Trump and the Failure of Decency

The U.S. president deceives and misrepresents with a political calculation that is as crude as it is successful.

And to top it off, Donald Trump’s approval is going up. All of those who called upon common sense − assuming that, inevitably, time would take its toll on the blunders, the obvious lies and the childish bravado − did not count on that.

According to The Wall Street Journal polls, Trump’s approval rating went up three points within the last few days, reaching 47 percent, his highest since arriving at the White House. What is surprising is not the number, which is still below his predecessors’ popularity, but the fact that it is growing. And what is even more irritating is knowing that his approval goes up not in spite of his despicable outbursts, his ruthless abuse or supine ignorance in so many fields, but thanks to them.

Not that past politicians were necessarily better (or that not many of them were). But at least they felt compelled to pretend that deep down they were fairly decent men and women. Today it would seem that decency is an expendable quality, a liability even. It is not in Trump’s interest to be associated with decorum, dignity, solidarity or caution. He only cares about being identified with success. And not just any kind of success, but raging success, the kind that crushes others, the kind that confirms the victor’s superiority.

Rejecting the ’Hordes’ Coming from the South Offers Trump Unexpected Support for His Tough Anti-Immigration Policy

Success does not require any legitimizing pretext or moral justification. For the American president, success is its own defense, by its very result, no matter the conditions, the lies or infamies he has to spread to achieve this. His advice in the face of any allegations of sexual misconduct provides a proper illustration: “Deny, deny, deny and push back on these women.” He has no trouble claiming this strategy, in spite of its impudence and cruelty, since he views it as a winning argument. And that is what matters, eventually, proving that he can get his own way.

And since there are no real unlucky scoundrels, Trump is proving himself to be a world-class scoundrel. The Honduran caravan crossing Mexico toward the United States border has given him the best of covers to inflame the fears and prejudices of the average voter, just days before the election to Congress, which is seen as a plebiscite on his presidency. Republicans could lose control over the House of Representatives, a real fall for the New Yorker’s administration.

Rejecting the “hordes” coming from the south offers Trump unexpected support for his tough anti-immigration policy, a very sensitive topic for his electorate. The timing is so fitting that some even toy with the possibility that it was induced from the White House. It is not impossible, but it seems to me that the caravan is an understandable and necessary defense strategy on the part of Central Americans to avoid the savage abuses they are suffering during their passage through Mexican territory. In a way, we could say they were overdue.

Whether induced or spontaneous, the truth is that Trump has done all he can to exploit it to the fullest and turn it into a factor in his favor. Over the last few days, he has tweeted warnings about undercover Islamic terrorists, that within its ranks swarm members from terrible gangs such as M-13; he has inflated the numbers to sell the image of an invasion of wretched and unwelcome people that will have to huddle against the border, and of the thousands that could follow them. In short, he has fired up the fears of the average voter only to then offer an extreme and resolute response.

Much of Trump’s nonsense can be traced back to his ignorance and prejudice. Not in this case. He deceives and misrepresents with a political calculation that is as gritty as it is successful. And unfortunately, yes, it will be effective.

Ultimately, the tragedy is not that decency is no longer an attribute that politicians should project, whether falsely or truly. The tragedy is that the public no longer seems to care.

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