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Tags: Donald Trump | Trump Administration | dostoevsky | nielsen | sanders | twitter | warren

Despite Rough Edges Trump Leads in Decency

Despite Rough Edges Trump Leads in Decency

Donald Trump on 5th Avenue in front of Trump Tower in New York City, prior to his becoming U.S. president. (Paul Hakimata/Dreamstime)

By    |   Monday, 25 June 2018 04:45 PM

There is something to be said for public discussion of political issues, but a meaningful dialogue can't be conducted in an atmosphere poisoned by hatred or irresponsibility.

This has never been made clearer than by the current brouhaha over separating undocumented migrant families at our southern border. This is where the Trump administration’s announced "zero tolerance" policy has resulted in incarceration of those violating immigration law, and the concomitant temporary separation of some minors from their parents.

Instead of seeing this separation as the inevitable consequence of an attempt to enforce the law, a separation similarly engaged in by prior administrations (it's not our policy to incarcerate children with their parents when they are imprisoned) the media prefers to present this as an example of Trumpian cruelty Hitlerian in scale.

Not only does this trivialize the Holocaust, as John Podhoretz has argued, it gives license for severe breaches in what ought to be the social contract in this country.

In a nation committed to rational civil discourse, there ought to be "zero tolerance" for congressional interns screaming obscenities at President Trump, or for protestors who make it impossible for administration officials in their off-duty hours to visit restaurants (as happened both to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen last week).

Similarly despicable, of course, are stunts like Kathy Griffen’s severed and bleeding Trump head. A First Amendment absolutist might argue that all of these ought to be protected forms of expression, but reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on speech have always been upheld as permissible.

Perhaps we ought to contemplate whether clearly indecent breaches of decorum come within a zone which ought be off-limits.

When there is no God, the great novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky observed, all things are permitted. We find ourselves in this current dilemma because the Founders’ aphorism that there can be no order without law, no law without morality, and no morality without religion is now decidedly out of favor — at least with one of our political parties and our mainstream media.

Those who would admonish us to consider the plight of the children snatched from their parents at the border seem to be seeking to promote some sort of morality, but it is one divorced from tradition and religion, if not common sense.

There are powerful policy arguments for stronger border enforcement to reduce child-trafficking, drug trafficking, and terrorism. There is also a strong traditional moral as well as legal foundation to support such policies.

When one side insists, however, that its opponents are acting in bad faith, that their desires are the same as those of the Nazis, and that putting them to death or urging them to perform anatomically impossible acts of self-abuse is acceptable, we have a problem.

It's coming to be understood that while conservatives can understand the moral arguments of liberals and progressives, the reverse simply now seems impossible. Why this should be the case is illusive, though it might have something to do with ideological uniformity in higher education, the media, and a craving for redistribution and unappeasable envy of the financially successful.

There was a time when it was understood that, in the word of Calvin Coolidge,  the business of America was business, and that the accumulation of wealth, at least when it was accompanied by philanthropy was something to be encouraged.

It's not clear that the liberal and progressive ideology, flourishing during the Obama administration, and that Mrs. Clinton, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. — and others — still seek to implement can coexist with this older view.

Thus, it is that many small businesspersons, and even many working class members, wishing to preserve social mobility, as Frank Buckley and other wise pundits have observed, now find themselves in tune with the party of Trump.

The desire on the part of many Democrats to believe that Donald Trump secured the White House through nefarious means such as Russian collusion, though increasingly evidently without a shred of supporting evidence, is understandable since he represents so many things unpalatable to his opponents. And the president himself, when he expresses his views, especially on Twitter, can do so with a pungency bordering on bad taste. Still, Donald Trump does not engage in the despicable ruductio ad Hitlerum, nor does he threaten physical harm to, or even curse his critics.

Compared to them he is an exemplar of decency, and perhaps that is the most galling affront of all.

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). Presser was recently appointed as a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado's Boulder Campus for 2018-2019. To read more of his reports — Click


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Donald Trump does not engage in the despicable ruductio ad Hitlerum, nor does he threaten physical harm to, or even curse his critics. Compared to them he is an exemplar of decency, and perhaps that is the most galling affront of all.
dostoevsky, nielsen, sanders, twitter, warren
Monday, 25 June 2018 04:45 PM
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