Tu quoque is a classical Latin term for “you too.”
It is sometimes considered a logical fallacy: you do not defend your position, but instead point to someone else’s that is worse—in the fashion of a guilty child seeking to avoid parental discipline by claiming his unpunished brother “did it worse.”
But in truth tu quoque is a legitimate argument—if one both defends his position and also points out the hypocrisy of his inconsistent accuser.
Over the last two weeks, Trump, the messenger, may have tweeted a few silly things (the recycled John J. Pershing pig-fat bullet tweet) and was considered slow in appreciating the political atmospherics of the rioting and violence in Virginia and North Carolina.
Are his supporters therefore supposed to abandon Trump as the hysterical media demands? Hardly. Here are six reasons why not.
1) Presidential Caring
Presidential morality is not quite an Old Testament open and shut case. In politics it is defined by paradox, irony, and unintended consequences.
Jimmy Carter, despite his smugness, was a more classically moral man (marital fidelity, usually speaking the truth, financial incorruptibility) than was Bill Clinton—a rogue, liar, serial adulterer, grifter, and utterly corrupt. (By the same token, Herbert Hoover’s private life was saintly compared to FDR’s).
But one does not have to be a Clinton enabler or apologist to concede that Clinton’s sometimes centrist tenure did more good for the country than did Carter’s legacy of sanctimonious incompetence, naiveté, and self-righteous stupidity. Who then was the more ethical in helping more Americans?
We can accept that pious Mitt Romney was a more moral person than is Donald Trump. But Romney would likely by now have offered calibrated amnesty, stayed in the disastrous Paris climate accords, and not moved so swiftly against unfair trade, even as he spoke compassionately, soberly, and professionally.
Trump’s immigration reforms will eventually benefit the underclasses in a way a President John McCain would never have considered. Trump, for all his character flaws, cared about the lost middle classes in a manner his much more careful and judicious Republican primary rivals did not.
Trump’s third-way paradigm may seem like rank opportunism from a political chameleon, but its practical effects were a moral and ethical concern for those heretofore assumed to be losers of their own making, a struggle working class lacking the panache of the wealthy and romanticism of the distant poor.
2) The Coach is Not the Team
A president, it is true, is the iconic head of a nation. But it is his administration, not the chief executive per se, that changes the country. The nation did not just vote for Barack Obama alone, but—knowingly or not—also for the likes of Eric Holder, Ben Rhodes, Loretta Lynch, Samantha Power, John Brennan, James Clapper, Sonya Sotomayor, and Susan Rice. Obama’s picks were predictably progressive, Trump’s were unpredictably conservative and far more competent.
The administration and its agenda is not Donald J. Trump’s alone. It includes appointees such as Neil Gorsuch, Nikki Haley, John Kelly, James Mattis, H. R. McMaster, Rick Perry, Mike Pompeo, Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, and dozens of others. While Trump tweets broadsides against his nemeses, the Trump Administration is undoing eight years of progressivism in a way it is hard to imagine other Republican presidents might have attempted.
In the first eight months of the Trump administration, the economy is improving, people are more confident about their economic futures, the country is becoming safer abroad with a renewed sense of deterrence, and the government is not seen as the enemy, but the enabler, of commerce. There is a certain moral quality in all that.
3) Progressives Are Not Democrats
The political opposition to Trump is not the Democratic Party of Harry Truman or JFK—or even that of George McGovern, Walter Mondale, or Bill Clinton.
Rather the alternative is now a harder-core, progressive movement led by Keith Ellison, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Tom Perez, and Elizabeth Warren that cannot register even slight discomfort with the extremist rhetoric of kindred leftist Black Lives Matter or Antifa thuggery in the streets. In their view, the explanation for the past eight years of Obama’s economic stagnation, loss of deterrence abroad, and redistribution is that Obama did not go far left enough.
Thus under their progressive leadership, the transformation to European socialism would have been nearly completed. Think of an IRS of Lois Lerners, a Justice Department of Eric Holders and Loretta Lynches, an EPA of Al Gore clones, a Supreme Court of Sonya Sotomayors, and a State Department of John Kerrys—cubed.
To avoid that, millions of Americans are quite willing to “call balls and strikes”—the much caricatured tactic of supporting Trump’s agendas, but calling him out when his impulses, inexperience, and ego result in crudity or inanity. If it comes down to a war between those who smash statues of Columbus and those who object to such mob violence, the iconoclasts in the street and those who support them in the progressive party lose.
4) Bluestockings Cannot Win
The Republican Party was calcified intellectually and ethically. It had lost two consecutive elections to Barack Obama. Despite eventual control of Congress, the presidency, and the Supreme Court (due to grassroots activism and Tea Party exuberance), the government grew ever larger in the last decade, taxes rose, regulations increased, and political correctness engulfed even more of our lives from the universities to the ways we’re permitted to discuss political issues such as illegal immigration in public. Before Obama doubled the national debt, a Republican president had done the same.
In truth, the Republican Party had returned to its 1960 caricatures of bluestocking establishmentarians, gauging its success by the health of Wall Street rather than Main Street, occasional compliments from the New York Times, and praise from the European Union, the United Nations, and the World Bank—while half the country in the interior was written off as globalization’s sore losers.
5) Theories Versus Practices
When one loses a good job, the theories of Milton Friedman—insightful as they are—become a bit irrelevant, as does the advice of coastal conservative pundits to just get in the truck, pack up your history, and drive pell-mell to the oil fields. “Creative destruction” may be characteristic of a flexible economy—until it applies to yourself. (When this column is replaced by a Vietnamese or Finnish pundit who will write at 30 percent of my compensation, I think I will resent lectures about the wonders of “globalism” and being told to go learn computer coding at 63.)
If the Republican establishment believes Trump’s implosion might pave the way to a return of Weekly Standard leadership, and that the Blue Wall will stay crumbled, they are sorely mistaken. Like it or not, Trump’s paradigm of economic nationalism, reindustrialization, closed borders and meritocratic legal immigration, principled realism abroad, and fair rather than unfettered trade, for now, is likely the best message that will win a Republican the White House.
Millions who are angry still at progressive hatred of red-state America and nauseated by Republican congressional ossified grandees, will stay home if their savior is to be the kind and decent Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio from central casting. And if Trumpism becomes second-term Schwarzeneggerism—liberal fluff in he-man tones—it won’t matter much whether Republicans or Democrats are elected.
6) Yes, Tu Quoque
It is an understatement that the media as we once knew it disappeared sometime in 2008 and became a veritable Ministry of Truth, as obsequious to Barack Obama as it is hell-bent on destroying Donald Trump. They hated George W. Bush but not to the degree they have demonized Trump. Reflect on the death of CNN.
In the last year, one of CNN’s anchors had to apologize for using fecal imagery in damning Trump. Three of the network’s marquee reporters were forced to resign for airing a fake news story about Russian collusion. One of its contract show hosts, heretofore infamous for eating human brain tissues on camera, likewise resorted to excrement smears (“piece of s—t”) to slam the president. Its premier foreign policy show is hosted by a plagiarist. The co-host of its New Year’s Eve coverage held up a facsimile on video of a bloody decapitated Trump head.
CNN staffers were caught on a hot mic dreaming of a fatal Trump plane crash. Whether choreographing protests in London or leaking debate questions to Hillary Clinton, there is a CNN presence at the center of most media scandals—apparently as the network’s subordinates make the necessary adjustments to the perceived ideological party line at the top.
When an understandably irate Trump goes after CNN for unprecedented obscenity, bias, and fake news, we would do well to remember that the alternative to such invective is either the professional and customarily “presidential,” turn-the-other-cheek silence or backstage D.C. wining and dining to flatter and win over haughty journalists. Which is more corrupting to the nation?
So Trump chose a third—and brutally atypical—presidential way and the result is that when Trump crashed his truck against the CNN wall, he staggered out undeniably wounded, but the bricks and mortar of CNN in contrast were pulverized.
Take some of Trump’s most notorious excesses—his sometimes relativist commentary on the violence at Charlottesville, or his wishes conveyed to James Comey that nice-guy Mike Flynn deserved a better fate—and there is unfortunately an Obama Administration precedent, albeit accompanied by media collusionary silence and contextualization.
Trump faults both the neo-nazis and Antifa activists for Virginia’s violence. That tactic was best mastered by “both-sides” Obama. In reaction to the Fort Hood “workplace violence” by the Islamist mass-murderer Major Nidal Hassan, Obama could not even offer a feeble “on the one hand/on the other hand” morally equivalent editorial, but instead would not cite radical Islam at all.
When Jews were singled out and butchered in a Kosher deli in Paris by Islamist terrorists, Obama wrote it off as just “a bunch of folks in a deli.” Black nationalism inspired the murderer of police in Dallas—but the bloodshed was fobbed off by Obama as an example of gun violence and “powerful weapons.”
The media dissolved into hysterics charging that Trump “obstructed” justice in his “wish” that Comey treat Flynn as the patriot he was—an ethical lapse perhaps. But it seems increasingly likely that Attorney General Loretta Lynch may have prearranged to meet Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac in secret and was not truthful about it. Likewise, Comey misled when he denied there was a paper trail about this tarmac obstruction.
The larger point is not to say Trump was never sloppy about his Russian big talk, only that it was smaller Russian potatoes than Hillary Clinton’s uranium green-lighting, John Podesta’s investments, Bill Clinton’s honoraria, and the entire disastrous seven years of reset. Have Trump try an Obama hot mic quid pro quo with the Russian president based on putting his own self-interests in getting reelected ahead of the national interest (e.g., deploying missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic), and Robert Mueller would have recommended an indictment.
That is not an argument that “everybody does it,” or an attack on the press, or a whitewashing of Trump, but rather the exegesis of why the media frenzy has warped the current political atmosphere.
Is there anything, then, that Trump voters could not overlook?
In fact, there are likely several mortal sins. One, should Trump be persuaded to move to the compromising middle to be reelected or adopt the policies and tones of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his second term, then his base supporters would likely abandon him in droves—not because he might not still be marginally better than the progressive or media’s preferred alternative, but because his entire populist crusade would be revealed as just another political sham.
Second, should Trump’s personal excesses become concrete rather than rhetorical and match the sins of a few prior presidents, then his base support should vanish.
We can only calibrate fatal personal behavior on the basis of past presidential felonies: sex in the bathroom off the Oval Office with a White House young intern (again real, not locker room talk); using the IRS to hound his political opponents during a reelection bid; having his national security team reverse-target political opponents; unmasking the names of American citizens and then leaking them to a pet press to weaken his opposition; or a secret promise to a foreign leader that the American president would be more flexible after his reelection—in exchange for said leader agreeing not to embarrass him during his reelection campaign.
By any fair standard, any such behaviors would nullify Trump’s message, agenda, and appointments—and would certainly justify abandoning him.
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