Why Trump Supporters Believe He Is Not Corrupt

What the president’s supporters fear most isn’t the corruption of American law, but the corruption of America’s traditional identity.

On Wednesday morning, the lead story on FoxNews.com was not Michael Cohen’s admission that Donald Trump had instructed him to violate campaign-finance laws by paying hush money to two of Trump’s mistresses. It was the alleged murder of a white Iowa woman, Mollie Tibbetts, by an undocumented Latino immigrant, Cristhian Rivera.

On their face, the two stories have little in common. Fox is simply covering the Iowa murder because it distracts attention from a revelation that makes Trump look bad. But dig deeper and the two stories are connected: They represent competing notions of what corruption is.

.. The Iowa murder, by contrast, signifies the inversion—the corruption—of that “traditional order.” Throughout American history, few notions have been as sacrosanct as the belief that white women must be protected from nonwhite men. By allegedly murdering Tibbetts, Rivera did not merely violate the law. He did something more subversive: He violated America’s traditional racial and sexual norms.
Once you grasp that for Trump and many of his supporters, corruption means less the violation of law than the violation of established hierarchies, their behavior makes more sense. Since 2014, Trump has employed the phrase rule of law nine times in tweets. Seven of them refer to illegal immigration.
.. Why were Trump’s supporters so convinced that Clinton was the more corrupt candidate even as reporters uncovered far more damning evidence about Trump’s foundation than they did about Clinton’s? Likely because Clinton’s candidacy threatened traditional gender roles. For many Americans, female ambition—especially in service of a feminist agenda—in and of itself represents a form of corruption. 
“When female politicians were described as power-seeking,” noted the Yale researchers Victoria Brescoll and Tyler Okimoto in a 2010 study, “participants experienced feelings of moral outrage (i.e., contempt, anger, and/or disgust).”
Cohen’s admission makes it harder for Republicans to claim that Trump didn’t violate the law. But it doesn’t really matter. For many Republicans, Trump remains uncorrupt—indeed, anticorrupt—because what they fear most isn’t the corruption of American law; it’s the corruption of America’s traditional identity. 

Michael Cohen Deals a Blow to His Former Boss

President Trump’s former, longtime personal lawyer directly implicated him in a federal crime

The conviction of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort on tax evasion and bank fraud charges undercut Mr. Trump’s assertion that his was a campaign and a presidency that would “drain the swamp” of the unsavory professional political class.

Mr. Manafort was and is of precisely that political class. The actions for which he was convicted had nothing to do with his work for the president, yet the optics are, to say the least, unhelpful for Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump can and will distance himself from both Mr. Manafort and the felonies of which he now has been convicted. Indeed, after landing in West Virginia for a campaign rally, Mr. Trump expressed sympathy for Mr. Manafort but said “this has nothing to do with Russian collusion.” He continued to describe the hunt for a Russian connection as a “witch hunt.”

It will be much harder to create distance from Mr. Cohen.

.. For Mr. Trump and his presidency, there are a few silver linings in that dark cloud. One is that Mr. Cohen apparently doesn’t have an agreement to cooperate with prosecutors or special counsel Robert Mueller. So his brief statement in court may be all that is heard on the matter.The second is that, by agreeing to a plea deal, Mr. Cohen guaranteed there won’t be a trial in which his assertion can be hashed out in detail and in full public view.

Finally, campaign-finance violations can seem to voters to be obscure and of concern mostly to the distant political class.

The Great Distractor

Donald Trump’s ‘look over there’ media strategy is a trap that keeps Democrats from focusing public attention on his bad policies.

We didn’t hear much about the administration’s secret plan to bypass Congress (and common sense) to give a giant tax break to Wall Street investors, a possible violation of the constitution and a betrayal of the president’s promises to stand up for the little guy. It’s the result of what I call the “Trump Trap.”

  • He pledged to clean up the D.C. swamp, but he made it swampier.
  • He said he would make health insurance better, but he actually asked a judge to strip it away from people with serious diseases like cancer and diabetes.
  • His tax cuts ballooned C.E.O. salaries and stock buybacks, but real wages are still frozen

.. But you wouldn’t know it from watching the news. That’s because his unnecessary insults and controversies create a constellation of outrages that deflect accountability for his actions.

.. A person you probably don’t remember is Cheryl Lankford, who also spoke at the convention. She lost her husband, Army Command Sgt. Maj. Jonathan Lankford, to a heart attack while he was serving in Iraq. Left alone to raise their son, Ms. Lankford used her survivor benefits to enroll in Trump University, hoping Mr. Trump’s advice could jump start her career. After paying more than $30,000 in tuition, she got no training. Like so many Americans, she thought Mr. Trump could improve her economic future, but he swindled her and thousands of others. Now the swindle is happening on an epic scale.

.. we tried to get out of the way of the negative coverage of Mr. Trump and his outrageous comments about Mr. Khan.

But the result was that people heard his message, not ours. So much so that after the election, some people thought Mrs. Clinton never talked about people’s economic lives. But she did. It just went into the black hole of the Trump Trap.

.. Mr. Trump never attacked Cheryl Lankford or the other people suing Trump University. Instead, he disparaged the Latino judge in the case, so we spent a week talking about how racist he is, not about how he had cheated working people.

.. Mr. Trump will say and do things that demand a response from anyone who values decency and morality. The result is that he decides what gets attention — and he’s not held accountable.

.. Third, we Democrats have to pick fights that highlight Mr. Trump’s malfeasance. When the president seeks to take away health insurance from seniors or people with cancer, we can’t let that go unnoticed.

.. Candidates: Beware the Trump Trap. The president has promised to spend a majority of his time campaigning this fall. He will call you names. He will come at you with outrage after outrage. It will be very tempting to wear this as a badge of honor to reap the rewards of social media attention and campaign donations. You will think he is drowning in backlash. But

Candidates: Beware the Trump Trap. The president has promised to spend a majority of his time campaigning this fall. He will call you names. He will come at you with outrage after outrage. It will be very tempting to wear this as a badge of honor to reap the rewards of social media attention and campaign donations. You will think he is drowning in backlash. But he will really just be making the debate about anything other than his own failings or the lives of the voters you wish to represent. Your vision and motivations will be obscured and vulnerable to subterfuge.

Before you give Mr. Trump more rope, make sure the debate is on your terms, not his.