Newly minted White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci held his first press conference last Friday. In it, he gave one of the most baffling statements I've heard about President Trump: He called Donald Trump "a wonderful human being."
It's a phrase I can't get out of my head. I've heard Trump called many things: a champion for hardworking Americans, a serial liar, or a disruptive force (for good or evil, depending on your point of view). But a wonderful human being?
It made me wonder how other people would define a "wonderful human being." It may be a loving, caring parent. A generous friend. A wise and patient mentor. A kind, encouraging teacher. For the sake of argument, I think most people would agree that a wonderful person is generous, kind, and wise, as well as optimistic and encouraging to others.
There's one more characteristic that wonderful people share. They treat virtually everyone with the same generosity and kindness. They don't pick and choose the people they treat respectfully. Their character is defined by an ethical backbone that is centered on the notion of a golden rule.
Donald Trump doesn't seem terribly concerned with ethics or rules. He seems to believe that his norm-busting administration was elected to tear down any person, institution, or legislation that displeases him—in the blink of an eye, with no regard for consequences. "How Do We Contend with Trump's Defiance of 'Norms'?" offers a terrific look at the fragility of norms in a functioning democracy. This article begins with a classic moment in which then-candidate Trump intentionally humiliates a young woman who asks him a question he does not like at a New Hampshire forum in October 2015. As the Times piece describes it: "An 18-year-old college student named Lauren Batchelder questioned whether Donald Trump was a ‘friend to women’ while asking about equal pay and female autonomy. The next morning on Twitter, Trump called Batchelder ‘arrogant’ and her manner ‘nasty,’ pointing a torrent of supporters’ violent threats her way."
Regardless how you feel about Trump's abrasive style, it's hard to argue the facts about Trump's basic nature. He routinely belittles and discredits those who disagree with him. He doesn't just attack those who attack him. He denigrates anyone who dares to hold different views than his. There is no room for discussion; there is no policy debate. If you do not adore his ideas, you risk being vilified. This includes members of his own party. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was one of Trump's earliest and most loyal supporters, is now considered persona non grata by Trump because, as Attorney General, Sessions recused himself from oversight of the Russia investigation, a move viewed widely by experts as the proper course of action. Or consider the Republicans in Congress who've been the recipient of Trump's public ire, such as U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-Nev), who holds a vulnerable seat, yet was subjected to a public ribbing from Trump on healthcare as well as critical ads unleashed by a Trump-aligned Super PAC (those ads were pulled after an outcry from Senate Republicans.)
In Trump's playbook it's OK to undermine virtually anyone. He tags political opponents with petty names (crooked Hillary Clinton, lying Ted Cruz, sleazy Adam Schiff). He disparages the media as "fake news" and hurls personal insults at media personalities, such as MSNBC hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, whom he called "low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe". He even berates international leaders, as when he chastised the Mayor of London in the wake of that city's terrorist attacks, tweeting: "At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is "no reason to be alarmed!"
When not attacking individuals, he's busy propping up his narrative with his trademark brash negativity. This was most recently on display during his cringeworthy, campaign-style speech at the Boy Scout Jamboree. Instead of providing uplifting oratory to a group of teenagers and their parents, Trump peppered his talk with a bit of profanity and plenty of mean-spirited political jabs at Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the media. Trump, who was never a boy scout, seemed unaware that there is no merit badge for bullying.
This well-defined pattern of behavior is inconsistent with the notion of Donald Trump as Mr. Wonderful. While it may be possible that Trump is kind and generous to his family and close friends, it really doesn't matter. Being nice only to people who agree with you, or look like you, or think like you is easy. But it's not enough. It's not even close to enough when you treat everyone else with cruel disdain.
Scaramucci's opener didn't help. It was another instance of a Trump administration official stating a falsehood that we can all see is not true (crowd size, anyone?). Scaramucci and the rest of Trump's administration would be better off avoiding any aggrandizements in an effort to sell Americans something most of us aren't buying. Especially as a growing number of Americans appear less tolerant of the president's behavior, as a recent USA Today poll suggests, finding that "only about one in four, 27%, of those polled express confidence he'll serve all four years of his term."
But sticking to the facts isn't what Trump does, nor how he encourages his staffers to act on his behalf. Clear, ethical communications aren't Trump's style. Lashing out is his style. Blaming others is his style. Civil treatment of fellow Americans? Nope. Taking personal responsibility for inaccurate statements and retracting them or apologizing to those he may have hurt? Never. My guess is that at least some Trump supporters believe these tactics aren't great, but others seem to revel in them. That's a choice in a free society. A sad choice, but a choice. Let's just not call Trump a wonderful human being. Because, quite simply, he is not.
Scaramucci's attempt to show Trump in a more humanizing light backfired. We know better. The Boy Scouts know better. The professional media knows better. Our Republican leaders should know better. The communications director's glowing characterization of Trump came across as just another ploy by surrogates to reflect the image that Trump imagines for himself. This delusion only underscores the gulf between the Trump we see, who indiscriminately shames people publicly, and the spin that the Trump administration propagates about this president as a wonderful human being who is being treated unfairly by the political establishment. Fake news? Or fake administration? You choose.