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The Lesson of Trump: Character Matters

The events of the past few weeks validate a core Never Trump claim—that character and intellect are important.
December 9, 2022
The Lesson of Trump: Character Matters
(Photo by Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images)

To be a Never Trumper these days is to wonder if it is possible to die of smugness. Every day, it seems, a Trump Republican loses another election, or Donald Trump or someone he elevated says something obviously unacceptable. It’s hard to resist the temptation to go around shouting “I told you so” all the time, or at least to note, acidly, “if only someone could have warned them.”

But this is not just about dunking on the former president’s apologists as he drags them from one colossal embarrassment to another. If we’re going to go through this, we might as well learn—or relearn—something important from it.

The lesson is simple. The events of the past two weeks validate one of the core Never Trump contentions: that character and intellect matter.

Among a certain contingent of Never Trump types—of which I was one—the objection to Donald Trump was not really about specific policies (though there were many we disagreed with). Anyone who has actively followed politics for a while has at some point had to hold his nose and vote for a candidate whose policies you don’t like. This is normal politics. Our objection was that Trump was not part of normal politics.

Nor was this primarily because of the ideological forces of authoritarian nationalism that Trump encouraged and unleashed, because we knew that Trump wasn’t an ideologue. He may sympathize with the nationalists’ rhetoric and goals and serve many of their purposes, but he is no ideological fanatic.

No, our basic warning about Trump was about the kind of man he was. It was about how he thinks, or fails to think, and what he values, or fails to value.

This concern was dismissed as merely an aesthetic objection to Trump, as if we opposed him because we found his style too down-market, his manners too crude.

Yet can we really call Trump’s current behavior an aesthetic blemish? The glaring faults of Trump’s moral character—notable even when measured against the low bar set by other politicians—clearly made this unfolding disaster inevitable.

When I talk about “character and intellect,” by intellect I do not mean Trump’s intelligence. The problem is not that he is stupid. It is how he thinks—and the glaring blind spots where he does not choose to think at all.

Consider the most recent case: Trump declaring the need to “terminate” the Constitution so he can be reinstated as president.

So, with the revelation of MASSIVE & WIDESPREAD FRAUD & DECEPTION in working closely with Big Tech Companies, the DNC, & the Democrat Party, do you throw the Presidential Election Results of 2020 OUT and declare the RIGHTFUL WINNER, or do you have a NEW ELECTION? A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution. Our great “Founders” did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!

The basis for this claim of “fraud and deception” is Elon Musk’s overhyped release of in-house Twitter correspondence about the site’s decision, a month before the 2020 election, to briefly block links to a report about Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop computer. Trump took this as proof that the election was “rigged” and done so in such an extraordinary way that it justifies the suspension of all existing laws.

The facts of the case, by contrast, are underwhelming. Social-media addicts might think that Twitter is the public square, but most voters still get their news from more traditional sources like newspapers and TV. Or, God forbid, Facebook, where the Hunter Biden story was widely disseminated.

Moreover, Twitter only blocked links to the story for 36 hours, and this move was largely regarded as having created a Streisand Effect, in which an attempt to suppress information only draws more attention to it.

If the Hunter Biden story did not turn out to be the October Surprise that swung the election, it is partly because other news outlets found it hard to corroborate; even the New York Post could not get its veteran reporters to touch it. It was also because Hunter Biden’s seedy personal life was already widely known and few swing voters seemed inclined to transfer their judgment of the son to his father.

At worst, this is a minor story about a media company being politically biased. But press bias is a complaint as old as the republic itself; you should hear what Jefferson and Hamilton had to say about each others’ newspapers. It is hardly an extraordinary situation that justifies overturning our entire system of government.

But that’s the kind of thought process that you or I might go through. It’s an internal flow chart of questions: Is the government doing this, or is it a private company? Was the information actually suppressed, or were people still talking about it? Is there solid evidence that this impacted the outcome of the election? And we would not make broad assertions until we answered those questions.

But we all know that this is not how Donald Trump thinks. There is no careful weighing of evidence and no attempt to subject his immediate impulses to critical scrutiny.

A normal person has an internal faculty of self-criticism that prompts him to ask tough questions and consider counterarguments. But long ago, Donald Trump killed off his internal process of self-criticism. The result is a dangerously irresponsible mind with no capacity for self-monitoring. It is the kind of mind that will bring us to the brink of insurrection and civil war just to avoid having to admit failure.

The flaws in Trump’s character are not just about how he thinks, but about what he values, and that is on display in the other big part of this story: His decision to host a pair of virulent antisemites for dinner at his resort in Florida.

The first big embarrassment was that the rapper formerly known as Kanye West brought along a surprise dinner guest, white-nationalist provocateur Nick Fuentes. But the former Mr. West had already been spouting antisemitic diatribes of his own, and the meeting with Trump had been postponed—but only postponed—after he vowed to “go Death Con 3 on the Jewish people.” The rapper followed his dinner with Trump by loudly declaring his love for Adolf Hitler.

So why was Trump meeting with this lunatic? Here is an account of how it went down:

The headline-grabbing attention on his guests—and therefore the subsequent fallout—were all but ensured by Trump before the dinner when he made a grand entrance at about 8 p.m. on Nov. 22 to meet his guests.

“We saw everybody in the dining room get up and start applauding, and then the president entered,” Fuentes told NBC News. “He greeted us, and he invited Ye into dinner and Ye said that he wanted to bring us with him to the table. So we walked in and Ye took some pictures with some of the guests in the dining room and then we sat down at the table.”

Trump made sure they sat at his specially reserved table on the patio, for all to see, according to Fuentes.

Trump is the kind of man for whom there is no moral consideration that outweighs the prospect of getting the members of his country club to gape at him because he is meeting with someone famous. That is the man’s moral core.

Corroboration of this comes from one of the other details from this dinner. Trump and Fuentes reportedly got along well, and Trump has yet to say anything really bad about Fuentes and his views. Why? Because Fuentes sucked up to him and told him how great he is. As National Review’s Jim Geraghty put it, “Donald Trump is okay with evil, as long as evil says nice things about him.”

You see what I mean about how character matters?

But it’s not just Trump. Geraghty goes on to describe how Republicans have tried for years to attach themselves to the erstwhile Kanye in the hope of reaping the benefits of his celebrity, despite frequent warning signs of his mental and moral instability. Philip Bump offers another overview, including how Tucker Carlson edited an interview with the rapper to remove his craziest statements.

And of course, the Twitter account for Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee just in the past few days got around to deleting a tweet proclaiming the future of the Republican party to be “Kanye. Elon. Trump.”

Speaking of Elon Musk, the world’s most flamboyant billionaire has recently developed an interest in conservative ideas. But he immediately bypassed all of the sane conservatives and thoughtful classical liberal commentators and went straight to having deep conversations with Catturd and a catalogue of the internet’s most ridiculous charlatans.

Kanye. Elon. Trump. That seems to encapsulate the price conservatives are going to pay, and keep paying for a long time, because they were too opportunistic in following flamboyant celebrities and willingly sacrificed any concern about principles, character, and intellect.

It’s a lesson to keep in mind when conservatives get tired of all the losing.

Robert Tracinski

Robert Tracinski is editor of Symposium, a journal of liberalism, and writes additional commentary at The Tracinski Letter.