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Strange Bedfellows

Donald Trump’s acolytes are pissed off about Harvey Weinstein’s abusiveness and misogyny.

Yes you read that right.

Weinstein dared sully the White House grounds, shrieked Breitbart, the Pravda of the Trump campaign. The media must give more coverage to a celebrity’s sexual misconduct, demanded Donald Trump’s former spokesperson. Democrats took donations from this monster, inveighed Kellyanne Conway, the President’s campaign manager and White House adviser.

It is this propaganda trick that has powered the anti-anti Trump posture most of my fellow Trump-skeptical Republicans have adopted. It is easier for them to muddy waters when confronting Trump’s failings, than to grapple with those failings forthrightly. They cast about for examples of comparable conduct from past presidents, or Democratic politicians, or even just random minor celebrities to justify our current president’s behavior. (Look over there—I think the annoying character actress from two episodes of Seinfeld just tweeted something mean!)

Yes, Harvey Weinstein is a despicable creep. Yes all his pious liberal Hollywood enablers who said nothing for decades are contemptible. But that doesn’t absolve anyone who helped put a morally vacuous, narcissistic louse into the office of president of the United States.

Reconciling those two points of view should not constitute a moral dilemma—and yet here we are.

This is, in essence, the battle cry of my rare breed—the anti-Trump Republican—and the hypocrisy many conservatives have demonstrated amid the Weinstein scandal underscores the value proposition anti-Trump Republicans bring to politics. Two-hundred sixty one days into his administration, we must still resist the constant luring and taunting of our cohorts, who—either reluctantly or giddily—have embraced the task of enabling the President’s misgovernance. They are buoyed by the fact that we’ve avoided catastrophe so far, and aren’t chastened in the slightest that our salvation has stemmed entirely from the administration’s incompetence and from the countervailing influence of democratic institutions.

Thanks to legal and congressional and political restraints on Trump’s worst impulses, though, many of the policy changes he has delivered to date are rather appealing from the perspective of anti-Trump Republicans like me: Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch; a rollback of the regulatory state; Russian sanctions.

One might naturally wonder, then, why I have placed myself in league with an assortment of socialists and snowflakes and cloyingly earnest liberal podcast hosts, in continued opposition to the President, when I could just as easily plunge my head into the sand, peeking above ground occasionally to chuckle at Harvey Weinstein’s expense.

The answer lies in a belief that the American presidency—and really, American political culture in general—should represent more than checklists of legislation to be signed by any means necessary. Trump has eroded the moral foundations upon which conservatism is supposed to be built, and for that reason, the most conservative choice facing Republicans, tempted by his bill-signing pen and the way he offends liberals, is to oppose him—and perhaps save conservatism in the process.

Rejecting Trump is a necessary precondition of rewiring our haywire politics so that core, universal values—freedom, truth, democracy—are again central to determining who’s given the honor of representing us, and what goals they pursue.

For many readers, those goals will be single-payer health insurance and unrestricted abortion. I, on the other hand, hope you never get those things!

But in the meantime, there’s a more proximate fight we should join together, against the values Trump represents, on behalf of more timeless and fundamental principles.

These principles can feel abstruse and hard to grasp, which makes writing about Trump’s outrages a challenge, because many of the objections to his boobish behavior feel petty or minor on the surface.

This, too, has powered the anti-anti Trump posture. Their ability to blur this debate, and refocus it on others’ flaws, rather than on the merits of the man in the office, is far more insidious than the more unvarnished advocacy proffered by authentic Trump supporters, because their bad faith arguments are attractive to a small but decisive slice of our electorate: people who don’t approve of Donald Trump but made peace with him out of contempt for their partisan enemies.

According to the exit polls, 18 percent of voters didn’t like Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton and he won those voters by a 20 percent margin. In Florida and Wisconsin he won them by 37 percent!

That’s why I believe it’s absolutely critical for conservatives and Republicans who oppose Trump for undermining these values to condemn him unambiguously and provide no cover for those who disapprove of his behavior but are looking for excuses to not abandon their tribe.

When you look beyond the policy scorecard at the totality of what Donald Trump has done to American political life, he has proven to be not just an abysmal failure, but someone who makes whataboutist comparisons to other modern political leaders laughable. The daily cascade of indignities, when considered in totality, diminish the presidency and the country so thoroughly that we should all worry he will leave them both beyond repair.

Trump’s degradation of the office has been so totalizing that we now overlook his median daily conduct, which would have ended the career of any recent president who’d waken up one day in the White House residence and decided to start behaving this way. (As I write this he is on television mocking the Spanish pronunciation of Puerto Rico, and alluding to a secret storm a-brewing about which he has decided to keep the American people guessing. Hilarious.)

Trump’s illiberal instincts—his bullying of opponents and staffers, childish name calling, providing succor to racists and extremists—require constant tempering. These behaviors also demand that responsible people to do more than clutch their pearls and hope news cycles keep moving on.

Foreign leaders take their cues from Trump. Autocrats from the Philippines to Egypt to Hungary look at Trump and see license to push their anti-democratic agendas further. Hungary’s nationalist strongman Viktor Orban turned this subtext into text, saying that through Trump’s election: “We have received permission from the highest position in the world” to advance a nationalist agenda.

Here at home it is not a coincidence that reports have shown substantial numbers of school children do too, and have been using Trump’s language to bully their classmates.

Trump paid lip service to “Western values” in his first major international speech in Poland, but for him this phrase is essentially a substitute for the concept of “whiteness” and the rejection of muslim immigrants, rather than an admiration of actual democratic values are that have underpinned the expansion of freedom to millions around the world for nearly a century.

When it comes to those values, Trump demonstrates his hostility daily, in ways large and small—his rejection of cultural pluralism, to demonizing immigrants and sympathizing with “very fine” white supremacists; his willingness to use his office to interfere in others’ private businesses while also leveraging it to enrich himself and his own; his appointment of a national security advisor who was simultaneously on the take from, and sympathetic towards, some of the world’s most noxious dictators; his enthusiastic support for the Russian hacking of private emails of American citizens to advance his political ends; his hostility to the free press, which is tempered only by his desire to be praised; the doubt he’s sown about the integrity of our democratic system, by actively advancing a notion, which he knows is untrue, that millions of votes were cast fraudulently; his routine empowering of racist conspiracy theorists, like the defamatory claim that a prior president—a “bad (or sick!) guy”— tapped his phones.

Any one of these actions would have constituted the defining scandal of another presidency.

So when anti-anti Trump pundits or Trump apologist strategists offer “But Clinton! But Obama! But Weinstein! But Nixon! (Cynthia, not Richard)” they are making bad faith efforts to protect a man whose actions they would rightly vilify if he were of the other party.

Yes it’s true other politicians in the post-World War II era have lied, none have made deliberately obscuring the truth into a foundational objective of the presidency.

Yes other presidents have grifted, none but Trump has used control over government employees, and influence over foreign officials, for self-enrichment.

Yes other presidents have advanced policies that were racially unjust but none hired a chief strategist who gleefully ran a media outlet that served as a platform for literal neo-nazis and white supremacists after running a campaign that’s central theme was banning travel for religious minorities and deporting Mexicans.

Yes other presidents have had moral failings but none were abjectly unapologetic and only Trump appears to be a man with no redeeming characterological qualities whatsoever.

Yes other presidents have failed to lived up to ideals like ensuring freedom and equality for all citizens, but none have been completely indifferent to those principles. And no, we have never had a President who has actively enlisted a geopolitical foe who seeks to undermine our democracy and our place in the world, to help him win an election.

These failures demand we do more than enable the President silently, until the old order is restored, or distract attention from his behavior by trying to focus national attention on random liberal outrages—the anti-anti Trump method.

They require unabashed opposition. Even if, for me, that means embracing a temporary association with a Crooked anti-Trump political cause dominated by liberals. Until Trump’s gone, you’re stuck with me.

This article has been updated.