“Necessity may well be called the mother of invention, but calamity is the test of integrity.”
That’s from Samuel Richardson – whose famous epistolary novel Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded (1740) was a demonstration of that observation. The tale is both highly moral and more than a little creepy – but virtue is rewarded – Pamela is not ravished by the villain. He’s astounded by her integrity, changes his ways, and then she marries him. It’s an odd tale.
Richardson died on July 4, 1761 – fifteen years before July 4, 1776, the birth of the United States of America. He wouldn’t live to see this new nation begin its long struggle with integrity and expediency, trying to figure out whether virtue is rewarded, or just dumb. We could have let the South keep its slave-based economy and shrugged off that “all men are created equal” stuff – it would have been easier all around – but we chose integrity, and our virtue was rewarded with a massive civil war that half of our current Republicans are still fighting in their own way. They’re not calling for the return of slavery, but our first black president spooked them. Glenn Reynolds, in USA Today, is now carefully explaining why the president needs to be white, male and Republican – and he’s serious. It would be easier all around. We could criticize a straight white male Republican and keep any nonsense he tries in check, without being called racist or sexist. Reynolds is a University of Tennessee law professor, not some angry basement blogger, and this really is a call for excluding blacks and women from the presidency. Integrity versus expediency is the issue once again.
Yes, calamity really is the test of integrity, but Obama will be gone soon enough, and the current calamity, that tests integrity, is Donald Trump. The man is unfit to be president. The sixteen Republicans running against him in the primaries said so, forcefully and repeatedly. There was that Never Trump movement spearheaded by the National Review, the magazine founded by the man who invented modern American conservatism, William F. Buckley. Everything that Trump was saying was more than absurd – it was downright dangerous – and then Trump easily clinched the nomination, and now the sixteen others and the Never Trump crowd must choose between integrity and expediency. Do they say they were just kidding, earlier, and get behind Trump? What about their integrity?
Forget integrity. It really is Donald Trump’s party now, and virtue will not be rewarded – those who ran against him will be left behind, without a party, neither Republican nor Democrat, with no possible political career, if they still maintain that Donald Trump is unfit to be president. The righteous Never Trump crowd will be left without an audience for their principled conservative views. That means that it may be time to revisit the concept of integrity, and this was the weekend for that, starting with Marco Rubio:
Meditating on everything from Trump’s rise to his fractious relationship with Jeb Bush, Rubio revisited nearly every turn of his presidential run in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper that aired Sunday on “State of the Union.” The former presidential candidate, who has grudgingly said he will support Trump in November, also admitted a series of mistakes that he says eventually bedeviled his campaign.
Chief among those, Rubio has said, was belittling Trump for the size of his hands in the lead-up to Super Tuesday, which he has publicly said he regrets. But Rubio went further when speaking with Tapper.
“I actually told Donald – one of the debates, I forget which one – I apologized to him for that,” Rubio said. “I said, ‘You know, I’m sorry that I said that. It’s not who I am and I shouldn’t have done it.’ I didn’t say it in front of the cameras. I didn’t want any political benefit.”
Digby (Heather Parton) notes this:
I don’t think Trump returned the favor. But I’m sure he liked seeing Lil’ Marco grovel. That’s what he lives for.
Rubio went on to say that he thinks Trump is a great “change agent” (what kind of change he doesn’t specify) and indicated he was ready to join the Trump party.
That’s not exactly a study in integrity, but she points to what she calls “a conservative leader who has a sense of patriotism and common sense” – and that would be Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal Editorial board one hour later also on CNN:
Fareed Zakaria: Brett, I have to ask you – you have written eloquently against Donald Trump on the ticket. The rest of the Republican establishment has pretty much collapsed and surrendered to his not particularly warm embrace. Are you going to vote for Donald Trump in the fall?
Stephens: I most certainly will not vote for Donald Trump. I will vote for the least left wing opponent to Donald Trump and I will want to make a vote that will make sure he is the biggest loser in presidential history since Alf Landon or going back further. It’s important that Donald Trump and what he represents, this “ethnic conservatism or populism” be so decisively rebuked that the Republican Party and Republican voters will forever learn their lesson that they cannot nominate a man so manifestly unqualified to be president in any way shape or form. They have to learn a lesson the way Democrats learned in 72. George Will has said lets have him lose 50 states. Why not Guam, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia too?
You’ll notice that he doesn’t use the usual cheap dodge about how Trump isn’t a “real conservative.” He makes the argument on the right grounds: Trump is “manifestly unqualified in any way, shape or form.”
This is what’s at stake. It’s not a game and it isn’t about ideology. It’s about the fact that this loon is unfit. There are a few Republicans who are willing to say this out loud. But most are like Lil’ Marco – selling out whatever is left of their integrity for a favor from The Donald.
This is the litmus test of litmus tests. Did you speak up when the party nominates someone who is manifestly unqualified or not?
The guy does like to prove that. The Friday evening before these Sunday morning shows, Donald Trump unloaded a rather extraordinary public attack on Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is overseeing the class-action lawsuit against Trump University:
“The judge was appointed by Barack Obama, federal judge. Frankly, he should recuse himself because he’s given us ruling after ruling after ruling, negative, negative, negative.” Mr. Trump also told the audience, which had previously chanted the Republican standard-bearer’s signature “build that wall” mantra in reference to Mr. Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border, that Judge Curiel is “Mexican.”
“What happens is the judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican, which is great. I think that’s fine,” Mr. Trump said. …
“I think Judge Curiel should be ashamed of himself,” Mr. Trump said. “I’m telling you, this court system, judges in this court system, federal court, they ought to look into Judge Curiel. Because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace, OK? But we’ll come back in November. Wouldn’t that be wild if I’m president and I come back to do a civil case? Where everybody likes it. Okay. This is called life, folks.”
That was odd, but Kevin Drum adds context:
As it happens, Curiel was born in East Chicago, Indiana, but hey, what’s a little race-baiting between Trump and a few thousand close friends and few million TV viewers?
More broadly, though, what the hell was this all about? Well, it turns out that Trump probably had forewarning about what was coming down the pike. The Washington Post had filed a motion to unseal some documents in the trial, and one of their arguments was that since Trump was now the presumptive Republican nominee for president, that increased the public interest in these documents.
It seems that the judge agreed:
As an initial matter, the court must strongly presume the public interest in access. But “the interest in access to court proceedings in general may be asserted more forcefully when the litigation involves matters of significant public concern.” As the Post points out, the Ninth Circuit found that [Trump University] was a public figure for purposes of defamation. …
Subsequently, Defendant became the front-runner for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential race, and has placed the integrity of these court proceedings at issue. The Ninth Circuit has directed courts considering the public disclosure of litigation materials to take into account “whether a party benefitting from the order of confidentiality is a public entity or official; and… whether the case involves issues important to the public.”
So, Trump is now more than just a public figure: he’s a legitimate contender for high public office. And that means his actions justifiably invite stronger scrutiny.
So what was Trump’s ploy here? Does he not realize that publicly bashing a judge is a bad idea? Federal judges don’t have to worry about Trump’s mob and they don’t have to worry about being re-elected. Or did he think that ranting against the judge before the ruling was handed down would help him on appeal? I criticized him, and he took it personally and ruled against us.
Maybe – or does Trump simply have no self-control and couldn’t help himself?
Perhaps so, but Drum settles for this:
I think Trump still doesn’t realize that running for president is different from anything else he’s ever experienced. The bullying just doesn’t work the way it used to. The press scrutiny is beyond even Trump’s imagining. Money and organization matter. You have to appeal to more than just a half of a half of the electorate. And in this case, the fact that he’s the presumptive nominee of a major political party means that his actions are presumptively of legitimate public interest.
Live by earned media, die by earned media. In the meantime, let us all break out the crocodile tears for Trump. It’s schadenfreude time.
The man is unfit for office, or at least not ready for office, and at the least, guys like Marco Rubio will have to explain why they support a little race-baiting between Trump and a few thousand close friends and few million television viewers, and they will also have to explain why Donald Trump just told Californians there is no drought:
California suffered one of its driest years in 2015. And last year the state hit its driest four-year period on record.
But Donald Trump isn’t sold. The presumptive GOP nominee told supporters in Fresno, Calif., on Friday night that no such dry spell exists.
Trump said state officials were simply denying water to Central Valley farmers to prioritize the Delta smelt, a native California fish nearing extinction — or as Trump called it, “a certain kind of three-inch fish.”
“We’re going to solve your water problem. You have a water problem that is so insane. It is so ridiculous where they’re taking the water and shoving it out to sea,” Trump told thousands of supporters at the campaign event.
The Atlantic’s James Fallows adds context:
The rains of the past El Nino season have slightly offset the disastrous multi-year drought in California, which is the worst in the state’s recorded history. Just in case you skipped through that previous sentence too quickly: for as far back as weather records have been kept, there has never before been as long or severe a shortage of rainfall as what California has endured since 2012. (Tree-ring records show prolonged droughts in much earlier eras, some lasting for centuries.) Some reservoirs in northern California have been partly refilled by the recent rains; most in the south are still very dry. The water supply is nowhere close to back to normal, and what the new “normal” might be no one can say.
Everything about life in California has been affected by the drought. Governor Jerry Brown has turned to it in all of his recent State of the State messages, both as an emergency to confront and as a parable for the state’s future. For instance, here is the way he spoke about it in this year’s address:
“One of the bright spots in our contentious politics is the joining together of both parties and the people themselves to secure passage of Proposition 1, the Water Bond. That, together with our California Water Action Plan, establishes a solid program to deal with the drought and the longer-term challenge of using our water wisely.
“Our goal must be to preserve California’s natural beauty and ensure a vibrant economy – on our farms, in our cities and for all the people who live here. There is no magic bullet but a series of actions must be taken. We have to recharge our aquifers, manage the groundwater, recycle, capture storm water, build storage and reliable conveyance, improve efficiency everywhere, invest in new technologies – including desalination – and all the while recognize that there are some limits.
“Achieving balance between all the conflicting interests is not easy but I pledge to you that I will listen and work patiently to achieve results that will stand the test of time. Water goes to the heart of what California is and what it has been over centuries. Pitting fish against farmer misses the point and grossly distorts reality. Every one of us and every creature that dwells here form a complex system which must be understood and respected.”
Someone here is not fit for office:
This is the way a leader sounds if he has invested the time to understand an issue; if he recognizes the stakes in dealing with it seriously; if he is willing to take on the complex work of finding areas of agreement, including among groups with deeply conflicting interests; and if he is willing to begin a process that cannot possibly be completed on his watch but which his state cannot afford to delay. You can agree or disagree with Jerry Brown’s water policies or other aspects of his leadership. Either way, no one can doubt that he is giving this his all.
And then there’s Trump:
Here, by contrast, is the way a shallow narcissist sounds if he knows nothing about the issue, doesn’t care to learn, and is just shooting off his mouth with the latest thing he heard.
This should dismay many Republicans, but many of them seem to have checked their integrity at the door, and that leads Sean Patrick Donlan, another law professor, and a Democrat, to offer this:
Trump is not merely a Republican dilemma, but an American tragedy. Ideally, conservatives would acknowledge their role in enabling his candidacy, in moving the boundaries of acceptable rhetoric so far from reason that he can lie indiscriminately without fear of correction by journalists anxious for their next story. But more immediately, Republicans must find ways to defend their principles without capitulation to a vulgarian seemingly without principles of any sort. Trump deserves more than defeat by my party. He and his enthusiasts and enablers must be publicly, popularly shamed by all citizens who see him as a political cancer.
This is a call for integrity, even if it carries an odd price:
Admittedly, this will almost certainly require acceptance of a Clinton victory. This is no small price for life-long Republicans who oppose her. But only a crushing loss might wash away the Trump-shaped stain on the Republican Party, on the body politic, and on our international reputation. Honest conservatives appreciate the real differences between Clinton and Trump. As conservative writer PJ O’Rourke said on NPR, “Clinton is the second-worst thing that can happen to this country, but she’s way behind in second place. She’s wrong about absolutely everything, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.” As he suggests, Trump is something else, something relatively new to American politics, and something to be feared. At stake are both the soul of the GOP and the collective civility of American political discourse.
While O’Rourke said he was voting for Hillary, he’d presumably split his vote: he’d vote for Clinton as President and Republicans on the rest of the ballot. Others might not vote for her, but accept her in the short term, not least to limit any collateral political damage that Trump might bring. Deeply critical of Trump’s conservative credentials, columnist George Will wrote that this was “a time for prudence, which demands the prevention of a Trump presidency.”
Sure, but this is going to be difficult:
Despite Clinton’s lack of Obamaesque charisma, she’s no Ted Cruz. And she’s tougher than Rubio, Jeb, Carson and Christie combined. She’ll have both more ideological room and intellectual resources with which to attack than Trump’s Republican opponents did.
Of course, she’ll have to be on her game. The Donald will say anything to win. As David Brooks wrote two months ago, “Trump is perhaps the most dishonest person to run for high office in our lifetimes. All politicians stretch the truth, but Trump has a steady obliviousness to accuracy.”
The media’s failure to press him on this, the false equivalence of the two candidates, has exacerbated this flaw. It remains to be seen how Trump will square the vacuum of his values – empty even by political standards – with a party manifesto, talking points, and the fear that he will lead his new Party into the abyss. And for a man with a thin skin and tiny hands, it’ll be difficult for him not to Tweet angrily at every slight, real or perceived. Even John Miller will struggle to conceal, or comb over, Trump’s limitations.
But that we’ve arrived at this point at all is profoundly depressing.
Perhaps so, but calamity is the test of integrity, which can be sad:
Much of the Republican leadership has already fallen into line behind Trump’s conservatism of convenience. While Clinton contends with the incessant buzzing of Crazy Bernie, Republicans have begun to march in lockstep. Instead of fighting for its principles – such as they are – its conservative champions and Christian soldiers have meekly surrendered in whole battalions, encircled less by the enemy than by fear.
That is, except for the hold-outs:
Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard noted that he couldn’t vote for Trump:
“It’s not clear that his mixed bag of motley policies would be superior to those of his Democratic opponent. He could well pick better Supreme Court justices, which is important; but he could well pursue a less sound foreign policy, which is also important. But policy is not the issue. Character is. It is clear that Donald Trump does not have the character to be president of the United States.”
In a similar vein, conservative columnist Ross Douthat wrote that “it would be possible to justify support for Trump if he merely promised a period of chaos for conservatism. But to support Trump for the presidency is to invite chaos upon the republic and the world. No policy goal, no court appointment, can justify such recklessness.”
Donlan wants more of that:
The Grand Old Party is the party of Honest Abe and Teddy Roosevelt, the Rough Rider and Trust Buster. It’s the party of Ike and numberless decent people and public servants.
Most of my family now belongs to the party and some of my best friends are Republicans. Historically, members of the GOP were often more progressive than the Southern Democratic tradition in which I was raised. But, of course, Trump has no real interest either in policy or party.
Let me be clear. I don’t want modern Republicans to govern and I think they bear significant responsibility for the situation we find ourselves in. But our democracy, our republic, needs them. In the long run, all Americans are better when we have at least two parties with reasonably clear and broadly reasonable public policies that allow us to hold our elected officials to account. … None of us needs a megalomaniac untroubled by untruth, unconcerned about consistency, and unbothered by violence.
Democrats will obviously do their part to keep Trump out of the White House. But saving the republic and the Republican Party from Trump demands an active Republican resistance. And it needs to be now. It may be too late already.
It was too late for that long ago. We’ve been in a struggle with integrity and expediency, trying to figure out whether virtue is rewarded, or just dumb, for two centuries now. Donald Trump is just the latest calamity to test our integrity, and we seem to be failing again. Richardson’s sweet young Pamela, long ago, lived a life of integrity and changed the heart and mind of the guy who was pretty much trying to rape her, day after day, with no success. We, on the other hand, seem to have decided sit back and just enjoy it as best we can. Virtue isn’t rewarded in the real world.