As a matter of real life, we all can think of circumstances where we, or people we know, went looking for trouble. I think most reasonable people can hold two independent ideas simultaneously. The person who hurls a string of F-bombs at a cop and gets a beating as a result was behaving stupidly. Indeed, it’s fair to say—not as a matter of law, but of common sense—that he was asking for it.” But we can also believe that the police officer should not have beaten the victim. We have all sorts of moral intuitions of this sort. The teenager who thinks he’s good at parkour was an idiot for jumping from rooftop to rooftop, and it’s tragic that he fell to his death. But it is not as tragic as the teen who is struck by a stray bullet while doing her homework. The hiker who is mauled by a bear for trying to take a selfie with some cubs does not arouse the same sympathy as the visitor mauled by a bear at a zoo because the zookeeper left the enclosure unlocked.  

Donald Trump had sex with an adult film actress while his third wife was nursing their newborn child. He had an affair with a former Playboy model. He denies this, but as far as I can tell no one else does. Even Trump’s staunchest defenders don’t try—at least not very hard—to do so. He falsely recorded his effort to pay off to Stormy Daniels as legal expenses. He spent his entire professional life abusing the legal system, stiffing contractors out of their fees by threatening to bankrupt them in frivolous legal actions. As a landlord, he violated fair housing laws. As a presidential candidate, he promised to put his business interests in a blind trust, but once elected he didn’t and monetized the presidency for his own benefit. Also as a presidential candidate, he led chants of Lock her up!” about his political opponent. He invited Russia to release information about her.  He was impeached (the first time) for abusing his power in an attempt to intimidate a foreign leader to investigate Joe Biden for corruption. When he tried to steal the 2020 election, he pressured his own Justice Department to allege crimes to buttress his false claims that the election was illegitimate. This was also around the time he encouraged a mob that visited riotous violence upon the Capitol in an effort to intimidate Congress out of fulfilling its constitutional duties. He’s promised to pardon people who beat up cops on his behalf. He calls them hostages” and plays their warbling rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner” before his rallies, like some weak-tea Americanized version of the Horst-Wessel-Lied.” He defended the mob that chanted Hang Mike Pence.” He’s argued—through lawyers in court—and in his own words that he should be immune to any criminal charges that stem from actions he took as president, and to a certain extent, as ex-president. He’s vowed that when he’s president again he reserves the right to do what he’s outraged is being done to him. I could go on, but you get the picture. 

… [A]s a matter of common sense, karma, moral intuition, or whatever term you like, I am utterly incapable of mustering the slightest sympathy for Donald Trump. If I were to publish a dictionary of common phrases, I would put his picture next to the entry on F—k Around and Find Out.” 

His entire life has been one extended experiment with testing, violating, and abusing the rules—some legal, some moral, some normative—for his own benefit. The system isn’t supposed to apply to him. This, in almost dialectic fashion, has invited responses that also violate the rules of the system. I’ve been making this point for nearly a decade now. Trump’s violations of norms have elicited countless violations of norms from his opponents. That’s what happens when you break the rules: You give permission to others to break them, too. 

Jonah Goldberg, Crocodile Tears for the Convict

June 1, 2024

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