Why are the rules different for Trump?

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I was reminded recently of the fake Time Magazine cover with Donald Trump on it that Trump had printed up and displayed at one of his golf resorts. I performed the usual thought experiment and asked myself the question, what would have happened had Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton done something like that? The answer came to me instantly: it would have destroyed their political careers. They would have never recovered from it. It would have created an obligatory mention every time their names came up.

And yet this phony Time cover is just one of a series of known anecdotes about Trump’s abominable character. He had sex with a hooker while his wife was pregnant and paid to cover it up. Check. He bragged about grabbing women by the you-know-what — on tape no less. Check. He and his father conspired to deny tenancy to people of color in the early 70s. Check. He has dozens of allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior lodged against him by numerous women. Check. He denigrated a war hero, disparaged a Gold Star family and mocked a disabled reporter. Check. I’m sure the readers of Palmer Report could collectively come up with hundreds more. If not thousands.

Why doesn’t Trump die from these thousand cuts when just one would destroy the average politician? It’s what I call the Hunter Thompson Effect. In 1970 Hunter S. Thompson ran for sheriff of Aspen, Colorado. He was a known “freak,” a drug user and an alcoholic. He lost the race — narrowly — to a more conservative candidate. No ordinary candidate with Thompson’s antecedents would have come close to winning. But because Thompson was a known freak and a druggy he didn’t just survive the reputational defects he thrived because of them, and he very nearly won.

Trump is a known scumbag and he never really pretends to be anything else. Even when he acts like a patriot you can tell he’s mugging for the cameras with barely concealed contempt. So when Trump behaves like the scumbag he is no one but Republican stuffed shirts and evangelicals are shocked or surprised. The stuffed shirts and evangelicals survive this cognitive dissonance either by denying that Trump’s infamous reputation is deserved or resorting to putrid equivocations such as, “only God can even use a man like Trump to complete His work.”

So when it came to light recently that some of the Trump presidential records received by the National Archives and Records Administration included paper records that had been torn up by the former president, few were shocked. Since Trump and his followers insist that Trump did nothing wrong, wouldn’t Trump destroying his own records — records in fact that should exonerate him — prove consciousness of guilt? Shouldn’t this be not just a major story but one of the biggest stories of the entire Trump era?

Your first reaction to this assertion is probably that I’m making too much of this incident. But think again. One of the defining moments of the Nixon presidency was the 18 ½ minute gap in the Nixon White House tapes. It has never been proven that Nixon himself had anything to do with erasing that part of the tapes. And yet that 18 minutes of silence has come to symbolize Nixon at his most corrupt.

Meanwhile, nearly 50 years on, the latter-day equivalent of the 18 missing minutes barely provokes a yawn. There are no mass exits from the Trump camp. Donald Trump, like Hunter Thompson, is just proving to be who we know him to be already. And no one is shocked or surprised.


The danger, of course, is that Trump is leaving a blueprint for future Trumps. Republicans are becoming more brazen in their outrageousness and less embarrassed by their hypocrisies. The word is out: it’s okay to be a scumbag as long as everyone already knows you’re a scumbag. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

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