One purpose of this blog is to recall that all change is not progress, and that sometimes you can turn back the clock. In the recent flap over the odd attacks of Rep. Fredrica Wilson, D-Fla., on both President Trump and his Chief of Staff, Marine Four-Star general John F. Kelly, we see the consequences of jettisoning wise old ways. In particular, our former practices involving basic decency.
Gen. Kelly, in commenting on Congresswoman Wilson’s inappropriate listening in on a condolence call made by the president, and her apparently either deliberately misunderstanding or wrongly impugning the character of Mr. Trump’s genuine attempt at softening a Gold Star Widow’s bereavement, lamented the fact that in our current political climate "nothing is sacred." The general spoke with a rare combination of genuine passion and sadness, given that he is himself a Gold Star parent, having lost a son in the service of his country.
Others have observed that the congresswoman, and other professed enemies of the president, will stop at virtually nothing to seek to impugn him. Some, like Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who recently announced that she would "go and take Trump out," indulge in behavior, that with any other president, might have resulted in a visit from the U.S. Secret Service, and quite possibly surveillance initiated — or worse.
It's not just a failure of respect for the office that Mr. Trump holds, or contempt for anyone who would serve in his administration that is most disturbing, though that is certainly bad enough.
The tendency harshly to judge one’s political enemies is as old as our republic, but what is now missing is any sense of limits, of any established code of sensible and civilized behavior, of decency itself. The loss of morality, civic pride, restraint and temperance have now reached epic proportions, evidenced by such modern signs as the current opioid crisis, the exponential increase in out-of-wedlock births, the billion-dollar market for abortions, and what seems like an epidemic of sexual harassment in Hollywood and elsewhere.
While there is no single cause for our current difficulties, this cultural malady surely traces to the louche attitudes that prevailed in the late 1960s and culminated in the 1990s with an episode involving another president and a young intern. Since then, to try to recall anyone to an older set of standards has seemed risible to most of those in the media, in the academy, and, indeed, in our politics itself.
And yet, it was the failure to maintain any sort of standards of conduct, the failure to honor our traditions of self-sacrifice in the military and of respect for our soldiers and our flag that were instrumental in the election of Mr. Trump. Those failures continue to bind his supporters together. Indeed, not understood by Mr. Trump’s detractors is the fact that it is the president’s commitment to this older and wiser set of standards that leads men, particularly from military backgrounds like General Kelly’s, to serve in his administration.
Donald J. Trump is a person whose public and private comments might not always meet the high standards of some previous occupants of the Oval Office. Nevertheless, some of our more astute students of politics are slowly beginning to realize that Mr. Trump does possess political instincts as well as an appreciation of the concerns of ordinary Americans surely rivalling those of some of the greatest ever to occupy the Oval Office.
The dominance in much of the media of the favored narrative of the president as incompetent, suspect, and undisciplined; a narrative flowing from a difficulty in understanding a code of conduct and a set of values alien to the current set of politically-correct postulates, and, in the end, a gross failure of empathy for traditional America, has made it nearly impossible for many to understand what sort of a transformation is actually underway.
Some hints of what may finally penetrate even the darkest corners of the anti-Trump media were revealed in an interview on CNN with Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has often been reported to be at odds with the president.
Obliterating that notion, Sen. McConnell confirmed that he trusts Mr. Trump "as a partner," and he stated his belief that he and the president would soon have a legislative victory on tax reform. More importantly, McConnell made clear that the president has not received appropriate recognition for his successes outside the legislative realm, including his appointments to commissions such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — all of which Sen. McConnell expected to have a positive impact on the growth of the American economy.
Mr. Trump’s success on the economic front will surely cheer his supporters, but his eventual success in the ongoing battle for the soul of the country may be even more important.
Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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