In the throes of the campaign in September 2016, Mike Pence told a crowd at the Living Word Bible Church in Mesa, Ariz.:
“I’m old enough to remember back in the last Clinton administration where America really had a debate over whether character mattered to the presidency. We don’t need to have that debate again. We don’t need to have that debate again. Character matters to the presidency and Donald Trump will bring the highest level of integrity to the highest office in the land. You can count on it.”
This after a lifetime of Trump boasting about his sexual conquests, after years of him going on the Howard Stern show and saying the most debauched things, and just two weeks before the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape on which Trump boasted about kissing and groping women without their permission — in other words, sexual assault.
Pence’s proclamation was a lie when he said it, and is even more of a lie now. Trump is involved in litigation over sexual encounters on three fronts, including with the porn star Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels.
But the Daniels scandal is hardly making a dent.
As Politico reported Wednesday, “The data suggest Trump’s past behavior with women is already known among voters — and many are willing to overlook it.”
“Trump’s seeming imperviousness to the scandal is stunning given the opinions Americans profess to hold on issues of character. In the most recent Politico/Morning Consult poll, 91 percent said honesty is ‘very important’ for elected officials to embody in their personal life in order to carry out their official duties. Seventy-five percent said the same about morality. On the question of extramarital affairs, 80 percent said they were morally wrong. Despite all that, when asked directly about the Daniels scandal, nearly half of voters say it doesn’t change how they view Trump.”
Conservatives have twisted themselves into knots trying to excuse Trump’s vulgarities as acceptable and somehow set them apart from the supposed productivity of the man himself, somehow cleaving the sin from the sinner.
But, in the end, this just makes a mockery of their own sense of morality. This, of all issues, simply isn’t complicated.
He is a serial philanderer who treats women as disposable conquests. He is a man who cheats on his wives with mistresses and then cheats on those mistresses. He is a man who, multiple women have alleged, also sexually assaults women. And he is a man who lies about it all.
Somehow, some folks, mostly conservative ones, have found a way to look away.
They see judges, tax cuts, nationalism, a boatload of phobias and permission to be hostile to people whose lifestyles or very existence unnerve them. They count that as more value than the devaluation of American integrity that Trump represents.
But Trump’s behavior is neither normal nor right.
These scandals aren’t really about sex. Some of the women, like Daniels, say their sex with Trump was consensual. No, this is about cheating, lying and general boorishness.
According to some of Trump’s other accusers, this is also about assault.
Those issues can’t simply be brushed away. They matter. It is important that we get to the bottom of what happened here. It is not at all about prurience or puritanical sensibilities. It is about a civil duty to examine the character of the commander and to move for removal if that character is found wanting.
As John Adams wrote in 1765:
“Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right, to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers. Rulers are no more than attorneys, agents and trustees for the people; and if the cause, the interest and trust, is insidiously betrayed, or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke the authority that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute abler and better agents, attorneys and trustees.”
The “cause, interest and trust” of this country is being “insidiously betrayed” and “wantonly trifled away” by Trump. Those of us with the courage to say so must do just that.
Courage should still matter in America. We must insist upon it.
<CHARLES M. BLOW