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When it comes to Donald Trump, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between a political strategy and a nervous breakdown.

His tweeted trash talk, his meandering stream of consciousness press availabilities and his shameless embrace of sleaziness are not the signs of a healthy mind. Trump’s followers may eventually look up to find they were actors in someone else’s delusion.

But Trump’s recent self-defenses at least clarify his ambitions as an ethicist.

Michael Gerson mug

Michael Gerson

Concerning the Ukraine scandal, the president is not seeking forgiveness for a failure in judgment, or even trying to change the subject.

He boldly asks Americans to accept that his actions — pressuring a foreign power to investigate a domestic political rival — were good and proper. “I don’t care about [Joe] Biden’s campaign,” Trump insists, “but I do care about corruption.” And there was “tremendous corruption with Biden.”

Trump is effectively setting a new standard of political morality and requiring his supporters to defend it.

He is asking elected Republicans in particular to agree with his claim that a practice uniformly viewed as corruption in the past is actually an example of fighting corruption.

That is the little thing, the small thing, which Trump demands of his followers: To call hot, cold. To call black, white. To call wrong, right.

Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s idea of “incommensurability” strikes me as relevant here. If all moral claims are merely “emotive” — statements about ourselves rather than the nature of reality — then there is no way to argue between them.

The statement that “stealing is wrong” can be debated. The statement “I feel that stealing is wrong” is not subject to rational dispute. Someone else could simply assert, “I feel that stealing is right,” and the argument would be at a stalemate.

Trump is the emotivist par excellence. He holds no objective, abstract beliefs about the meaning of justice or duty. He approves of things that help him and disapproves of things that hurt him. There is no other moral grounding. Yet he makes his assertions with utter confidence.

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The president currently claims that asking a dependent government to dig up dirt on a political rival is a good thing — even when it involves the implication of extortion. He makes no argument about why the traditional definition of corruption has changed. He feels no need. The shift is in his interest. And that is enough to require the assent of his followers.

Elected Republicans, as a result, are looking mighty uncomfortable. Mouthing the words that Trump wants from them — saying that corruption is really anti-corruption — would mean sounding like a fool and surrendering what remains of their political honor.

Some, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have lamely claimed that Trump was really making a joke. Because, you know, presidential corruption is normally such a laugh riot. But Trump has insisted on his own seriousness. Rubio and the rest must swallow the gelatinous pile of offal Trump gives them — all of it — or they are no longer in the club.

Republicans are being called to follow their leader down a relativist rabbit hole.

Trump is not only asking them to accept his arguments on policy matters like building a wall or provoking a trade war. To be loyal foot soldiers, they must affirm that morality means what Trump says it means — even when it violates their clearest instincts.

They know, deep down, that if a Democratic president had asked France or China for help in destroying a prominent Republican rival, they would be in a fever pitch of outrage.

But, in the Trump era, this isn’t supposed to matter anymore. Consistency means nothing. Principle means nothing. Character means nothing. It only matters who wins.

Many Republicans would dearly like to say: What Trump did is wrong but it doesn’t rise to an impeachable offense. There are two problems with this approach.

First, Trump will not regard this as evidence of sufficient loyalty. He demands full approval. And second, I imagine that most of the founders would regard Trump’s act — inviting a foreign country to influence an American election — as the definition of an impeachable offense.

If their intent means anything, it means Trump is seriously corrupt.

So we are left with positions that can’t be reconciled. Trump honestly seems to have no moral objection to what he did. His opponents are left sputtering: But this has always been seen as serious corruption!

The president simply doesn’t care. And, if his GOP supporters remain loyal, they will be further implicated in the moral decay of American politics.

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Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson can be reached at michaelgerson@washpost.com.

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(26) comments

Hive

Federalist - big government only then - dingers now, same screw-us swamp, differnt era...let's spend more money we ain't got!

Hive

Bo wrote, "If Democrats and Lamestream Media had to pay $1 for every time they used the word 'Impeachment' we could pay off the National Debit, provide free College and Health Care for all.



As POTUS golf and spends an extra trillion, and tries to fun the stupid wall with defense approptiations...please!

bolake

I always figured Adams to be a Federalist.

Hive

Westley, I had mis-spelled your nomen or handle.

Bo, you do amaze! Exactly they type of thinking both Jefferson and Adams (both republicansa) feared circa 1800. Amazing!

bolake

Hive - It’s hard for me to fly like an eagle when I have to read the opine from a bunch of turkeys.

bolake

Westley - I’m not offended nor am I apologetic (just ask JD).



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqwDhue8mgc

Hive

POTUS' bus rolls over anyone...and who is driving? Trumpt-y's self-aggrandizine need Congress to recind some terrible law and establish legal limits of POTUS...at minimum...yet, we hear nada from slime ball pols...This trust business has been shattered by Himself...

Hive

Bruce etal, you honestly believe written evidence or facts and reality influence Bo's shut-mind? His self-prism rules.

Hive

"Westley," sorry!

Hive

Westly and JD get it! Bo, when you fly with crows you get shot at...!

Westley

Gerson said something I don't agree with, therefore "it must be a Democrat ploy!"



Too funny.



I don't see where Gerson is saying "63 million" Americans are immoral. I believe he is calling out those who can't call a spade a spade when it comes to corruption. If you happen to be one of those people and you're offended, then great, you can be offended by that. However, don't be upset if people judge you for it.

jdinfinity

Yes Hive, the argument of the weak minded with Bo. Attack the writer, not the message because you are incapable of arguing with the big boyz...

If republicans are good at one thing, it's spewing garbage and pointing fingers. And now they ran out of people to point at except each other.

But Hive, nothing will be more amusing than watching Bo here go down on the sinking ship with em' on the wrong side of history.

The man baby idiocy titanic is going down.

Man overboard. And they can't be rescued by their ignorance anymore...

Hive

I presume, if I told you to jump in the lake like POTUS, you would ignore the request, as expected, already so wet.

Hive

Bo wrote: "People like Michael Gearson and Joe Scarborough are no more Republicans.."

The old far right ad hominems...like what was heard from tea sippers, RINOs. Gerson has more party credentials than you have toilet paper squares, which you must live on. Joe is sort of wishy washy but a former Republican Congress person.

Both might be right about this baying wolf dinger POTUS, regardless. Then there is Will, Romney and even now Goudy...duh!

bolake

Hive - What ever you and JD are smoking, I want some.

bolake

If Democrats and Lamestream Media had to pay $1 for every time they used the word “Impeachment” we could pay off the National Debit, provide free College and Health Care for all.

bolake

Hive - You asked “ How does being wet all the time feel?”



I feel like Aquaman. Defender of planet Earth against all you evil doers. Lol

bolake

People like Michael Gearson and Joe Scarborough are no more Republicans than Elizabeth Warren is a Republican. They may have been a long time ago but have since lost their way. They use their past affiliation with Republican Party to advance their own personal agenda.

Hive

Nightmare: Trump resigns, Pence is dumped by RNC and Humpity-Trumpity runs again...then what? Just as possible as Himself gaslighting all then slinking off the playground.

But, would he pass up the opportunity to run again, after resigning? Depends on the RNC and some other dingers like McConnell as well...gotta be scary fun to watch

jdinfinity

I wonder if Hive is right and eventually the republicans will try to jump ship? Then man baby resigns? Man, lets hope so...

Hive

The Orange swamper, "Himself" is done! Be interesting to see what this bonehead does now!

Allies are scared stiff...which is how this blovo operates...duh! Who compared POTUS to a mob boss? Right-O! And, no one will do business with one!

Hive

Riiiight. Gerson is just a bloviating republican moderate like quite a few who have sense enough to see facts as they appear, and comment with less "Spin," but do not fit Bo's "box."

Now does that show an inability to move from Self to Other and a severe instance of

"epistemic closure?" Duh!

How does being wet all the time feel?

bolake

Gearsons opinion means “Squat “. Gearson is following the Adam $hittt play book to a T. I read the transcript and Trump clearly did not say “I want you to dig up dirt on Biden”. Gearson loses the Moral High Ground when like Adam $hittt he also spews lies about the phone call. Calling 63 Million Americans immoral because you disagree with them is another Democrat ploy.

Bruce Montplaisir

You didn't read a transcript because one was not made available. You may have read the short summary of the conversation but the more complete record is hidden away.

Hive

"Game on!"

Zero-sum. Freedom vs dingers, like Trump...choose...

Hive

Sort of a +1 to Gerson. He forgets, we get what we deserve...We, The people...up to us only!

Dingers like Trump and cohorts vs sanity of a Jefferson, Lincoln (he made a human choice) an Ike or JFK...

But the only good governance is goverance that understands its place.

Which Congress has forsaken since the century turned. (We ain't been around long enough to swagger, so dingers will always be with us.)

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