's time for your Republican politician to ask What About the Other Guy?
Do you remember when Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or just some random person I heard about did the same thing?  Where was your outcry then?  Clearly this isn't important, it's just a partisan attack.
That one isn't usually very effective, so it's best when paired with More Important Things.
I don't have time to focus on the president's remarks, I'm busy focusing on jobs for the American middle class.  Or our troops.  Or something else important.  I can only think about one thing a day, sorry.
And now we reach a serious and important point in the journey.  Halfway through, we finally get away from excuses and distractions.  That's right, our Republican leader is Troubled.
I do have to say that I was troubled by the president's remarks.  Fire is actually a bad thing when it burns down people's homes.  I think whichever advisers are telling him these things are giving him bad information.
If that doesn't work, then it's time for some spin.  The Republican leaks how he has been busy with some Impotent Imploring, appealing to the president to stop saying such insane things about fire.  This is not confrontation of any kind... this is just quietly signaling your own separation.
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Sources close to President Trump have said that several prominent Republicans have been in touch with the president, urging him to back off his approval of arson and asking him to return focus to tax cuts for the rich.
The next step, Indirect Address is a step further.  That's where the politician releases a statement that clearly, obviously contradicts the president.  But to keep the heat down, they do it without actually speaking to the president or mentioning him.  You're advocating for your values, but trying to do it without getting into a fight.  Not exactly a profile in courage, but it's something.
It is not good when a fire burns down someone's home.  It is unworthy of any leader to suggest otherwise.  Arson is also bad, and we should never encourage it.
Sometimes, though, a politician leaps through visceral reaction all the way to this point.  Maybe they're ambushed with a question from a journalist before they could prepare, or maybe it's something that just hits close to him.  Maybe even accidentally, they blurt out, Okay Seriously That Is Messed Up.
He said what?  That's nuts.  Arson is wrong, and so is the president.  Anyone who is in favor of burning down people's homes is betraying central American values.
From then on, we're getting real.  With Direct Address, the Republican leader calls out the president, naming him and contradicting him.
I think the president is fundamentally wrong about this issue.  I strongly disagree, and I will continue to support firefighters and oppose arson.
If the Republican uses Adjectives or other colorful language, they can impart their statement with emotional verve and real meaning.
Arson is evil, and our divisive president is completely wrong.  He better change his mind on this, or he will find that his agenda goes nowhere.
And lastly, the Republican might arrive at the inevitable conclusion about the birther-in-chief: He's Gotta Go.
I think the president has lost the moral authority to lead, and his open encouragement of arson is unbecoming an American leader.
Why is this the end?  Because it's almost impossible to back away from.  Every previous step can be temporary.  In fact, many Republican leaders have gone all the way to Direct Address at one point or another.  But once you call for a change at the top, then that's it.  If you move back to supporting the president in other things, you are consciously and openly supporting someone you have publicly declared unfit for duty.

So far, precious few leaders have made the full journey.  Self-interest and tribalism are strong masters, as well as the finality of that last step.  But so many have gone so far down the Twelve Steps already, and we're only in the first year.  I believe that many Republican leaders will make it all the way, and join us.  I have faith in them.

Until then, we'll wait and listen, and watch them evolve.

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