The Washington Monthly ran a story on Monday titled “No Other President Would Have Survived Defrauding Veterans’ Charities.” The time was appropriate, seeing as how Nov. 11 is Veteran’s Day, but in fact the incident they’re referencing was decided by a New York judge on Thursday, so the proximity to the holiday was just a “happy” coincidence. The Monthly turned to the Times for a summary of the $2 million fine levied on Trump charities:
The settlement, which was finalized last month and announced on Thursday in the judge’s order, included a detailed admission of misconduct that is rare for the president, who has long employed a scorched-earth approach toward fighting lawsuits.
Among Mr. Trump’s admissions in court papers: The charity gave his campaign complete control over disbursing the $2.8 million that the foundation had raised at a fund-raiser for veterans in Iowa in January 2016, only days before the state’s presidential nominating caucuses. The fund-raiser, he acknowledged, was in fact a campaign event.
Charlie Pierce at Esquire put it more succinctly: Trump looted a charity and used money marked for veterans for his own political purposes.
Two and a half years ago, I wrote that liberals should stop trying to “own conservatives by their own logic,” which was a different way of saying that holding them up to their own (previous) standards is a fool’s game. We all know how Republicans and Trump supporters love to fetishize the troops when it suits their purposes, and judging by their rhetoric, you might expect them to be furious at Trump defrauding that venerated group.
Of course, they are not. We learned long ago—or at least we should have—that any ethical “principles” that the right holds only matter as long as it serves their one true principle, which is gaining and holding power in service of various right-wing social and economic pathologies. Or, in the absence of access to the corridors of power, feeling that they’re part of the group that holds such power.
The Monthly piece asks the following question: “Try, if you can, to imagine that Barack Obama had raised money for veterans only to spend it on a giant portrait of himself and a bunch of sports memorabilia. It would have singlehandedly destroyed his presidency and would likely have forced his resignation.”
Yes, but that’s because enough of his supporters would have joined the hue and cry raised by the right in such a hypothetical, since it violated clear rules of conduct and morality. That is not the case with Trump’s core supporters, who are motivated by tribal ideology and, as we’ve seen, can’t be shaken by simple hypocrisy and corruption. Paradoxically, it only seems to fortify them in their support.
None of which means that Democrats and sane voters shouldn’t still hold Trump accountable for his various legal violations. The judgment in New York is unequivocally positive, and if the Democrats can show an ounce of courage in the impeachment inquiry, that would also be a step in the right direction for the restoration of accountability. The wheels of our justice system have to keep turning, even in these strange times where one man can seemingly escape responsibility for frauds and crimes committed in broad daylight.
But we also need to understand the opposition. Screaming about their contradictions—”I thought you liked veterans!!”—misses the point of their political mission. They’re with Trump for a few very important reasons, but their lip service to anything else, past or present, is irrelevant. They never really cared about veterans, for one. If they did, they would fight for an end to pointless wars or the reform of the V.A. They just saw it as a useful cudgel with which to hit liberals and get closer to power. But the defrauding of that same group by Trump because he wanted to buy a signed portrait of Tim Tebow doesn’t register. Why would it?
There’s nothing to be done about Trump’s core supporters, who poll after poll shows are committed to the end. Whether they’re in the grips of some political mania or they’ve been waiting for Trump their entire lives, they’re not going anywhere. Yelling about their hypocrisy only makes them more committed, and gives them the vicarious thrill of having pissed off a liberal, which, in the absence of being on the right side of literally anything, has become their reason for being.
There’s one solution to the problem of Trump voters, and that’s to present a vision for the country that appeals to everyone else. I believe there are more of us than them (even if the concept of “us” isn’t nearly as unified as the reality of “them”), but until we can put that to the test in November 2020, it’s something we have to accept on faith.