Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Trump’s Biggest Enemy is Context

May 31, 2020
Trump’s Biggest Enemy is Context
President Donald Trump arrives for the weekly Senate policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on May 19, 2020. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Oh, the unsoiled bliss of the context-free mind! One yearns for the ability to process information only as it enters the brain, without regard for anything that came before it or is bound to come after. A brain unburdened by the complicated task of applying the sticky concepts of “learning” and “connections.”

It is these minds that, without embarrassment, wonder aloud why there is no “white history month,” or why African-Americans are allowed to use the “n-word.” They believe they won’t get COVID-19 because nobody they know has gotten it.

And they use this proud denial of context to defend the President of the United States.

Justifying Donald Trump’s buffoonery takes an intellect that is incapable of connecting bits of information in a timeline; each of his vile utterances discarded before the next one comes firing out of his Twitter feed.

Take, for instance, last week, when Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi concern-trolled Trump, suggesting he was especially susceptible to COVID-19 because he was “morbidly obese.”

Trump’s band of sycophants immediately took umbrage, crying that it was inappropriate for Pelosi to remark on the president’s weight, completely ignoring the fact that Trump is a man who has spent his adult life mocking the looks and weight of female opponents and employees.

Of course, on cue, Trump retweeted a follower who suggested Democratic Vice President aspirant Stacey Abrams has “visited every buffet restaurant” in Georgia and who said Pelosi’s “face seems glossy and she is sporting a poorly marked 2nd set of eyebrows.”

L’affaire buffet was actually set off by Trump’s earlier declaration that he was regularly taking Hydroxychloroquine, a pill he had been pitching as a miracle anti-COVID-19 drug that a subsequent study said led to an increased risk of death for coronavirus patients.

When a nonplussed reporter asked whether he was being truthful in saying he was taking a drug that may be dangerous, Trump’s new press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, took exception.

“The reason is the President of the United States said it, and if it were any other President of the United States the media would take him at his word,” McEnany said.

Yes. That is exactly the point.

Trump, of course, tells lies like Michael Jordan holds grudges – they are their very life force, necessary to survive. There is a reason the media might be willing to give other presidents the benefit of the doubt – because every word out of their mouths isn’t false. (Trump has made over 18,000 false or misleading statements in office, according to the Washington Post’s fact-checkers.)

Lest one thinks we can escape last week’s Trump self-medication foolishness, on Tuesday, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was asked about Trump’s declaration that he was taking Hydroxycloroquine.

“It’s like saying maybe if you injected Clorox into your blood, it may cure you…come on,” replied Biden.

This angered always-Trumper Benny Johnson, who tweeted that Biden “just compared President Trump taking Hydroxychloroquine, a drug that has been prescribed to people for 65 years by doctors, to injecting himself with Clorox.”

But Johnson may have forgotten that Trump literally suggested the possibility that injecting yourself with disinfectants like bleach might kill the virus.

In each of these cases, defenses of Trump have to be made by divorcing his actions from previous behavior. Trump supporters have to fantasize that every damaging thing the president says happens in a vacuum, separate from all his other actions.

Trump critics, however, are capable of seeing the cumulative effect of his derangements – how they add up and make each other worse.

Normal thinking people, for instance, can see that the president wasn’t “exonerated” for his role in the “Russia hoax” – while Special Counsel Robert Mueller didn’t charge Trump, there is overwhelming evidence his campaign sought assistance from foreign governments and that Trump repeatedly obstructed justice when he was finally investigated.

People who can process information understand that while Trump was acquitted by a partisan senate, the behavior he engaged in when blackmailing Ukraine into investigating the Bidens was abhorrent.

And anyone who isn’t injecting themselves with Lysol understands that an accusation of sexual assault against Biden, no matter how unreliable, does not wash away the more than two dozen allegations against Trump. Or how a Biden misstep on race absolves Trump – a man who rose to political prominence by accusing America’s first African-American president of being born in Kenya – of his tawdry history on racial issues.

When strung together, all of these issues cumulatively add up to someone singularly unfit to be president. Yet by pretending each incident was committed by a person independent of the last one, Trumpers try to break the chain of accountability. If a typical Trump loyalist had to play the vintage memory game Simon, he’d never be able to move past the first flashing light, refusing to believe the sequence of colored lights existed.

As Soren Kierkegaard said, we live forward but understand backward. The key to defending Trump is pretending he doesn’t understand the past in the hopes that the future he promises will remain ever divorced from the reality of consequences.

Christian Schneider

Christian Schneider is a member of the USA Today board of contributors and author of 1916: The Blog. Twitter: @Schneider_CM.