We can’t shrug this off

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - RUTH MAR­CUS ruth­mar­cus@wash­post.com

The week that was: Last Sun­day, Pres­i­dent Trump once again pub­licly hu­mil­i­ated his sec­re­tary of state, this time tweet­ing that Rex Tiller­son was “wast­ing his time try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with Lit­tle Rocket Man.”

On Tues­day, the pres­i­dent tossed rolls of pa­per tow­els to hur­ri­cane vic­tims in Puerto Rico like T-shirts at a sport­ing event. He con­trasted the dis­as­ter they are en­dur­ing to the “real catas­tro­phe” of Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina and lauded the “great job” his ad­min­is­tra­tion has done re­spond­ing to Hur­ri­cane Maria.

On Wed­nes­day, Tiller­son non-de­nied an NBC News re­port that he had called the pres­i­dent a “mo­ron.” The chair­man of the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee opined that Tiller­son, Sec­re­tary of De­fense Jim Mat­tis and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly “are those peo­ple that help sep­a­rate our coun­try from chaos.”

On Thurs­day, a day af­ter the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee’s bi­par­ti­san lead­er­ship reaf­firmed the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity’s con­clu­sion that Rus­sia tried to in­ter­fere in the 2016 elec­tion — and the panel’s Repub­li­can chair­man said that “the is­sue of col­lu­sion” with the Trump cam­paign “is still open” — the pres­i­dent tweeted that the panel should be “look­ing into the Fake News Net­works in OUR coun­try to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!”

This sit­u­a­tion is not nor­mal. This be­hav­ior is not okay. We — we in the me­dia, and we Amer­i­cans — need to keep re­mind­ing our­selves of this, day af­ter day, tweet af­ter tweet. We need to call out ev­ery false state­ment. We need to re­mem­ber, af­ter ev­ery fail­ure of em­pa­thy and ev­ery nar­cis­sis­tic de­mand for praise, af­ter ev­ery im­pul­sive, bel­li­cose taunt and ev­ery chal­lenge to con­sti­tu­tional norms, that this is not the way a pres­i­dent acts.

Each of the past week’s episodes — and last week of­fered an over­flow­ing but not unique bounty — is dis­turb­ing and dis­ap­point­ing in a dif­fer­ent way. They ex­posed Trump’s dan­ger­ous reck­less­ness and his racially tinged in­dif­fer­ence to the suf­fer­ing of U.S. cit­i­zens, his ap­palling ig­no­rance and his even more ap­palling lack of re­spect for demo­cratic val­ues.

Tak­ing them in or­der: First, Trump’s se­rial un­der­cut­ting of Tiller­son erodes his stand­ing to speak for the United States. If there is method in the in­sults he hurls at Kim Jong Un, Trump is play­ing an aw­fully risky game.

Sec­ond, at this point, Trump’s em­pa­thy im­pair­ment is no sur­prise, nor, sadly, is the par­tic­u­lar fail­ure of his em­pa­thy when it comes to vic­tims of color. But the glar­ing gap be­tween Trump’s en­er­getic re­sponse to the hur­ri­canes in Texas and Florida and his lack­adaisi­cal ap­proach to the dis­as­ter that has be­fallen the U.S. cit­i­zens of Puerto Rico has been es­pe­cially re­pel­lent, tweet­ing that the peo­ple there “want ev­ery­thing to be done for them.” The jar­ring in­sou­ciance of the towel-toss­ing put a fit­tingly ugly coda on all that had gone be­fore.

Third, let us pause for a mo­ment to take in that it is en­tirely be­liev­able that a mem­ber of his own Cab­i­net would call the pres­i­dent a mo­ron, not to men­tion that this re­mark­able ef­fron­tery would leak — or that many Amer­i­cans hear­ing it would nod in agree­ment.

Amer­i­cans, maybe even Cab­i­net sec­re­taries, have scoffed at their pres­i­dents be­fore, but the depth and com­bi­na­tion of Trump’s inat­ten­tion, ig­no­rance and blus­ter know no equal. Sim­i­larly with Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-Tenn.) chill­ing com­ment: When, be­fore, have we imag­ined the Cab­i­net as a thin blue line against pres­i­den­tial chaos?

Fi­nally, per­haps most alarm­ing of all, Trump’s per­sis­tent in­dif­fer­ence to a for­eign ad­ver­sary’s ef­forts to un­der­mine our democ­racy. He has di­rected more anger at the mayor of Puerto Rico than at Vladimir Putin. This is a ter­ri­ble thing to have to say, but the pres­i­dent is not a pa­triot, if an es­sen­tial part of pa­tri­o­tism means be­ing will­ing to stand up for your coun­try when it is un­der at­tack.

And the au­thor­i­tar­ian, an­ti­con­sti­tu­tional sug­ges­tion that the Se­nate in­tel­li­gence panel should have some role in prob­ing “Fake News Net­works” at home be­trays, yet again, Trump’s con­tempt for, if not fear of, a free press. Clamp­ing down on in­for­ma­tion and dis­sent is the first in­stinct of ev­ery would-be dic­ta­tor.

Our Con­sti­tu­tion and our gov­ern­ing in­sti­tu­tions are, I trust, too re­silient to let Trump trans­late that urge into real­ity. Still, the de­sire alone is scary enough.

Prop­erly cal­i­brat­ing de­grees of out­rage is a del­i­cate task in the age of Trump. There is so much to lament and to call out. En­er­gies un­der­stand­ably flag with the fourth un­hinged tweet of the day. Episodes that would or­di­nar­ily con­sume news cy­cles for days pass with scarcely a there-he-goes-again shrug.

This is no time for shrug­ging.

This sit­u­a­tion is not nor­mal. This be­hav­ior is not okay. We — we in the me­dia, and we Amer­i­cans — need to keep re­mind­ing our­selves of this, day af­ter day, tweet af­ter tweet.

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