Mark Souder: This election and who we are
Friday, October 14, 2016 8:15 AM
FORT WAYNE – It was around 2 a.m. on a cold January night in Washington. Looking down at the White House from our room at the Hays-Adams Hotel, the lights were dim outside but it had a glow coming from the lights within. I was about to go live, worldwide, on BBC’s morning news show.
The evening before, President William Jefferson Clinton had delivered his annual State of the Union address to Congress. “These are good times for America” he had told us. His message, however, had been overshadowed by the press conference the day before in which he famously said: “I have not had sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
BBC had previously tracked me for a year, in Washington and back home in Indiana. When the Republicans had taken over Congress in 1995, there was a lot of confusion worldwide about what it would mean. At one point, in an interview in my hometown of Grabill, their host for the equivalent show to 60 Minutes explained some ground rules for taping.
He explained that many of the newer democracies around the world, mentioning Russia in particular, watched the BBC shows to explain what was happening in U.S. politics because they found American news made too many assumptions about what they understood. For example, I could say “Clinton” or maybe “Gingrich” or “the freshman” but don’t say “Dole” or other names because we’d have to cut and re-tape. Most listeners had no clue who other legislators were. So keep it simple.
So as I prepared to go live worldwide, I thought I was ready because I had already done this many times on their major shows. Like always, there was some chitchat first with the news producer in London. The focus was on Clinton’s speech and briefly on whether the Monica mess would impact his ability to govern. But I was not ready for the first question.
Que music. Host comes on. Introduces who I am and then asks something like this: “Why are Americans so moralistic that you get all upset when a president drops his pants in the White House? Why should he have to apologize?”
I don’t remember how I responded. Probably that we had expectations about our presidents. Possibly mixed in some history as he followed up the original question. I do know that we didn’t talk economics.
It has long been said that hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays virtue. On the one hand, as we are again learning – too much, too fast – why “locker room” talk is not generally a desired part of public discourse. It was why “politically correct” became a common term.
The problem is not, however, just about being “politically correct.” When Donald Trump made some outlandish claim in one of the debates, and then tried to defend it as not “politically correct,” another candidate corrected him by saying that “no, Donald, it is just incorrect.”
The problem Trump is having is not just “locker room” banter, but let’s discuss that for a minute. Even ignoring that he was 59, with a reporter, and not in a locker room, it was not just “banter.” And it denigrates locker rooms all over this nation because he implied it was universal.
Some locker rooms may be this way. Penn State comes to mind. But conversations about sexually molesting people is not typical. There are times when talk can be offensive, more than just inappropriate, but Trump’s standard is far lower. Furthermore, it appears that he is being protected from the release of further trash-talking, foul-mouthed tapes from NBC’s “Apprentice.” Like his tax returns, he will falsely hold up legal reasons which, of course, he can waive if he treated the American presidency as the most important job in the world.
Some excuse this most recent evidence of unacceptable behavior for anyone, yet alone a president, as being 11 years old. However, plenty of evidence has come out of his consistent behavior before and after. In this campaign he flashed his disdain for women who dared challenge him by attacking Carly Fiorina and Megyn Kelly.
As for the recently released tape, Trump first apologized “if anyone was offended.” Trump’s second apology was about as innocuous as his first one. Then he deflected criticism as if he had actually apologized. During this campaign when asked about forgiveness, he replied “that he didn’t bring God into it.” What part of repentance, of becoming a Christian, doesn’t bring God into it? How can church leaders peddle the supposed faith of a man who didn’t understand step one?
“I drink my little wine, have my little cracker” response to a serious question about forgiveness, insults the very sacrifice of Jesus Christ that enables sinners like me and Donald Trump, and everyone else, to be saved. That isn’t “political incorrectness.” It is “incorrect.”
A major personal disappointment to me are the Christian leaders in politics, but especially in Christian ministry, who are excusing or defending Trump. Christian Minister Paula White is the person usually credited as having led Trump to Christ. White says that she has talked with Trump on spiritual matters for over 15 years, a lot of “locker rooms” and beauty queen dressing rooms ago.
The deepening divide among Republicans is not just because of his lack of personal decency but it highlights a generally dumbed down, relatively incoherent, contradictory, selfish, “back me or I’ll destroy you” approach to statist, big government. It is hard to avoid inappropriate language this election, so I apologize for this direct quote from a focus group participant after the first debate: “He’s a jackass, but he’s our jackass.” Except he’s not. Trump is not, nor has he ever been, a conservative or a Republican. Specific issues are just a temporary tactic to gain power and glory.
Hillary Clinton is about to be elected president, possibly by a huge margin. But the other question is this: Will there be an articulate opposition or are Republicans going to follow Trump and become another Clinton party? Once anyone sells their soul for power, buying it back is hard.
Souder is a former Republican congressman from Indiana.