In Cash & Candor, Arkansas Money & Politics / AY Magazine Editor Caleb Talley aims to shoot it straight when it comes to business and politics in and around the Natural State. Talley comes to AMP by way of the Arkansas Delta, where he called balls and strikes at the Forrest City Times-Herald. Read more Cash & Candor here.
“Does it even matter anymore?”
There was a great skit on Saturday Night Live last weekend. I know, the show is “not as funny as it used to be” – I hear it all the time from my elders. But on occasion, their political critiques are right on the money.
And that was definitely the case last week, with a skit that featured guest host Jessica Chastain. In the skit, Chastain played the host of a game show called “What even matters anymore?” Contestants on the satirical game show were read something that President Trump had done or said, and they had to answer: “Does it even matter?”
As you can expect, everything read to them was abhorrent, and the contestants would answer with something along the lines of “yeah, that’s really bad, that has to matter!” But, of course, the answer was always a resounding “nope.”
The skit ended with the cast members in tears, realizing that, with Trump, nothing matters – and Chastain chugs a bottle of wine.
I laughed. But it did get me thinking. Have we truly reached a point where nothing matters? Will the general public (and a Republican-led Congress) let Trump get away with anything? Will we find a way to justify every outrageous thing he does and says, every week, until 2020?
This ain’t limbo. Just how low will we go?
There’s a sort-of chain reaction that occurs when someone (like the leader of the free world) is allowed to get away with so much political barbarism. It lowers the standard by which others who follow will be held to. It lowers the bar.
For whatever ungodly reason, we’ve been way too quick to pardon Trump’s idiotic behavior – like the comments he made earlier this month suggesting immigrants from African countries were worse than immigrants from Norway, that all Haitians have aids, or having an affair with a porn star and paying her to keep quiet about it. Just like the SNL skit, there will always be someone to say, “well, at least the stock market is up.”
But as we continue to let bad behavior slide, we only give fodder to the politicians who will succeed him. The pass we give him for his idiocy now will be used to justify theirs in the future. We give others reason to imitate him.
Psychologists often observe this when dealing with families. If a parent has done something bad – exhibited unsavory behavior, gotten in trouble with the law, etc. – their child is much more likely to do the same. The child is likely to use his or her parents’ behavior as a justification of their own.
Each time, the bar gets lower.
And that’s what we’re witnessing now in the White House: the lowering of the bar. Each time we let Trump’s overt racism slide, we essentially make it okay for future presidents to do the same. We get calloused to it. Especially at the rate in which it seems to happen.
But let’s be real, Trump isn’t the first overtly racist president. Many bigoted presidents paved his way, both Republicans and Democrats.
Popular Democrat and civil rights hero Lyndon Johnson was one of them. According to his biographer, Johnson was a connoisseur of the n-word, using different pronunciations of it when talking to southern lawmakers of different regions. He would even refer to the Civil Rights Act, which made it possible to end Jim Crow, as the “n****r bill.”
Just like Trump, Johnson reveled in the politics of resentment and divisiveness. During a trip to the South, Johnson remarked to a staffer, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
Those words, from a modern-era president, are far more incendiary than Trump’s “sh*thole” countries remark. It doesn’t make Trump’s comments okay; they’re still distressing. But it puts him in good company, I guess.
We’ve also known Trump was a sexual reprobate before he even moved into the White House. He cheated on every wife he’s had. He bragged about his ability to sexually assault women and get away with it. But none of that mattered to the millions who put him into office.
So why should we expect anything different now? Trump had an affair with a porn star right after Melania gave birth to their son. Then he paid the porn star $130,000 to keep her mouth shut about it, right before the election. News like that would have sunk any politician not that long ago. But not now. He denies it, and no one bats an eye.
You don’t have to go back too far to find a president who lowered the bar when it comes to sexual promiscuity. One of the biggest offenders is still alive and adored by millions.
Bill Clinton did some pretty filthy stuff in the Oval Office with a cigar. And he is accused of doing a whole lot more with several other women, from Arkansas to Washington, D.C. And despite the shame (and impeachment), he was not forced to resign – not by the general public or party leaders. He is still revered today by Democrats and many around the globe.
Let me be clear: I am in no way, shape or form defending Trump’s vile behavior. Mango Mussolini trips himself up more than his opponents ever could. But the only reason he is where he is now – saying the things he’s saying, doing the thing he’s doing – is because we didn’t hold his predecessors to a higher standard. We let them lower the bar. (Well, not me. I couldn’t vote until 2009)
We can put an end to the chain of deviant presidents. But that means we have to start raising the standard by which we hold our presidents. He’s the leader of the free world, for crying out loud. At the rate he’s lowering the political bar, James Cameron couldn’t even fish it out of the Mariana Trench.
If we keep pretending that nothing matters, eventually, nothing will matter. And that’s a game show America doesn’t want to be on.