It was Ernest Hemingway, of course, who defined courage — per Dorothy Parker, actually “guts” — as “grace under pressure.”
One needn’t even wonder what “Papa” would think of Donald Trump’s repeated demonstrations of the opposite quality: gracelessness under absolutely no pressure.
At the outset, let’s go on the record: the president has by-and-large been excellent on domestic policy, made critical strides in restoring American global leadership, and pursued sterling judicial appointments, with very few exceptions. On that basis, he merits re-election. So far.
But Trump’s unforced errors — if one wishes to describe consistently and deliberately rude, crude, boorish and childish behavior as “errors” — are not just infuriating to anyone with the most infinitesimal trace of decency and upbringing. They are harmful to the conservative cause, his party, and our country.
By now the whole world knows about Trump’s tempest tweet of the moment: that the four freshmen Representatives of “The Squad,” including three born in the U.S., should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.”
It goes without saying that even if the man is arguably not racist — and his job-creating policies have served minorities especially well — the suggestion is offensive to its core.
So what? the argument goes. It’s vintage Trump, and even if it’s garbage, it’s of a variety people “priced in” to their votes for him. But the legitimate uproar over the vile invective exemplifies the self-inflicted damage the president is capable of.
First of all, Trump broke the cardinal rule of politics: never get in your opponent’s way when he or she is self-destructing.
Two days ago, Democrats were in disarray. Minority factions improbably throwing race cards down at each other. The new guard and senior leadership trading ugly insults. Not just freshmen, but staffers dissing
Trump was under less than zero pressure to get involved. The Democrats’ food fight was redounding to his benefit and that of the GOP.
Yet now, he has done the improbable, if not impossible. In 24 hours, he has unified the Democrats — handing Pelosi an opportunity to defuse her explosive situation and close ranks behind her wayward junior members — and gift-wrapped The Squad and 2020 wannabes a spectacular platform and massive target at which to redirect their ire.
Moreover, he has shifted the crossfire to his own party, as respectable party leaders and rank-and-file alike must ultimately condemn his reprehensible pronouncements.
Second: the President’s revolting recalling of a bygone epithet one never thought would be heard again in polite company — “ship them all back to Africa” — hands the other side ready-made evidence of charges of “systematic” or “institutional” racism. If the chief executive of the nation’s largest “institution” — the federal government — can generate and get away with such an outrageously insensitive outburst, how hard does it get to credibly deny the assertion? The president’s Tweet was dangerously divisive.
Third, Trump’s tweet hurts the GOP the worst with electoral segments they need the most: suburban women and independents. Even those predisposed to vote Republican based on economic accomplishments will once again be given pause.
But Trump’s graceless, unpressured assault on The Squad wasn’t his only recent, gratuitously destructive outrage. Equally appalling were his needless attacks on British Ambassador Kim Darroch after leaks of cables to his government referring to the administration as “inept” and “clumsy.”
The right — and “diplomatic” — thing to do in that situation? Express private disappointment with but public confidence in the ambassador, along with
Then, a few months down the road, observe the official announcing his “long-planned” retirement — and pocket a diplomatic chip from a grateful ally graciously spared undue embarrassment.
That level of sophisticated grace is beyond this head of state. Instead, he posts tweets disparaging the ambassador and his government. Disinvites him from an upcoming event. Signals neither he nor his administration will work with the official, forcing his resignation and return home in disgrace. And then unleashes or allows a campaign of — what else? — leaks to further discredit the diplomat.
All undoing the good feelings from a recent state visit in which even the Queen bent over backward to keep a country in crisis in the good graces of our mercurial leader. And raising the specter of Ugly Americanism over diplomatic relations with all our allies.
Because seemingly no manner of infamy will apparently weaken this president with his base, Republicans and other conservatives will have to continue to live with his shameful conduct.
But we don’t have to like it. And in the spirit of Papa, we should evince the “guts” to say so when it’s warranted.
Bob Maistros is a messaging and communications strategist and crisis specialist. He was chief writer for the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign, and a former Senate subcommittee counsel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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