I haven’t written about U.S. President Donald Trump in a few months because sometimes I feel like taking a shower and forgetting about him. Trump is so “greasy.”
The word “greasy,” I learned in reporter’s locker room talk, was the worst label to pin on a politician. “Greasy” meant a politician on the edge, or over the edge; but regardless of which side of the edge, a greasy politician was either corrupt or corruptible, either morally, financially, or both.
In a free world, you can think, and more importantly, say what you want, just as Trump does. He is often neither nice, nor honest, and seldom is he respectful, polite or decent. Many believe he is unfit and unworthy to be president. But there he sits making plans on how he can win the 2020 election and stay in the Oval Office.
The very experts who wrote him off as a joke, a fringe, or just a nuisance candidate when the run-up to the 2016 presidential election began are now faced with the reality that, despite everything, including more than 10,000 documented lies, the man with the yellow hair can possibly win again. Wow!
The “wow” comes from my consistently getting everything about Trump wrong. I never thought he would win the Republican primary. I never thought he would win the presidency. And then, even after he did win, I thought his Russian connections would drive him out of office before his term was completed. Wrong, wrong, and, at least so far, wrong again.
It is interesting how so many of the experts got Trump so wrong. I remember the Sunday before the 2016 election, I was at a well-attended post-minyan breakfast at shul and people were talking Trump. Some late polls indicated he could win.
Asked what I thought, I deadpanned that a Trump victory would never happen. I was so sure of that. Every political instinct I had told me that. I wasn’t alone. Many of us on both sides of the border with first-hand knowledge of politics shared a long-held view that high office and decency went hand-in-hand.
To the experts, Trump’s crudeness, not his policies, were the ultimate weak link which would deprive him of victory – but crudeness won. When Trump arrived at the White House reporters were genuinely confused. There was a long tradition of being straight up about “respecting the office,” and suddenly there was a new president who had a hard time respecting anybody or anything.
Respecting the office meant the person occupying the White House was traditionally put on a political pedestal. That didn’t mean the reporting couldn’t be tough, but tough reporting had to be factually correct to the letter, and secondarily, as respectful in tone as possible.
There was actually a time those rules went too far. History tells us it took a long time, with the exception of the Washington Post, for the media to go after Richard Nixon after the Watergate break-in. In fact, a year after the break-in was news, Nixon won a massive re-election victory in the 1972 election. The media at the time didn’t believe that a president, any president, would do the terrible things Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were reporting.
Watergate was a wake-up call and political reporters got the message that respect for high office could go too far. More than ever, there was a need to create a fine, delicate, nuanced balance. That was fine until Trump got to the White House and it became clear that he was not delicate or nuanced.
I miss the old days. I know in this age of social media having no norms, no rigour and no limits that, yes, we are in a different universe. But old timers can still lament the loss of respect and decency which served us so much better than this wild free-for-all with the president of the United States being the tweeter-in-chief.
There is no going back and there is now a new set of norms. It seems like an eternity ago when people thought Trump would stop tweeting once he was sworn in as president.
The toxic combination of social media and Trump were the perfect storm that turned politics upside down.