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Republican ‘criticism’ of Trump doesn’t go far enough


Alexander Pope coined the expression “damning with faint praise.” A new expression, “praising with faint damnation,” can be used to describe the Republicans’ tepid responses to Donald Trump’s remarks about the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and his recent pardon of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who housed Latino prisoners in 110 degree “tent cities” and boasted that they were “concentration camps.”

Sure, Republicans criticized Trump’s Charlottesville remarks and his pardon of Arpaio. But they studiously avoided confronting a much more serious problem: the consequences of our president’s character.

Republican criticisms have been laboriously faint. Paul Ryan said Trump’s remarks on Charlottesville were “morally ambiguous,” that he “messed up in his comments” and “could have done better.” Rep. Will Hurd said he was “absolutely not” proud of Trump’s handling of the situation. Gary Cohn, the president’s chief economic adviser said the administration “can and must do better.” Rex Tillerson vaguely said “Trump speaks for himself.”  

These comments implied that Trump is capable of doing better. But, as The Economist opined, “he does not have the character to change.” No Republican acknowledged that the seminal problem is our president’s contempt for our government institutions and the core value that motivated America’s Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal…” In other words, the real problem is his character.

{mosads}The hypocrisy was glaring when Sarah Huckabee claimed that continuing DACA would destroy the rule of law and “throw away everything that gives these people a reason to want to come to our country….” One must ask, did the pardoning of Arpaio “give … people a reason to want to come to our country?”


George Washington amplified our nation’s dedication to equality in a letter to the Touro Synagogue. He promised that those who fled religious tyranny would find religious tolerance in America, “For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance …”

In his Charlottesville remarks and pardon of Arpaio, Trump effectively gave sanction to bigotry and assistance to persecution.

Trump’s contempt for our government is evident in his confidence that Congress will continue to give him free reign. One example: his massive conflicts of interests, which caused the director of the Office of Government Ethics to resign. And his apparent disregard for the truth is rampant.

Republicans claimed Trump was clear in his denouncements of the white supremacists, the KKK and neo-Nazis. But, his belated condemnations would not prevent those groups from basking in his support because his pivot was made under pressure from Republicans, business leaders and demonstrators.

White supremacist Richard Spencer, who attended the Charlottesville rally, said of Trump’s belated condemnation, “I don’t take him seriously … It sounded so hollow.”  Peter Brimelow, founder of, dismissed Trump’s condemnations as “boring boilerplate.”

Poor character has consequences. Among them is poor credibility. Seventy-three percent of those polled by CNN trust only some or none of White House statements. This hurts the ability to govern. It enfeebles negotiations because one never knows if Trump means what he says or if he’d renege on a commitment.

The hostility Trump has created between himself and Congressional Republicans has stifled the legislative process and undermined Americans’ confidence in their government. It’s no surprise that Gallup finds that 79 percent disapprove of the job Congress is doing while Trump’s 35 percent approval rating is the lowest in history.

Our international image has suffered. Across 37 countries, only 22 percent had confidence in Trump in foreign affairs, and 74 percent had no confidence in him at all, according to Pew. Worse, Trump’s poor image has dragged down the image of the United States.

After his May trip to Berlin, European officials referred to Trump as “clownish” and “a laughingstock.” One seasoned German diplomat worried, “Trump could send a tweet in the middle of the night pissing off Kim Jong Un. And the next morning we wake up to a world on the brink of war.” Another said, he “(thinks) the world started when he took office.”

The Economist summed it up this way: “Donald Trump has no grasp of what it means to be president.” If Trump had a strong character, he would care enough about his country to admit that he’s not qualified to be its leader and would step down. But he seems to care mostly about himself.

Still, the Republicans have not acknowledged this problem. Sadly, they are complicit because they fear losing votes from Trump’s base. One must ask, “is it really worth the votes?” Or is it that our values just don’t matter anymore? Have we become that jaded?

Neil Baron advised the SEC and Congressional staff on rating agency reform. He represented Standard & Poor’s from 1968 to 1989, was Vice Chairman and General Counsel of Fitch Ratings from 1989 to 1998, and was on the board of Assured Guaranty for a decade.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Donald Trump Paul Ryan Rex Tillerson

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