Everyone has a code of conduct, whether explicit or unacknowledged. Nearly halfway into President Trump’s first term—which some people hope and others fear will be his only one—the contours of his code have become pretty clear.
Mr. Trump has a consistent way of judging people. Strong is good, weak is bad. Big is impressive, small is defective: “Little Marco.” Winners are admirable, while losers are contemptible. A corollary is that there is neither dishonorable victory nor honorable defeat, which is why Mr. Trump poured scorn during his candidacy on John McCain for having been captured—never mind McCain’s heroic conduct as a prisoner of war.Individuals are either attractive or unattractive. If they don’t look good, it doesn’t much matter what they say or do. Appearance is reality: Plato’s Cave inverted. This is why Mr. Trump’s TV stardom mattered more than his checkered business career.
Finally, people are either loyal or disloyal. Loyalty in this case means their willingness to defend Mr. Trump, whatever the cost to their own interests or reputation. In this vein, Mr. Trump favorably compared former Attorney General Eric Holder’s unswerving support for President Obama with Jeff Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe.
This brings us to the next feature of Mr. Trump’s personal code—his distinctive understanding of how the world works. Here’s how it goes.
With the possible exception of family, all relationships are at bottom transactional. Every man has a price, and so does every woman.
There’s money, and then everything else. Money and morals are unrelated. Even if a Saudi leader ordered the assassination and dismemberment of a prominent dissident, this is no reason to halt arms sales to the monarchy. If American firms don’t get the contracts, someone else will. Why should we be chumps? If promoting democracy or simple decency costs money, what’s the point?
The core of human existence is competition, not cooperation. The world is zero-sum: If I win, someone else must lose. I can either bend another to my will or yield to his.
The division between friends and enemies is fundamental. We should do as much good as we can to our friends, and as much harm to our enemies.
This brings us to President Trump’s handbook of tactics we should employ to achieve our goals:
Rule 1: The end always justifies the means. Asked whether he had spoken disrespectfully about Christine Blasey Ford, he said, “I’m not going to get into it, because we won. It doesn’t matter; we won.” Case closed.
Rule 2: No matter the truth of accusations against you, deny everything. Bob Woodward’s recent book quotes Mr. Trump counseling a friend who had privately confessed to sexual-misconduct charges against him. “You’ve got to deny, deny, deny, and push back hard on these women,” says Mr. Trump. “If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead.” The corollary to Rule 2 is that the best defense is a good offense. As the president told his friend, “You’ve got to be strong. You’ve got to be aggressive. Never admit.”
Rule 3: Responding to criticism on its merits is pointless. Instead, challenge the motives and character of your critics. Their criticism isn’t sincere anyway: It’s all politics, the unending quest for dominance. If ridicule works, use it, even if it means caricaturing your adversaries by reducing them to their weakest trait. If Jeb Bush is “low energy,” who cares what he thinks about immigration?
Rule 4: To win, you must arouse your supporters, and deepening divisions is the surest way to do it. Even if compromise could solve important problems, reject it whenever it threatens to reduce the fervor of your base. No gain in the public good is important enough to justify the loss of power.
Rule 5: It is wonderful to be loved, but if you must choose, it is better to be feared than loved. The desire for love puts you at the mercy of those who can withhold it; creating fear puts you on offense. You cannot control love, but you can control fear. And this is the ultimate question of politics, indeed, of all human life: Who’s in control?
Defenders of President Trump’s code of conduct will point to what they see as its unsentimental realism. His maxims are the terms of effectiveness in the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. They may not be pretty, but they work. Politics is not like figure skating. You get no points for style. You either get your way or you don’t. Nothing else matters.
Critics of Mr. Trump’s code—I’m one of them—view the distinction between permissible and forbidden means as essential to constitutional democracy, and to all decent politics. What Mr. Trump’s supporters see as the restoration of national greatness, his critics see as the acceleration of national decline.
This, to no small extent, is what next month’s elections are really about.
Dr. Blasey has been the target of widespread social media disinformation since she came forward with accusations of sexual assault against Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee.
Claim: Dr. Blasey’s students left negative reviews on her RateMyProfessors.com profile, calling her “unprofessional” and citing her “dark” personality.
This viral rumor is based on a case of mistaken identity. The RateMyProfessors.com page on which these negative reviews were found is about Christine A. Ford, a professor of human services at California State University Fullerton. Christine Blasey Ford, Judge Kavanaugh’s accuser, teaches at Palo Alto University.
.. Claim: Judge Kavanaugh’s mother once ruled against Dr. Blasey’s parents in a foreclosure case.
Internet sleuths quickly zoomed in on a 22-year-old civil court case involving Judge Kavanaugh’s mother, Martha Kavanaugh, a district court judge in Maryland, in which Dr. Blasey’s parents, Ralph and Paula Blasey, were the defendants. Judge Kavanaugh, some said, had ruled against the Blaseys, costing them their house and creating a revenge motive for Dr. Blasey.
.. Claim: Dr. Blasey made similar sexual assault accusations against Justice Neil Gorsuch during his nomination process.
This claim seems to have originated with a Twitter user, Josh Cornett, who appears to have a history of amplifying right-wing misinformation. (The user’s account has tweeted messages of support for QAnon, a sprawling pro-Trump conspiracy theory.)
Claim: Dr. Blasey is a major Democratic donor with a long history of left-wing activism.
Verdict: Mostly false.
Some critics of Dr. Blasey quickly painted her as a devoted left-wing activist and donor with an ax to grind.
They have claimed that she wrote on Facebook in 2016 that “Scalia types must be banned from law.” Another variant of this claim also has her writing that “Scalia types must be banned from courts.”
Neither phrase appears in a search of public Facebook posts in 2016. It’s possible that the phrases appeared in posts that have since been deleted from Dr. Blasey’s accounts. But these claims don’t contain links to old posts, or any other form of attribution. The account of the Twitter user who appeared to originate the claim, @LodgeNixon, has since been deleted, and no evidence of the purported Facebook post has emerged.
.. It is no secret that Dr. Blasey is a registered Democrat who has given money to progressive organizations and campaigns — these facts were reported by the The Washington Post in the original story naming her as Mr. Kavanaugh’s accuser. But she appears to be far from a big-money donor. According to data from the Federal Election Commission, her donations to Democratic committees and campaigns from 2013 to 2017 total less than $100.
.. Claim: Dr. Blasey’s brother worked at a law firm with ties to the Russia investigation.
In a news release, Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal group, said that Dr. Blasey was an unreliable accuser because of her family ties to the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election..
.. And according to his LinkedIn profile, Mr. Blasey left the firm in 2004, more than a decade before any investigation into Russian collusion began.
And finally there was Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who told reporters Thursday afternoon, “I found no reason to find [Ford] not credible.”
.. As the strength of the year-old Me Too movement is put to its most public and crucial test yet, Republicans have the political savvy to recognize that they must pay lip service to it, even as they actively campaign against its aims. You could view these concessions as politically motivated to the point of being meaningless. But according to social science research into the complex interaction between social behaviors and privately held views, even self-interested nods at #MeToo may indicate some progress for the movement.
Recent, highly publicized cases of sexual harassment and assault have rapidly created a new norm in which it’s toxic to dismiss alleged survivors. Kavanaugh’s allies are responding to that norm, even if they don’t fully agree with its principles. Over time — and with some serious caveats — norms can influence private views, suggesting that even conservative beliefs on sexual harassment are likely to be shaped at least in the long term by #MeToo.
.. There are many, many examples of norms shifting, sometimes quite abruptly, as institutions tip in one direction or social movements come to fruition: same-sex marriage becoming broadly acceptable after the 2015 Supreme Court decision
.. people are more likely to recycle after they learn — through an article or in conversation — that many of their peers are recyclers... There are plenty of signs that conservative beliefs on sexual abuse have barely shifted since the Clarence Thomas hearings of 1991, such as the apparent assumption among Republicans that Ford’s story would be just a “hiccup” that they could “plow right through... Indeed, it may be like similar “evolutions” on racism, which find people eschewing the n-word in public while remaining as virulent as ever in private... studied how people learn prejudices based on what’s socially acceptable within a certain group — and how they change their views once the group changes... Crandall and his colleagues showed how white college freshmen, entering a new setting in which prejudice against black people was less socially acceptable than in their home towns, learned over the following year to question racist thoughts. “When norms change, or when people join groups that have different norms, there is conflict — with the outside world at first, and then a more internal struggle to fit in better,”.. The often-jarring conflicts we’re seeing between the public behavior and apparent private beliefs of those who support Kavanaugh may represent this initial, college-freshman stage of adapting to a society with changed norms on sexual assault. As #MeToo continues to shape norms around believing survivors, more conservatives could come around as well — not merely when it comes to action but also in their attitudes.
.. Unfortunately, prejudices about gender appear to be especially intractable
.. In cross-cultural work examining prejudice, she has found less sexism in more-developed countries, suggesting that sexism diminishes along with development.
.. “People have women in their families, so changing stereotypic gender roles is more disruptive than for other biases,”
Michael Bromwich, one of Dr. Ford’s lawyers, wrote on Twitter that Mr. Trump’s comments were “a vicious, vile and soulless attack,” adding: “Is it any wonder that she was terrified to come forward, and that other sexual assault survivors are as well? She is a remarkable profile in courage. He is a profile in cowardice.”
Last week Mr. Trump said he found Dr. Ford’s testimony was “very compelling” and that she was a “very credible witness.” His depiction on Tuesday of Dr. Ford’s testimony didn’t always keep in line with what Dr. Ford said during her Senate hearing.