The Cum­mins premise

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - John Brum­mett John Brum­mett, whose col­umn ap­pears regularly in the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette, was in­ducted into the Arkansas Writ­ers’ Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrum­mett@arkansason­line.com. Read his @john­brum­mett Twit­ter feed.

Bud Cum­mins’ premise that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s be­hav­ior is ir­rel­e­vant gets stressed closer to the break­ing point nearly ev­ery day.

To re­fresh your mem­ory, Cum­mins, of Lit­tle Rock, is the for­mer U.S. at­tor­ney who was Trump’s cam­paign chair­man in Arkansas. Now af­fil­i­ated with a pro-Trump po­lit­i­cal con­sult­ing firm in Wash­ing­ton, he has ex­plained that we’ve had pres­i­dents be­fore who were phonies.

He con­cludes, ergo, that we may as well have a pres­i­dent who is no phony, but trans­par­ently of low per­sonal char­ac­ter. He as­serts that trans­par­ently bad pres­i­den­tial be­hav­ior doesn’t mat­ter if the econ­omy is fine and taxes low­ered and the bor­der more se­cure and ISIS com­pe­tently fought.

To be pre­cise and fair, Cum­mins doesn’t use, and would dis­pute, the phrase “low per­sonal char­ac­ter” for this man-child pres­i­dent he con­tin­ues to stand by with a loy­alty only be­gin­ning to ap­prox­i­mate that of Jeff Ses­sions.

I am the one in­vok­ing the phrase con­fi­dently, based on the ev­i­dence.

Cum­mins merely ac­knowl­edges that Trump some­times tweets or says things he wouldn’t.

In other words: He has stan­dards for him­self, but he re­laxes them for the sup­posed leader of the free world.

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It’s an in­ter­est­ing ra­tio­nale — that you be­stow your en­dorse­ment on a 71-year-old man for the of­fice of pres­i­dent de­spite ac­tions for which you’d put your child on time­out.

It’s that be­ing a well-be­haved pres­i­dent is not as im­por­tant as be­ing a well-be­haved child.

It’s that Trump’s re­spon­si­bil­ity as our na­tional leader is not to be a role model, but to fa­cil­i­tate lower taxes and tighter im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy and maybe, only maybe, a dif­fer­ent pol­icy on health in­sur­ance.

It’s that the pres­i­den­tial proof is in the pud­ding, not the man.

Of course it’s con­tra­dic­tory. Repub­li­cans im­peached Bill Clin­ton for low char­ac­ter, for ly­ing about sex, even as the econ­omy was fir­ing on all cylin­ders and the deficit was com­ing down.

I wrote at the time that Clin­ton should re­sign the pres­i­dency be­cause he’d dis­graced it, and, any­way, it would help Al Gore if he ran as an in­cum­bent. I was both consistent about be­hav­ior and a tad mer­ce­nary like Cum­mins.

The lat­est ex­am­ple of how the Cum­mins premise works is the sad case of Ses­sions, an eager right-wing ex­trem­ist who be­came in­fat­u­ated early and em­braced Trump’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­dacy be­fore any other prom­i­nent Repub­li­can would dare do so.

He got ap­pointed at­tor­ney gen­eral and be­gan work on ef­fect­ing some of the ex­trem­ism he’d merely dreamed about as a gar­den-va­ri­ety sen­a­tor from Alabama.

But along the way, the Jus­tice De­part­ment he newly headed un­der­took an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Rus­sian med­dling in the last pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion came to in­clude the is­sue of whether the Rus­sians med­dled to help the Trump cam­paign, with which Ses­sions was highly in­volved.

Based on ad­vice from his staff about an eth­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity to avoid even the ap­pear­ance of a con­flict of in­ter­est, Ses­sions re­cused from the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and ceded the mat­ter to his chief deputy, who named spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller for the Rus­sia-Trump mat­ter.

Now Trump is fu­ri­ous that Ses­sions con­ceded to eth­i­cal stan­dards rather than shield him from the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Trump has turned pub­licly cruel to a poor syco­phan­tic sap who had the naïvely mis­guided au­dac­ity to think his hero would per­mit him to abide by pro­fes­sional be­hav­ioral stan­dards in the of­fice to which he was so proudly and joy­ously ap­pointed.

Trump has cho­sen to ridicule the poor eager-beaver re­lent­lessly — first in an in­ter­view with the New York Times, then in tweets.

He has brow­beaten Ses­sions for not us­ing the Jus­tice De­part­ment to re-in­ves­ti­gate Hil­lary Clin­ton (she’s been cleared al­ready) and thus abuse the FBI in a way rem­i­nis­cent of Nixon that we might have thought the na­tion had learned from and got­ten bet­ter than.

Bad be­hav­ior of­ten is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of ir­ra­tional think­ing. And it is clearly ir­ra­tional for Trump to be­rate his own loyalist even as that loyalist per­forms his job in a way Trump’s right-wing base ad­mires.

But none of that mat­ters by the Cum­mins premise, which is to look away from all that and only to the eco­nomic in­di­ca­tors. How about that stock mar­ket? Now if we can only get taxes down.

Ican hear devo­tees of the Cum­mins premise now: At least Trump is be­ing open about his mis­be­hav­ior. What about John F. Kennedy putting in his own brother as at­tor­ney gen­eral, pre­sum­ably to have his back in the way Trump ex­pected Ses­sions to have his?

That’s a clas­sic rush to the low­est com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor. The im­pro­pri­ety of the Kennedy brothers’ in­de­fen­si­ble nepo­tism nearly 60 years ago is no li­cense for abuse now.

It is, how­ever, a clas­sic play­ground de­fense. You know the line, usu­ally de­liv­ered in the form of a whine. It goes like this: “He did it first.”

It’s a pow­er­ful ar­gu­ment for fourth-graders, though they sel­dom pre­vail.

It seems to work best at the pres­i­den­tial level in the Trump Era.

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