I had trouble processing the most recent Donald Trump tweet, in which the president body slammed a man whose head had been substituted with CNN’s logo, until I remembered that just months ago, 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch of Salisbury, N.C., took it upon himself to drive up to Washington, armed with an AR-15 assault-style rifle and fired a shot inside a popular pizzeria to “self-investigate” claims the place was being used by Hillary Clinton for a child-sex ring.
He was acting on a fake news conspiracy, but also because it has become so commonplace to so thoroughly demonize those with whom we disagree it seemed conceivable – to Welch and several others who had sent owners of the pizzeria death and other ugly threats – that a major party nominee had time to sell kids for sex while running to become leader of the free world.
In a simpler time, juvenile tweets, including those about TV personalities and facelifts, should simply be laughed off or ignored. The country has more important issues with which to contend. But these are not simple times. And the man sending the tweets isn’t just any man, he is Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States.
Trump has done maybe more than anyone else to mainstream the fringe. It’s why NBC News decided to feature an interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, because Trump is a fan and has praised Jones, even though Jones’s conspiracies continue inflicting pain on Sandy Hook families who lost children in a massacre. It’s why barrels of ink were wasted for years concerning the birth certificate of President Barack Obama, and more recently about alleged wiretapping of the Trump campaign team that did not happen, all because Trump decided to lie, and keep lying, about such things.
Had Trump built up good will and been known for his humility and being strong enough to make fun of himself, his tweeting of an old video clip of his participating in a fake wrestling spectacle would have been a clever way to break the ice, to attract support beyond his base, or just a good-natured way to help the country celebrate during a holiday week. But Trump had no good will in reserve, doesn’t seem to have a humble bone in his body and chose to tweet an image by a Reddit user known for producing offensive material.
He was well-positioned to be a kind of bridge-builder between the parties had he renounced his past ugliness because he is not particularly politically ideological. He’s a Republican but has been a Democrat and won the GOP nomination while smashing through what seemed like sacrosanct Republican ideas and principles. If it hadn’t been evident before, it is clear he has no interest in that kind of leadership role.
He has shown no interest in learning even basic details about bills he hopes to sign, including one that might cut American’s insured rolls by 22 million. Assessing our vulnerability to Russia isn’t a priority for our president, even though that country reached into our 2016 election cycle. And becoming a role model for America’s children hasn’t even seemed to cross his mind, which is why it is getting harder for me to tell my kids with a straight face that being cruel and indecent will be an impediment to their future success, when Trump has used such things to win the White House and maintain a core base of support.
I wish I could shrug it all off, pretend the way too many of his supporters do, that his behavior is simply unconventional, not worrying. I can’t. Neither should you.