Trump in some ways represents democracy’s unsightly and dangerous tendencies, but in other ways he represents just what it needs.
To my mind, Harris employed two basic critiques of President Trump. The first is what I would call the character critique. It looks at Trump’s behavior over his life, finds it to be extremely problematic, and then uses that to criticize the President. The second, which almost seems secondary to him, is a critique of Trump’s policies.
Obviously, President Trump’s character appears to be deficient. I won’t recount the actions he has taken over his life that might be thought to reflect badly on his character. To tell you the truth, I don’t really follow these things closely, such as his behavior concerning Trump University or his various liaisons and actions with women. Adams attempts to defend Trump, but I think that even the President’s defenders tend to admit that he has done a significant number of problematic things in his lifetime.
What is interesting is how Harris uses the character critique. First, he condemns Trump’s behavior and says that people would refuse to interact with a person who had done the things that Trump had done. His argument appears to be that Trump should not be taken seriously as a potential President, because of his actions. In addition, when Trump does something that appears to be beneficial, Harris claims he is not doing it for the right reason. His bad character just shows it is an accident or an aberration.
Significantly, the character critique allows the critic to dismiss Trump without having to carefully assess his policies overall. The bad things are explained by his bad character and the good things are dismissed as aberrations. Obviously, that won’t do.
Many people believe that how a President behaves in his private life or even his nonpolitical, business life is not all that relevant to what type of President he would be. Harris clearly has a different view. To my mind, one cannot use the character critique in the way that Harris does. Instead, one should focus on two matters. First, one should look at the policies that Trump is adopting – the good and the bad – and make a balanced assessment of these policies. For me, as with many others on the right, Trump has turned out to be much better as to policy than I ever imagined he would be.
Second, one must look at his character in terms of how it translates into public behavior. There is little doubt that Trump’s character has led to a change – indeed, a decline – in public norms governing the presidency. The responsibility for this is partially due to Trump’s character. That said, Trump is responding to a political environment – of a hyper-partisan press and media, and of social media mobs – that represents a decline in the norms governing our institutions of civil discourse. President Obama also ignored many prior norms. Placing the blame on Trump but absolving those others involves serious bias.
Harris’s critique displays many of these defects, including others. Part of the problem is that Harris appears to get his information only from the mainstream media. Talking in July of 2017, he reacts with incredulity to Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by the Obama Administration. But as we now know, the Trump campaign was improperly investigated by an Obama Administration that was at the same time protecting Hillary Clinton’s misconduct as to her emails. As far as I can tell, Harris has not acknowledged his mistake.
There are legitimate ways to strongly critique the President. But Harris, like many of the President’s critics, seems so overwhelmed by his negative passions about the President, that he cannot seem to formulate those critiques. Of course, he is not alone.