Joseph Sabino Mistick: Trump’s low bar a gift to other politicians
“There are no second acts in American lives,” according to F. Scott Fitzgerald. And that has always seemed especially true in the lives of American politicians, who were easily knocked off the stage by the slightest misstep.
For too long, America placed its leaders on unrealistically and undeservedly high pedestals, and when they fell, they fell hard. Maybe we set them up just so we could be reassured that they were only human, too, when we knocked them down. It was a weird thing.
Richard Nixon, the only president to resign the highest office in the land, fell farther than any. Nixon’s fate still provides a morality lesson about the folly of political ambition, the corrosion of power and the importance of truth.
Gary Hart’s presidential candidacy was destroyed in 1987 by something that would seem playful by today’s standards. A photograph of Hart with Donna Rice sitting on his lap on a private boat called “Monkey Business” derailed Hart, taking down a serious politician and his solid ideas.
George H.W. Bush’s promise of “no new taxes” was taken by the voters as an inviolable promise. As president, he broke that promise for good national policy reasons. Instead of getting credit for political courage, the voters saw it as a damnable lie and voted him out.
But a lot of that that seems to be changing now, and we have Donald Trump to thank. Trump has cleared the field of moral scolds who would damn any politician for the slightest hint of scandal or failure to tell the truth or any other regular failing.
And those Democrats who are challenging Trump can relax now that garden-variety human frailty and missteps are no longer politically fatal. Trump has set the bar so low that all the other candidates are insulated from the charges that once could have taken them out of the running.
Just look at Trump’s record for truthfulness. According to “The Fact Checker,” a regular column in The Washington Post that keeps track of politicians’ lies and awards them “Pinocchios” for the real doozies, Trump passed the 10,000 lies mark just last week, averaging nearly 23 whoppers per day.
Trump’s lie that his border wall is under construction is one of his favorites and he has told it over 160 times. That has earned him one of his 21 very special “Bottomless Pinocchios,” which are awarded for big lies that have been repeated at least 20 times.
Whatever the personal failing of any candidate for president, Trump has trumped it. And this means that Trump’s challengers have an open field and are free to focus on what actually counts.
Income inequality, climate change, trade, hatred and bigotry, gun violence, the minimum wage, immigration, health care, foreign election interference, public trust and the hope-killing student loan debt trap — all of those vital issues can now be center stage.
After the release of the Mueller Report, John Dean, Nixon’s former White House Counsel, called it “more damning” than Watergate. Maybe even Nixon will now get a second chance thanks to Trump.
Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer. Reach him at [email protected].