What I Learned About Politics

Believe it or not, I thought last week started well in the world of politics.

 

Anthony Scaramucci was on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, and he and Colbert had what I thought was a mostly civil discussion.  I was honestly glad to see Scaramucci there, as glad as I was to see Tomi Lahren on The Daily Show, because there’s a part of me that always hopes that if people talk intelligently, all of the things that we fight about may actually get solved.

Unfortunately, what I learned in California is that to me, it seems like politics is not about solving problems.  It’s about “winning.”

Just as our legal system is deliberately designed to be adversarial, I believe that our political system is about scoring points and thus winning elections by making the other guy look bad.  I don’t think it’s about solving the problems politicians say they want to solve when they campaign.  If politicians actually wanted to solve problems, I feel that “compromise” wouldn’t be the dirty word that it seems to have become.  Although Stephen Colbert began the week by talking to Scaramucci, one of President Trump’s former staffers, perhaps even in the spirit of compromise or civil discussion, I felt that President Trump ended the week by trying to save face, or put another way, by trying to keep others from scoring points off him.  And I personally believe that by doing so he actually made things worse, thus confirming my feeling that Trump isn’t fit to be President.

Look, I feel that when the sides get to actually talk to each other publicly, like Colbert and Scaramucci or Lahren and Trevor Noah, it’s a good thing.  To me it allows the American voter gets a chance to hear where these people stand on important issues and ideas, particularly with respect to each other.  Ideally, I think this gives voters a chance to decide who they agree with so they can then vote accordingly.  When it’s personalized however, and just about sides scoring points against each other or the other’s party, I don’t see how anybody learns anything.  I think the focus shifts away from what people are talking about, and instead to how they – and their opponent – look saying it.  I don’t think it gets us closer to solving anything, it just forces the speaker to become defensive.  And to me this is a game that a President can’t – and shouldn’t – play.

I feel that one of the bigger differences between the President and any other politician is that he’s the President of everybody, not just his party or his voters.  He’s the President of people who hate him as well as those who love him.  Years ago Roger Ebert did a special show where he talked to then-President Clinton about his favorite movies, and when they got to Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999), Clinton said that he’d seen it, and then when Roger Ebert said someone had emailed him saying that the cynical film was what a modern generation who never went to war needed, Clinton didn’t pander to the popular film’s message to score political points with its Generation X fans.  Instead, he expressed his feeling that young people had an unrealistic view of war, and that they had more constructive outlets for their desire to act on their emotions by changing things for the better.  I never forgot that, because to me, that was a Presidential answer, one that demonstrated a concern for people who were unhappy, and that wanted to teach them to channel that negativity into something more positive.  Though Clinton was endlessly criticized, I always got the sense that he understood that the criticisms were part of the job, and that they didn’t affect him personally.  This is the same vibe I got from all of the Presidents in my lifetime up until now – that Presidents knew and accepted that people were going to take shots at them, but that this was just part of the point-scoring game.  At the end of their day, I felt past Presidents realized that their responsibility was to the American people – all of the American people.  Though they didn’t always agree with some of those people’s views, Presidents nonetheless cared about them more than they cared about scoring political or personal points.

Regardless of what you think Trump’s views on race are, the whole ugly episode after a white supremacist killed young protestor Heather Heyer struck me as the response of a man still trying to save face.  I don’t want to speculate on why he took so long to respond, but to me at best it was just negligence – being “asleep at the wheel.”  Having gotten “caught,” I feel he gave a half-hearted response out of spite for being criticized, and then when asked about it after the fact, he effectively threw a tantrum.  Like Pee Wee Herman falling off his bike and saying “I meant to do that,” I felt that Trump made up some crap about having to get all of the facts, a statement he thought he could pass off as wise or politically correct.  Then he pathetically tried to add to his “wisdom” by saying he needed to see both sides of the “issue,” not realizing that to most people, there can’t be an “issue” when it comes to the Alt-Right – they’re just bad.  Long story short, I felt that he didn’t respond when he should have because he didn’t know to, responded the way he did out of spite, and then clarified in the worst way possible to preserve his lost dignity.  All mistakes that a true American President wouldn’t, and more importantly couldn’t make in my opinion, and again, proof to me that ideology aside, he just isn’t the guy for the job.

In a politics of point-scoring, I feel that political skill, keeping your cool, and then apologizing for your mistakes (like Bill Clinton did) or making restitution somehow (like Richard Nixon did) is what makes a President a President.  Why?   Because at the end of the day, A President’s primary concern needs to be the good of the country and everybody in it.  I think that our society plays the point-scoring game because that’s the nature of the political beast, but a President has to be above that.  Trump proved to me this week that he’s not, so any discussion like Colbert-Scaramucci or Noah-Lahren is impossible.  If his track record so far is any indication, I think that this inability will ultimately cost him points, making him – as he likes to put it – a loser.