Trump’s shal­low­ness runs deep

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Ge­orge Will

— In the 1870s, when Boss Tweed’s Tam­many Hall con­trolled New York City, and in the 1950s and 1960s, when Chicago’s Demo­cratic ma­chine was es­pe­cially ram­pant, there was a phe­nom­e­non that can be called im­mu­nity through pro­fu­sion: Fresh scan­dals ar­rived with metro­nomic reg­u­lar­ity, so there was no time to con­cen­trate on any of them. The pub­lic, be­wil­dered by blitzkriegs of bad be­hav­ior, was en­er­vated.

What Win­ston Churchill said about an ad­ver­sary — “He spoke with­out a note and al­most with­out a point” — can be said of Don­ald Trump, but this might be un­fair to him. His speeches are, of course, syn­tac­ti­cal train wrecks, but there might be method to his mad­ness. He rarely fin­ishes a sen­tence (“Be­lieve me!” does not count), but per­haps he is not the scat­ter­brain he has so suc­cess­fully con­trived to ap­pear. Maybe he ac­tu­ally is a sly ras­cal, cun­ningly in pur­suit of im­mu­nity through pro­fu­sion.

He seems to un­der­stand that if you pro­duce a steady stream of suf­fi­ciently stu­pe­fy­ing state­ments, there will be no time to dwell on any one of them, and the net ef­fect on the pub­lic will be numb­ness and en­nui. So, for ex­am­ple, while the na­tion has been con­sid­er­ing his in­ter­est­ing de­ci­sion to try to ex­pand his ap­peal by at­tack­ing Gold Star par­ents, lit­tle at­ten­tion has been paid to this: Vladimir Putin’s occupation of the Crimea has es­caped Trump’s no­tice.

It is, surely, some­what noteworthy that some­one as­pir­ing to be Amer­ica’s com­man­der in chief has some­how not no­ticed the fact that for two years now a sov­er­eign Euro­pean na­tion has been be­ing dis­mem­bered. But a thor­oughly jaded Amer­i­can pub­lic, be­mused by the depths of Trump’s shal­low­ness, might have missed the fol­low­ing from Trump’s ap­pear­ance last Sun­day on ABC’s “This Week.”

When host Ge­orge Stephanopou­los asked, “Why did you soften the GOP plat­form on Ukraine?” — re­mov­ing the call for pro­vid­ing lethal weapons for Ukraine to de­fend it­self — Trump said: “[Putin’s] not go­ing into Ukraine, OK? Just so you un­der­stand. He’s not go­ing to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it any­where you want.”

Stephanopou­los: “Well, he’s al­ready there, isn’t he?”

Trump: “OK, well, he’s there in a cer­tain way, but I’m not there yet. You have [Pres­i­dent] Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess un­der Obama, with all the strength that you’re talk­ing about and all of the power of NATO and all of this, in the mean­time, he’s go­ing where — he takes — takes Crimea, he’s sort of — I mean ... “

What Trump, in that word salad, calls the “cer­tain way” that Putin is in Crimea is called an­nex­a­tion, en­forced by the Rus­sian army. But Trump — chan­nel­ing his in­ner Woodrow Wil­son and his prin­ci­ple of eth­nic self-de­ter­mi­na­tion — says what has hap­pened to Crimea is sort of demo­cratic be­cause “from what I’ve heard” the peo­ple of Crimea “would rather be with Rus­sia than where they were.”

Be­fore the in­ter­view ended, Trump ex­pressed his dis­plea­sure with the sched­ule for pres­i­den­tial de­bates, two of which are on nights with na­tion­ally tele­vised NFL games. (There are such games three nights each au­tumn week.) “I got a let­ter from the NFL,” Trump claimed, “say­ing this is ridicu­lous.” The NFL says it has sent no such let­ter. But be­fore this Trump fib/fig­ment of his imag­i­na­tion/hal­lu­ci­na­tion can be prop­erly sa­vored, it will be washed away by a rip­tide of oth­ers. Im­mu­nity through pro­fu­sion.

The na­tion, how­ever, is not im­mune to the last­ing dam­age that is be­ing done to it by Trump’s suc­cess in nor­mal­iz­ing post-fac­tual pol­i­tics. It is be­ing poi­soned by the in­jec­tion into its blood­stream of the cyn­i­cism re­quired of those Repub­li­cans who per­sist in pre­tend­ing that al­though Trump lies con­stantly and knows noth­ing, these blem­ishes do not dis­qual­ify him from be­ing pres­i­dent.

As when, last week, Mike Pence re­proved Barack Obama for de­plor­ing, ob­vi­ously with Trump in mind, “home­grown dem­a­gogues.” Pence, do­ing his well-prac­ticed im­i­ta­tion of a coun­try vicar sad­dened by the dis­cov­ery of sin in his par­ish, said with sor­row­ful solem­nity: “I don’t think name call­ing has any place in pub­lic life.” As in “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz and “Lit­tle Marco” Ru­bio and “Crooked Hil­lary” Clin­ton?

Pence is just the most re­cent ex­am­ple of how the rub­ble of ru­ined rep­u­ta­tions will be­come deeper be­fore Nov. 8. It has been well said that “sooner or later, we all sit down to a ban­quet of con­se­quences.” The Repub­li­can Party’s mul­ti­course ban­quet has be­gun.

Ge­orge Will is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at georgewill@wash­post. com.

WASH­ING­TON

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