Wednesday, January 27, 2016

An Unpleasant Obligation

     Now that the contretemps between Donald Trump and Fox News has reached a head, it’s time to lance the boil – but with facts and hard-edged logic.

     First, for those who are unaware, Trump has made it definite: He won’t be at the upcoming Fox Business Network debate:

     In the midst of an exchange like this, so definite a statement is a “put up or shut up,” to the other side – but also one for which the speaker can subsequently be taken to task should he alter his stance. You said you wouldn’t, yet you did? And there remains a good chance that Trump will attend the FBN debate – that negotiations continue privately, with the outcome still to be determined. Dana Loesch noted that this morning:

     Would it cost him any of his current level of support? Unclear, though as a test of the fidelity of his supporters it would be quite revealing. (I mean, it wouldn’t be like he shot someone in public, right? Right?)

     However, for our purposes this morning, the roots of the contretemps are more important than this most recent bud.

     As many who have followed developments will already know, Donald Trump feels he was unfairly targeted during his first FBN appearance, specifically by questions from Fox News’s Megyn Kelly. I didn’t watch that debate. (Nor any of those that followed. What I do here seriously overloads me with political effluvium; I don’t need concentrated, two- and three-hour doses of it to test my endurance.) But from what I’ve read about it, Kelly did aim sharply pointed questions at Trump specifically, whether at her own initiative or by direction from above.

     Apparently, the question that flicked Trump in a most sensitive spot concerned his attitude toward women:

     "You've called women you don't like 'fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.' You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who is likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?"

     Another question that made him squirm – this time from Bret Baier – was whether he would support the ultimate GOP nominee if it weren’t Donald Trump. Given Trump’s three marriages, his conduct as a “reality TV” celebrity, and much other past behavior, the first question was well placed. Given the broad field of contenders, only one of whom could get the nomination, the second one was obligatory.

     Trump was affronted by Megyn Kelly’s inquiry and later made a dubious statement specifically about her: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.” The reaction does “go to character,” as a trial lawyer might say, and character, as I might say, is trumps...though perhaps not Trump’s.

     “Great oaks from little acorns grow,” runs the maxim. From the modest beginning recalled above has flowered a feud whose borders entirely enclose the Republican Party...indeed, if not the Republic itself. If character matters in a president, then it matters very much how Trump’s behavior speaks to his character.

     In mulling over this noisy fracas, I’ve kept the following in mind:

  • Donald Trump, not Megyn Kelly, seeks the highest political office in the nation.
  • Donald Trump, not Megyn Kelly, is the source of the questionable behavior that prompted Kelly’s question cited above.
  • Donald Trump, not Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier, nor anyone else at Fox, is the one that wants the support of the Republican Party for his bid.

     Moreover, we’ve been here, or nearby, at least twice before. Though Trump has never actively sought any lower public office, he has twice previously bid for the GOP nod for presidency. His most recent attempt was in 2012, as an alternative to the more conventional Republican candidates. It went nowhere, but it demonstrates that he isn’t a man selflessly putting himself forward for the nation’s sake; he’s a man avid for power of a sort he hasn’t yet wielded.

     Trump’s 2012 and 2016 sallies have been for the GOP’s nomination. Yet throughout his career in the public eye, he’s supported and befriended high-ranking Democrats. He’s also benefited from the machinations of Democrats. At least one of his larger projects required land seized through eminent domain. His argument was the same as that made in the infamous Kelo v. New London case: more tax revenue for the municipality if it would do as he’d asked.

     This is not the behavior of a man of conservative, nor even Republican principles. This is the behavior of a man in love with himself. Who believes he can do no wrong. Who seeks ever higher podia, ever brighter klieg lights, and ever louder and more fulsome accolades. Whose inability to tolerate even the insinuation of criticism rivals that of Barack Hussein Obama, whom he seeks to replace.

     Much of Trump’s appeal undoubtedly derives from the lackluster (or worse) performance of Republican officials in recent decades. Though comparisons to Ronald Reagan can be wearying, they are inevitable and they’re not unfair; standards become standards for a reason. Neither Bush and approximately none of the Republicans who’ve reached Capitol Hill has much to crow about. The nation is in dire straits because the electorate turned from Half-Heartedly Big Government Republicans to the “real thing:” the unabashed social-fascist dictatorial pronouncements of Barack Hussein Obama. That the voters don’t much like what they’ve inflicted upon themselves (and the rest of us) doesn’t require them to go back to the party that, except for eight distinguished years, preached “white” but practiced “black.”

     So a complete outsider has appeal deriving from that alone – and when that outsider also has a record of substantial accomplishment and a flamboyant manner, the combination can get him to a velocity other candidates will be hard pressed to equal. But the question of greatest consequence has gone unanswered:

“What Do You Really Want, Americans?”

     Does character matter to you?
     What about the consistency of a man’s statements and behavior?
     How have your experiments with other unknown, untried aspirants to power worked out?

     For all the reasons stated here, I feel that interviewers and examiners are ethically obligated to be deeply incisive, perhaps even a little accusatory, toward Donald Trump. The obligation might chafe – few persons actually enjoy such duties -- but it remains nevertheless. The electorate needs to know the man who seeks the powers of the presidency. Softball questions tossed to such a candidate disserve the public interest. If that candidate, given power, is likely to misuse or abuse it, or to renege on his campaign pledges and promises for whatever reason, better that the indications come forth before his hands reach the levers.

     Whatever the ultimate outcome, I endorse Fox’s decision to stand its ground.

     UPDATE: To those who sought to comment: I meant to close off comments on this piece, but forgot to do so when I posted it. Sorry, I have not read your comments, and they will not appear. This is a matter of character judgment. It doesn't matter whether you agree or disagree with my assessment.