I had a Facebook exchange yesterday with a friend about the relevance, or not, of Donald Trump’s tax returns. My friend said the one leaked so far doesn't show anything illegal. I said that what I would be interested in is whether his returns show him to have been untruthful about his wealth, income and charitable generosity, all important parts of the persona he strives to project.
My friend’s response:
“Will you be happy or sad to learn that his charitable contributions were less than he has implied? I suspect you will be happy to learn that they were less and that he is not a generous man. Then ask yourself why you feel that way?”
Why? That’s easy. Because I want him to be totally discredited as a presidential candidate before the country makes what I believe would be the worst mistake in our history of choosing presidents. My friend knows all too well how I feel.
So why is he asking me to look within myself to see why I wish for Trump to be exposed as a fraud?
I think what he means to be saying is this: “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.” (Mathew 7:5, King James Bible)
I never thought of wishing Trump to be exposed as unfit to be president as being a character defect of mine. The notion seems to be that if I were a wise and generous human being, I would feel differently about Trump’s lack of generosity. I wouldn’t feel something approaching elation that he might be proved to be a skinflint. Apparently, that kind of feeling is unworthy.
I’ve known about Donald Trump since he and I were both trolling Wall Street, he for money, I for clients. During all that time I never gave a thought to whether he was a generous man. I knew about his deals and his bankruptcies. I suppose that if I had thought about his generosity I probably would have thought he should repay his debts before giving his money away.
But he wasn’t running for president then. We must judge him now by more rigorous standards. We must try to get the facts about his character and decide what they say about his fitness.
Which makes my friend’s rhetorical jujitsu all the more interesting. It strikes me as a form of preemptive shaming: If the facts turn out to be bad, why did you wish for that? What’s wrong with you that you long for the debasement of another?
I don’t know. Call it terror. When faced with a mortal threat, as far as I am concerned no sanctuary is too base, even (or especially) stripping away a false mask of morality worn by someone who is rotten to the core.
So, what’s behind my friend’s attempt at deflection?
He said he decided a year ago not to vote for Trump. What he’s troubled by is that “the rhetoric against [Trump] has been conclusory and bordering on hysterical…[T]he voting public has been dragged down into the mud during this campaign…”
Nobody wants to be thought to be hysterical. Nobody wants to admit they might have been dragged down into the mud. But what do you do when one of the candidates has been trucking in dirt and irrigating it with a firehose?
It seems to me that our first job as voters in this election is to come down off our idealistic high-horses and deal with the clear and present danger before us. There is always mud in politics, but this is a new level of slime. We need to dig our way out of it, or risk going under.