Deviance

Author: Gary Hart

My late friend and former colleague, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was a man for the words.  One of the many phrases for which he was known had to do with his pithy summary of the trend toward avoiding responsibility and accountability.  “Defining deviance downward” was his phrase for this trend.

In less colorful language, this meant reducing blameworthy conduct.

Inevitably, there would be a president that would represent this tendency in the White House.  And here we are.

Decades from now the Republican defense of Donald Trump will be a classic case of defining deviance downward.

“He did nothing wrong,” is the creaky foundation upon which his defense for seeking to suborn an ally head of state, by withholding duly authorized American assistance for Ukraine’s defense against Russian encroachment, to further the Trump re-election.

By any standard of statecraft, this behavior was about as deviant as you can find.  And yet, “he did nothing wrong.”

As others have repeatedly said, if this isn’t impeachable, then nothing is.

And that is the Trump danger in a nutshell.  Almost daily we are treated to yet another incident of deviant behavior.  And the base roars its approval.  His Party’s elected representatives remain silent or take to the Fox airwaves to cheer and applaud.

We are seeing the historic United States ship of state sailing further and further from its traditional course, its Constitution, its principles, its purpose, and its beliefs.  Deviance is the word for this.

Behavior we used to decry and condemn now is laughed at and passed over.  This isn’t just a man-child misbehaving.  It is the leader of our nation redefining acceptability.

How many times in the future will deviant behavior be excused with the argument that “Trump did it and no one cared.”

He is crude, rude, arrogant, and untrained, an eighth-grade schoolyard bully who calls his opponents silly names and dares anyone to challenge him.

He is not just challenging decorum and civilized behavior, he is trampling on the rule of law, the traditions of enlightened civility, and the Constitution he swore to uphold.

Hypocrisy is unleashed and it the rule of the day.  Increasing numbers of commentators rightly point out that the Republican response if this behavior were committed by a Democratic president would be shock and horror.  Trump has turned his entire political party into hypocrites.

The evil that men do lives long after them.

What lessons are today’s young people learning from all this?  Surely, that lying is ok.  Behaving ignorantly is ok.  Calling distinguished leaders childish names is ok.  Pretending to govern the nation from a White House that is a charade of chaos is ok.  Refusing to accept responsibility is ok.  Trashing military and intelligence officials responsible for our national security is ok.  Advocating for U.S. corporations to bribe foreign officials is ok.

If, as I still believe, there is justice in the world…sometimes delayed, then his judgment will come for his deviance.  Justice may be delivered by the American people at the ballot box.

If not, however, history will surely be his final judge, and it will not be a pretty verdict.

 

 

 

16 Responses to “Deviance”

  1. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    At what point do the persons involved in the discussions on this site become enraged by the actions of this republican abomination infesting the white house and his equally abominable co-conspirators in Congress, who are defaming and denigrating the Congress and Constitution of the United States of America? By this I mean, WHEN DO YOU TAKE OFF YOUR KID GLOVES AND START CONDEMNING THIS ACTIVITY, POINT BY POINT, FOR WHAT IT IS? TREASON!

    It is all well and good to have meaningful civil discussion and dialogue on the issues that face us today. However, when I read what the original patriots of this nation were writing during their time, for which they could be, and sometimes were, charged with, tried for, convicted of, and executed for TREASON, I am dumbfounded by the seeming lack of positive vitriol that much, if not most, of this conversation lacks. As my grandmother would have said, “Y’all are just pussy-footing about the issue.” I personally like the phrase, the author of which I am unable to name, who would have called your discussions, “an exercise in mental masturbation.” You get the intellectual satisfaction of your mental activities, but they don’t actually produce any practical physical results.

    Be specific and call out the offenders by name. Mitch McConnell is the most devastating thing that has happened to the Congress of the United States in our history. Lindsay Graham has become a sniveling sycophant to the abomination infesting the white house. Both of these individuals in collusion, and yes I am willing to use that word, with the current “regime” in the white house are doing nothing less than aiding and abetting Vladimir Putin in his designs to re-establish the old Russia of the Soviet Union in both power and land mass. Such statements as this need to be “shouted from the roof tops”. We no longer have the luxury of being gentile in our discussions. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” If not now, WHEN?

  2. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Stephen, I think you may be in the wrong blog. 🙂

  3. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Seriously, maybe the question we should be considering is how best to go about making muscular arguments that have enough power to persuade. I’m not sure vitriol – positive or otherwise – is the best way to go about it in this blog or anywhere else, for that matter.

    More important that making persuasive arguments in this space is using those arguments and being a persistent thorn in the side of your representatives and senators and encouraging others to do the same. I have no doubt that you are!

  4. Gary Hart Says:

    OK, boys and girls. The fun is over. Civility is out the window. Stephen Pillow is challenging us to GET ANGRY. March on Washington and punch that WH pretender in the nose. We are behaving like a bunch of “pussy footers.” As the chief mealy-mouth I’ll try to do better. Like USING ALL CAPS. But doesn’t the Trumpster himself do that? And won’t we be lowering our well behaved selves to his level. And won’t he then have won? I promise to find a class in “positive vitriol”. I for one am a bit old to climb up on the roof top. I’ll try to do better in the ANGER department, Stephen. But I’ve found the meanest s.o.b.’s often speak with the softest voices. GH

  5. H Patrick Pritchard Says:

    TO ALL REPUBLICAN SENATORS: The United States Constitution reads, :We, the People not We, the ruling party! If you can’t face the facts resign and let someone else take the responsibility! With the Bolton revelation it is evident the President is guilty of withhold allocated military funds to fight Russian forces and force the Ukraine President to investigate the Bidens in order to get those funds. That is a violation of law! The question now can the Republican Senators again ignore reality to protect their asses and not the Constitution! I have no confidence in their ability to man up!

  6. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Senator Hart wrote: “If, as I still believe, there is justice in the world…sometimes delayed, then his judgment will come for his deviance. Justice may be delivered by the American people at the ballot box.”

    That seems now to be the only hope. But, I’m still wondering if there wasn’t a mistake made in presenting two articles of impeachment that did not correspond to the criteria for impeachment set out in the constitution.

    One question for professor Dershowitz would be: would your opinion on the impeachment of president Trump change in any way if there were only one article of impeachment with the title, ‘Bribery’ or ‘A Crime Akin To Bribery’ and does he understand that not all quid-pro-quos are created equally.

  7. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    “OK, boys and girls. The fun is over. Civility is out the window. Stephen Pillow is challenging us to GET ANGRY. March on Washington and punch that WH pretender in the nose. We are behaving like a bunch of “pussy footers.” As the chief mealy-mouth I’ll try to do better. Like USING ALL CAPS. But doesn’t the Trumpster himself do that? And won’t we be lowering our well behaved selves to his level. And won’t he then have won? I promise to find a class in “positive vitriol”. I for one am a bit old to climb up on the roof top. I’ll try to do better in the ANGER department, Stephen. But I’ve found the meanest s.o.b.’s often speak with the softest voices.” … GH

    Wow. Just … WOW.

    I think Stephen does have a point, though. I little more passion wouldn’t be inappropriate. In fact, that may be the very best way to counter Trump – honest passion, passionately honest …

  8. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    >>>>>>>>>If not, however, history will surely be his final judge, and it will not be a pretty verdict.

    And, if history is written by the winners, then …

  9. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    “OK, boys and girls. The fun is over. Civility is out the window. Stephen Pillow is challenging us to GET ANGRY. March on Washington and punch that WH pretender in the nose. We are behaving like a bunch of “pussy footers.” As the chief mealy-mouth I’ll try to do better. Like USING ALL CAPS. But doesn’t the Trumpster himself do that? And won’t we be lowering our well behaved selves to his level. And won’t he then have won? I promise to find a class in “positive vitriol”. I for one am a bit old to climb up on the roof top. I’ll try to do better in the ANGER department, Stephen. But I’ve found the meanest s.o.b.’s often speak with the softest voices.” … GH

    I have to admit, I’m still laughing about that … hehehehehehehe … sigh …. HEH

  10. Neil McCarthy Says:

    Well, America would not exist if all were “summer soldiers and sunshine patriots” in the 1770s and 80s. But it also would not exist but for the efforts of an extraordinary group of intellectual heavy weights, a/k/a the Founders.

    I’m (ethnically) Irish and no stranger to anger. This issue is not, it seems to me, whether to be angry but how to channel it. Calling out offenders and condemning the offenders is perfectly appropriate. Acting like Trump would be both counter-productive and, for us, probably false as well (I for one do not walk around cursing at anyone with whom I disagree or lying as a matter of course, and I doubt others in this “band of brothers/sisters” do either).

    And shedding blood would be disastrous. That Jefferson quote on the so-called “tree of liberty” is routinely parroted by white nationalists and neo-Nazis. They want bloodshed. I want no part of that. And no part of them.

  11. Michael Says:

    We don’t have to get into the gutter with Trump and start using childish insults (or write in ALL CAPS). But it is clear that ‘when they go low we go high’ wasn’t a very effective strategy. Democrats need to call out Trump for what he is: an incompetent, lying, gasbag whom even our allies laugh at; a man whose allegiances are not clear and is a danger to our national security; and whose administration is the most corrupt in the history of the American presidency. Everyone know on some level that all of that is true. Let’s not shy away from it. Yes, the conservative noise machine will blow a gasket and feign outrage. But who cares? There are plenty of hard-hitting ads just from books that have been written about this White House. All of them should end with the words, ‘Do you really want four more years of this?’ It’s easy to remind people that the government is in constant chaos; that it was not always this way; and make them want a return to normal, if they don’t already.

  12. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Michael,

    >>>>>But it is clear that ‘when they go low we go high’ wasn’t a very effective strategy.

    Perhaps, that strategy wasn’t and isn’t effective because it hasn’t been implemented and acted out very well, by anyone.

    For it to be an effective strategy it needs to rely on a comprehensive command of the facts and an honestly passionate counter-narrative that persuasively rejects the Trump line on any given issue, just for starters.

    Democrats need to flesh out the rest of that strategy rather than discard it.

  13. Michael Says:

    After yesterday there is no question that the entire Republican Party is as deviant as Trump is. When White House lawyers argue that there is basically no standard of illegality that can apply to a president as long as that president feels that what s/he is doing is in the “national interest,” and that view is accepted by the Party, we are really on the precipice of a rapid descent to totalitarianism. Just one election away. No one will be able to say they kept their intentions secret.

  14. Bill Pruden Says:

    Senator,
    In addition to his cogent comment about defining deviance downward, your friend and colleague Senator Moynihan also anticipated Trump and his minions when he famously observed that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”  But of course, beyond his facility with the language was a talent for governing, and like, he possessed you a deep commitment to our democratic process, and as you observed and as Senator Moynihan would surely agree,  it is up to us, using the singular power of the vote to call him to account.  This is especially true because we are that it is not just the president but his Republican sycophants in the Senate who have also descended to their own previously unimaginable levels of deviance. There can be no denying that they too are at fault and should be held accountable for in the end they are all, every one of them, each of whom has now taken numerous oaths, responsible to we the people and if they have failed in fulfilling that responsibility then we must address that failure.  Beginning in 1787, the responsibility for our government was put in our hands.  For over two hundred years, for the most part the individuals we entrusted with that responsibility have treated it as an honor and have given it the respect their offices deserved.  But that quite clearly is no longer the case and self-service, not public service, has become the driving force behind the efforts of far too many.  Consequently, we must take back our government.  To do that, in the spirit of 1776, we must make Election day 2020 our own form of independence day.  Hyperbole is cheap, but in many ways the stakes are no less than they were in 1776. 

  15. Michael Says:

    Elizabeth Miller: Democrats have a long history of not responding to scurrilous attacks by Republicans; whether to Bush with Willie Horton or Karl Rove turning war hero John Kerry into an American traitor. Each success only made the Republicans more brazen. Now all bets are off; nothing is out of bounds – even extorting a sham investigation into a political opponent by a foreign government, or asking a hostile power for help outright. Running an aspirational campaign is nice, and the overall message should be one of hope. But when you are running against a degenerate slob like Trump (and one can only imagine who will come after him since there doesn’t seem to be a bottom with Republicans) you cannot shy away from pointing that out. Relentlessly. The only people who will be turned off are the people who won’t vote for Democrats anyway.

  16. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Michael,

    I think we are on the same page – Democrats must be relentless in calling out Trump and the Trump party with muscular arguments but without acceding a permanent chasm in American politics that will be dangerous for America and democracy, at home and abroad.

    If Trump’s impeachment trial ends this week without witnesses having testified, then the Democratic race for the White House enters a new phase requiring a new strategy that takes no prisoners and pursues a honestly passionate political discourse that does not underestimate the intelligence of American voters.

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