When You’re A Star

I’ll admit it. When I first heard about Donald Trump’s lewd remarks about groping women, I wasn’t outraged. In fact, the first thing I did was to look at the vintage of the words. He’d made those comments over ten years ago during what he probably thought was a private moment. To me, this seemed like a “gotcha” that members of the media live for.

I thought, well, tmhis is Donald Trump, after all. If we’ve learned nothing else about the man over the last 15 months, we should have learned that for him, women are just collections of legs, butts, breasts, faces and “wherevers” that can be compared, rated and used for his own gratification. It’s no wonder that the Clinton campaign has recorded a sufficient number of Trump’s derogatory comments about women to have cobbled together a devastating ad showing girls listening to those comments while looking sadly at themselves in mirrors.

So why are these newly unearthed comments news? Why are Republican politicians — including his own running mate, Mike Pence — scurrying for cover and even urging him to get out of the race? Are they only now discovering that this man means electoral disaster for the party?

At first blush, I figured that this was just more of the same. Donald Trump seems to have gotten away with disparaging remarks about Muslims, Mexicans, African-Americans, Jews and war heroes. The next outrageous thing he says seems to wash over the last outrageous thing he’s said. In fact, in the last 15 months, he’s said so many outrageous things that it’s hard to remember them all. Why would anyone think that the public would take this episode any more seriously than it has taken any of the others?

Perhaps it is the crude language. He used several of the words that George Carlin told my generation couldn’t be said on television. Of course, those words can be said on cable TV shows and movies, and with such resources readily available, it could be that nobody thinks anyone should have to suffer hearing those words from a Presidential candidate.

Not.

I think I could have simply shrugged off the latest Trumpisms, attributing them to the fact that this man seems never to have grown out of his adolescence. This was high school locker room banter. But then I read his statement in its entirety, and I realized that Donald Trump had gone much farther. Here are the words that most upset me:

“And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

These 14 simple words say it all. They explain what’s wrong with Donald Trump. They explain his race for the Presidency. And they explain why this man should never be allowed anywhere near the White House.

The President of the United States is the world’s ultimate celebrity (aside, of course, from Beyonce). The person occupying that office is completely surrounded by the media. Everything that person says or does gets reported, not just locally, but globally. Everyone on earth who has access to a television or computer connected to the internet knows who the American president is and what the American President looks like. The President can summon the media on a whim and even demand TV and radio airtime on a few moments notice. For a person who craves attention, the presidency is nirvana.

Is there any wonder that Donald Trump wants to be president?

Americans expect that anyone who reaches the pinnacle of American governmental power will be ruthless to some extent. All the same, we expect this ruthlessness to be exercised within the context of certain norms and expectations that will eventually be enforced by our political system. It’s why Richard Nixon didn’t get away with Watergate.

But 2016 is not 1974. We’ve obliterated so many of those norms since then, and our expectations for our political leaders are much lower. So much of what would have been unthinkable in 1974 is commonplace now. The growing gridlock in Congress has encouraged presidents of both parties to expand their powers beyond presumed Constitutional limits, setting precedents for their successors in office. What limits will there be on a president like Donald Trump who has evidenced no understanding of our Constitution, no understanding that the oval office does not convey upon its occupant unlimited power, and who feels that becoming an even bigger celebrity than he is now by winning an election will give him license to do whatever he wants.

Our politics has grown far more tribal than it was 42 years ago. Nixon realized that the jig was up when Republican Senator, Barry Goldwater explained to him that counting both Democratic and Republican votes, there weren’t enough supporters in the Senate to avoid conviction and removal from office. I have my doubts that, were Donald Trump to win the presidency and then step out of line, Republican Senators would intervene they way they did in 1974. Neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nor House Speaker Paul Ryan have yet repudiated Donald Trump. They’ve calculated that having Trump in the White House is in their interests. What would it take for them to put country ahead of party?

The Republican objections I’ve heard to Donald Trump’s comments focus on how insulting and demeaning they were to women. Not unexpectedly, they seem to ask men to consider how people under their care — their wives, their daughters — feel. That’s the wrong question. We should all be embarrassed by what Donald Trump said. We should all feel threatened. We should all feel insulted.

The right question to ask is why anyone would want to make a person like Donald Trump, a man who cannot empathize, a man who objectifies others, a man who cannot express remorse or shame, a man who thinks he knows everything and cannot admit a mistake, the face of the United States and an ex officio role model for our children? And that begs another question.

As of this moment 74% of Republicans say that Republican party officials should continue to back Donald Trump. Have they no sense of decency, at long last? Have they left no sense of shame?