Don­ald Trump’s body

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Opinion -

WASHINGTON — Watch­ing Pres­i­dent Trump in con­ver­sa­tions Tues­day with French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron and Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau caused a mo­ment of cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance.

Could this be our Don­ald Trump speak­ing?

Set­ting aside whether one agreed with his re­marks, the pres­i­dent was well-spo­ken, rea­son­ably in­formed, con­fi­dent with­out be­ing abra­sive, and, if I may say so, a per­fectly ac­cept­able hu­man be­ing. OK, I spit out my cof­fee as I wrote that, but my re­lief was pal­pa­ble, as was my long­ing for that per­son to con­tinue oc­cu­py­ing the pres­i­dent’s body.

Such en­comi­ums, of course, re­sult from a very low bar. Trump’s grownup per­for­mance brought pause pre­cisely be­cause of its con­trast to what we’re ac­cus­tomed to. The dis­par­ity was so jar­ring, in fact, that it made me an­gry. How dare he not be­have ap­pro­pri­ately ev­ery day, not just when he’s in the mood. Surely he owes Amer­ica that much.

In­stead, he’s a one-man wreck­ing ball on de­cency and ci­vil­ity. To wit: His ap­palling per­for­mance at a re­cent rally in Minneapoli­s, where he acted out an imag­ined, sex­u­ally ex­cit­ing tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion be­tween two for­mer FBI agents.

Now that I have your at­ten­tion, a short note on style versus sub­stance. Some read­ers will think, who cares how he be­haves? Trump sup­port­ers have long ad­mon­ished us to ig­nore what he says and fo­cus on what he does. To oth­ers, Trump is sim­ply an en­ter­tainer who also hap­pens to be pres­i­dent and who, ap­par­ently, thinks he’s a co­me­dian. But, one can be too funny for one’s own good, which holds es­pe­cially true if you’re com­man­der in chief and yourown-good ex­tends to about 330 mil­lion other peo­ple.

Trump’s style, in­deed, is his own worst en­emy — and one of the sin­gle great­est rea­sons so many de­spise him. His pres­i­dency of­ten feels like a sus­tained whoopee cush­ion or a bou­ton­nière’s squirt in the eye. Crit­ics can’t take him se­ri­ously be­cause, surely, he can’t be se­ri­ous. A clown speak­ing about tar­iffs is still a clown.

I would ar­gue that style and sub­stance are com­ple­men­tary co­equals in mat­ters of im­port. It isn’t ten­able that Trump act any ol’ way and ex­pect trust and re­spect in re­turn. Nor am I con­vinced that his po­lit­i­cal base would dis­solve with­out his an­tics. How does his mimicry of a re­porter with dis­abil­i­ties el­e­vate his fol­low­ers to make Amer­ica great again? How does his heavy-breath­ing mock­ery of the two for­mer agents en­hance their as­pi­ra­tions?

Lisa Page, the fe­male half of the FBI duo, has suf­fered silently for al­most two years as Pres­i­dent Trump has re­peat­edly at­tacked her, mostly via Twit­ter. She broke her si­lence this week with Molly Jong-Fast of The Daily Beast, say­ing that Trump’s “fake or­gasm” was the fi­nal straw. We can de­bate what it sounded like, but I wouldn’t want my grand­chil­dren to wit­ness it.

As back-story, Page and Peter Str­zok had an ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair while work­ing at the agency and ex­changed text mes­sages that were leaked, ex­pos­ing both the ro­mance and their mu­tual dis­like of Trump. Both had been work­ing on in­ves­ti­ga­tions of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s emails and Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion.

Trump owes Page and Str­zok a thank-you note rather than a sala­cious stream of at­tacks. Their text mes­sages were a gift that al­lowed him to claim bias and ac­cel­er­ate his cam­paign of dis­trust in Amer­ica’s se­cu­rity in­sti­tu­tions. The pres­i­dent was un­de­terred by sub­se­quent find­ings that, though the two were way out of bounds, their opin­ions did not con­sti­tute bias in their work.

Cyn­ics may point to Page’s tim­ing and her likely in­clu­sion in an im­mi­nent re­port from the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral. But she has ev­ery right to ob­ject to the pres­i­dent’s in­de­fen­si­ble stalk­ing. The ques­tion is, why isn’t the sound of out­rage deaf­en­ing? How is it pos­si­ble that Repub­li­cans con­done such be­hav­ior with their si­lence?

The an­swer isn’t only that Trump oth­er­wise pleases them. It is that, as a so­ci­ety, we’ve be­come in­ured to out­rage by its con­stancy. We swim, steep and mar­i­nate in rude­ness, coarse­ness, foul-language and lurid be­hav­ior. Pres­i­dent Trump could have been a leader but chose to seek at­ten­tion in­stead. He, not the me­dia, is the true en­emy of the peo­ple — at least the de­cent ones.

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