The mealy-mouthed cowardice of America’s elites after Charlottesville

August 23, 2017

The mealy-mouthed cowardice of America’s elites after Charlottesville

by Fareed Zakaria

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Much of the United States has reacted swiftly and strongly to President Trump’s grotesque suggestion that there is a moral equivalence between the white supremacists who converged last weekend on Charlottesville and those who protested against them. But the delayed, qualified and mealy-mouthed reactions of many in America’s leadership class tell a disturbing story about the country’s elites — and the reason we are living in an age of populist rebellion.

The least respected of today’s leaders are, of course, politicians. The public largely views them as craven and cowardly, pandering to polls and focus groups. And that is how too many Republican officials have behaved in the face of Trump’s words and actions. With some honorable exceptions, men and women who usually cannot stop pontificating on every topic on live TV have suddenly gone mute on the biggest political subject of the day.

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HR McMaster with Donald Trump.

I know. They worry about the base, about primaries, about right-wing donors. But shouldn’t they also worry about their country and their conscience? Shouldn’t they ask themselves why they went into public service in the first place? And if they see someone at the highest level trampling on the values of the country, shouldn’t they speak up — directly, forcefully and without qualification?

Business leaders, meanwhile, are still among the most respected and envied people in the United States. They run vast organizations, get paid on a scale that makes their predecessors from just 25 years ago look middle-class, and live in a bubble of private planes, helicopters and limousines. In other words, they have all the wealth, power and security that should allow them to set standards and lead.

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Again, with some honorable exceptions, business leaders have been cowards. Most of them surely think Trump is a charlatan, a snake-oil salesman. In the past, some chose not to do business with him because they believed he was unethical. Others were initially amused by his candidacy but regarded his rhetoric on trade, immigration and refugees as loathsome. And yet, almost none spoke out against him. Few even distanced themselves after Trump blamed “many sides” for the violence in Charlottesville. Had Merck chief executive Kenneth Frazier not resigned from one of Trump’s advisory boards and Trump not doubled down on his initial comments, it is unclear how many other CEOs would have spoken out. And even then, some jumped ship from the advisory councils only when it became clear that there was really no alternative.

The United States’ technology pioneers might be the most admired people on the planet. They are viewed as smart, innovative and successful. Many are not just rich but also claim to be wise beyond words, prophets of the future who opine on space travel and artificial intelligence. Can they not see what is going on right here on Earth at the White House and condemn it?

Where are evangelical Christian leaders on a matter of basic morality? While some have made their voices heard, it is striking how many have not, or have even endorsed Trump’s comments. Do they have a burning moral duty to speak out against transgender bathroom access but not neo-Nazi violence?

The United States once did have more public-minded elites. But they came from a small, clubby world, the Protestant establishment. Not all were born rich, but they knew they had a secure place atop the country. They populated the nation’s boardrooms, public offices and best schools. This security gave them greater comfort in exercising moral leadership.

Today we have a more merit-based elite, what is often called a meritocracy. It has allowed people from all walks of life to rise up into positions of power and influence. But these new elites are more insecure, anxious and self-centered. Politicians are likely to be solo entrepreneurs, worried about the next primary or fundraiser. CEOs live with the constant fear that they might lose their jobs or that their company might lose its customers in an instant. Religious leaders worry that they will lose congregants. These groups may not think they have the luxury to be high-minded, but they do. They are vastly more secure than most people in America, or in human history. If they cannot act out of broader interest, who can?

The public figures who deserve the most praise this week are the military brass. In a remarkable act of leadership for people who actually work under the president, the heads of five branches of the armed forces independently issued statements unequivocally denouncing racism and bigotry. Perhaps this is because the military has been the institution that has most successfully integrated the nation’s diverse population. Perhaps it is because the military remains an old-fashioned place, where a sense of honor, standards and values still holds. The military chiefs have shown why they still command so much respect in the country. America’s other elites should take note.


13 thoughts on “The mealy-mouthed cowardice of America’s elites after Charlottesville

  1. The problem with Donald Trump and his group of yesmen and lapdogs are they are mostly made up of neutered “pondans”.They are just like the olden days in the Chinese emperor’s palace where men working inside the palace are eunuchs.The only difference are the eunuchs are what they have to be because the emperor wants to have his harem of concubines for himself.By the way,gossips going around Trump Tower is that Donald have been shooting blanks for many years.

  2. When you have a coward sitting behind the desk in the oval office,of course all the rest have to be like the boss.Or else the boss would not have allow them to stay a minute longer there.It does not matter whether they are eunuchs or generals.Be a coward and act in public as one.

  3. In a move that was one of the most disgusting abuses of the presidential platform in history, Donald Trump, who dodged the Vietnam War five times, tried to clean up his support for racists after the Charlottesville violence by hiding behind the troops.

    The address was teleprompter Trump, which we all know is not the real Donald Trump. Trump was reading someone else’s words. There’s zero indication that those words represent his real feelings. There’re two Donald Trumps. There’s the Trump who uses his soft reading voice and says things that he doesn’t mean, and there’s real Donald Trump, who is the man who supports racists when he’s off script at press conferences, and on Twitter. Trump could have paid an actor to read this speech, and it would have had the same credibility, which is none.

    Donald Trump, like this address, is a total fraud. His remarks were a shameful attempt to hide behind the troops and the war in Afghanistan to clean up his support for racism. The rest of the address was dedicated to his trying to explain why he didn’t really mean what his endless tweets said when he wanted an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. Trump revealed that America is being led by a man who is more interested in good personal publicity than governing the country.

    And the American people responded. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll reveals that Trump’s base of support is weakening and that more importantly, his poll numbers have hardened to a level where he’s already a dead president walking. This thought should terrify Congressional Republicans because it took less than a year in office for Trump to look like a lame-duck president.

    During his speech Trump announced a troop surge in Afghanistan and said that his change in strategy came after he “studied” the country “from every conceivable angle.” The internet was having none of it, and quickly laid waste to Trump’s claim that he’s a thoughtful commander-in-chief who actually has an adult decision-making process. Instead of coming off as a strong commander-in-chief, he once again made himself an internet laughingstock, full of hilarious jokes.

    Does Trump actually have an adult decision-making process? How smart is he? Not very smart, I guess. He ignored the “fake news” warning believing it to be “fake science” and he stared at eclipse – something even most children today knew better not to do.

  4. The Hill reported that several members of Trump’s infrastructure council have resigned as anyone with a sound mind is fleeing the radioactive president.

    Trump has had three other councils be abandoned or dissolved in the past week. In the history of the presidency, it is difficult to find any other president who has so quickly become so toxic through nothing but his own statements and behaviors. Trump has had trouble finding and hiring qualified staff because so few people want to work for him. His administration has struggled with the bare basics of competence and governing, and the biggest problem of all has been the man himself. The Trump presidency is dying a slow death, as Trump himself is killing the Executive Branch.

    The relationship between Donald Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has curdled into a feud of mutual resentment and sometimes outright hostility. The New York Times reported McConnell’s allies sent a stern warning to Trump that if he knocks off Republican Senators and Democrats get control of the Senate, he’ll be on the fast track to impeachment.

    The interesting part is that Democrats getting control of the Senate wouldn’t be enough to impeach Trump. If Democrats were to take back the Senate, they would at best have a slim two vote majority. It takes 67 votes to convict and remove a president from office. McConnell’s former chief of staff, Billy Piper, seems to be saying that there are enough Republican Senators who would join with Democrats to remove Trump from office.

    It is possible that there are 15-16 GOP Senators who would vote to convict Trump. Guessing who those Senators are would make for an interesting game. The threat to Trump was clear. If he keeps messing with Republican incumbent Senators, he’ll be risking getting thrown out of office. This the biggest omen yet that Senate Republicans are coming closer to turning on Trump.

  5. The country’s scorecard for the first eight months of the new President:-
    1. Waste of time on non-existent enemy in North Korea…
    2. Waste of time of Russia hacking…with not a shred of evidence…
    3. Waste of time in attempts to vilify Russia in Ukraine…
    4. Waste of time on another non-existent foe in Iran…
    5. Waste of time in the current Charlottesville issue… exhuming a subject long dead and buried…

    Am I the only one in thinking that this is because nobody but nobody in the entire government is interested in tackling the real issues facing the American people…jobs and healthcare?

  6. Another waste of time…just announced…more troops to Afghanistan…by the order of a President who, before being elected, repeatedly said US should get out…

  7. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called Trump’s Phoenix rally scary and disturbing. He questioned Trump’s fitness for office and speculated that Trump’s behavior was an indication that he is looking for a way out of the presidency.

    Attaching logic to Trump’s motivations requires giving this president the benefit of the doubt. The country has seen irrational and unstable behavior from Trump on an almost daily basis. I doubt that Trump’s behavior is part of an elaborate plan to escape the presidency. The much scarier thought is that the man sitting in the Office is not fit to be president. If this is the case, it’s not a matter if Trump is removed from office, but when and by whom. Is a Republican Congress going to do it, or will a Democratic controlled future step in and save the country? I believe the consensus is building that Trump needs to go, and the next great battle in American politics could center on the removal of an insane president.

  8. The day before yesterday Donald Trump gave a teleprompter speech announcing the surge in Afghanistan. Yesterday he had a freewheeling rally in Phoenix, Arizona, forcefully defended his press conference comments on Charlottesville violence while viciously attacking the media and questioning the patriotism of journalists, and he had caused riots in Phoenix. Today he delivered a subdued, on-script speech at the American Legion’s national convention in Reno, Nevada, causing great many people to marvel at Trump’s ability to abruptly change gears. I’ve whiplash.

    CLF, you seem to know a lot about psychology. Please help me out, buddy. Please tell me which one is the real Donald Trump.

    • Trump is mentally unstable, egocentric and unreliable. Can he be trusted with the nuclear code over which Congress has no oversight? In my opinion, there should be enough evidence to commence impeachment proceedings against POTUS 45. Clinton was impeached (and exonerated) over his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. The Republican leadership in Congress must act or lose control of the Senate and the House in 2018.–Din Merican

    • LaMoy, i basically think that all the psychological profiling of Drumpf about having a Narcissistic Personality Disorder is wrong. From a distance, i would rather put him in the category of a Histrionic Personality Disorder – with most, if not all of Millon’s subtypes being present. See here:

      Histrionic disorders in men are often misdiagnosed as anti-social, borderline or narcissistic. There seems to be a labile component of cowardice and theatrics with such characters.

      Drumpf’s handlers will have to consult with professionals on how to ‘contain’ the damage this flur can and will inflict, cuz it will be considerable. Regular prostatic massages can help, but electroconvulsive therapy may be better. Cheers.

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