The former chief G W Bush speechwriter has a column in today’s Washington Post that shows the spreading impact of people processing the events since Saturday when the story of Trump Jr. , Kushner, and Manafort met with the Russian lawyer broke into the public consciousness. Titled In Trump’s world, innocence is proved by guilt, it is very much shaped by the release of the email chain earlier this week.
Yes, it is true the Gerson was never a fan or supporter of Donald J. Trump, but this piece is very pointed, and given who reads Gerson likely to have an impact on a some of the “more reasonable” Republican officers.
His opening paragraph sets the frame:
Given what we know about the collusion — and there is no other word for it — between then-candidate Donald Trump’s most senior advisers and what they thought was a Kremlin-tied lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, the most shocking thing is that no one on the Trump side was shocked. The most offensive thing is that no one took offense. Trump’s son, son-in-law and campaign manager treated the offer of aid by a hostile foreign power to tilt an election as just another day at the office. “I think many people would have held that meeting,” the president affirmed. It is the banality of this corruption that makes it so appalling. The president and his men are incapable of feeling shame about shameful things.
Look again at the last two sentences in that block quote, first this
It is the banality of this corruption that makes it so appalling.
That sentence will remind many of the famous work by philosopher Hannah Arendt written as a result of the trial of Eichmann, The Banality of Evil.
The next sentence is definitely a gut punch:
The president and his men are incapable of feeling shame about shameful things.
Given the history of Donald J. Trump and his long association with mobsters, both American and Russian, his willingness to abandon any sense of the truth in his pursuit of self-aggrandizement, perhaps one should not be surprised by this sentence.
And in case one does not make the connection on its own, Gerson makes it very clear two paragraphs down, where we read
Trumpism is an easygoing belief system that indulges and excuses the stiffing of contractors, the conning of students, the bilking of investors, the exploitation of women and the practices of nepotism and self-dealing. A faith that makes losing a sin will make cheating a sacrament.
As to the rationalization that Trump and his family (including his son-in-law) are political novices, Gerson is blunt that it is insufficient:
It does not cover egregious acts of wrongdoing. Putting a future president in the debt of a foreign power — and subject, presumably, to blackmail by that power — is the height of sleazy stupidity. It is not a mistake born of greenness; it is evidence of a vacant conscience.
Trump himself has described politics as broken and corrupt, perhaps because he was setting up the context for an excuse for losing and a justification for establishing a media organization to attack the ongoing government (which of course would be under the contorl of “crooked Hillary” as a way of further enriching himself. Gerson offers several cautions about that attitude, including these words:
If the system is truly manipulated by political enemies, then only suckers are bound by its norms and requirements. Those who denigrate our system of government are providing an excuse for gaming it. And that is precisely what Trump Jr. was doing — trying to game American democracy.
The real power of the column, however, is in the final two paragraphs, where Gerson turns to the British writer and lay theologian/apologist C. S. Lewis (who incidentally, along with Aldous Huxley, died on the same day as JFK). Lewis is a favorite of many conservative Christians, not merely for his apologetics but also for his “children’s tales” in the trilogy Chronicals of Narnia with its overtly Christian undergirding. I think, as is often the case with the words of Lewis, what Gerson quotes speaks clearly and requires no further explanation.
Here are those paragraphs:
C.S. Lewis posited three elements that make up human beings. There is the intellect, residing in the head. There are the passions, residing in the stomach (and slightly lower). And then there are trained, habituated emotions — the “stable sentiments” of character — which Lewis associated with the chest.
In the realm of political ethics, voters last year did not prioritize character in sufficient numbers, during the party primaries or the general election. Now we are seeing the result. “In a sort of ghastly simplicity,” Lewis said, “we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”
Michael Gerson has now clearly tied the “t” words to the Trumps.