Among the many questions Donald Trump has not been asked during his meteoric—as in large, dense object on a collision course with everything humanity holds dear—rise to become his party’s nominee for the highest office in the land, is the question of what he sees as his obligations as president. While we have been treated to chapter and verse about his (low) opinion of those who have failed to live up to his high standards of responsible conduct, somehow in the general confusion his candidacy has wrought, it seems no one has thought to ask Mr. Trump to enumerate what his own responsibilities would be to the country and to the office he seeks.
Nowhere has this omission been more painfully obvious than in the media’s response to Trump’s latest assault on the integrity of U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel in the pending class-action suit against Trump “University.” As on so many similar occasions, the shock of the candidate’s arrogance in this case seems to have taken his interviewers by surprise, leaving them to sputter repeatedly about the inherent racism of his claim that Judge Curiel’s parentage predisposes him to rule on the basis of a personal animus. To be sure, such a position shows a glaring insensitivity to accepted norms surrounding the subject of race in an egalitarian society, but even more alarming is what it reveals about Trump’s lack of understanding of the role of the president as defined by the Constitution.
As Trump’s complaint points out, it is the obligation of those in high office to recuse themselves in cases where personal interest might cloud their impartiality on matters of public debate. What he doesn’t seem to recognize is that the standard applies at least as much, if not far more so, to himself than it does to the judge. The candidate’s financial interest in avoiding a claim for damages, after all, is more at issue than the judge’s presumed interest in some sort of ethnically-motivated revenge.
Indeed, Trump’s ability to avoid discussion of his own obligations has been among the most disturbing aspects of his candidacy, which from the beginning has resembled a one-sided conversation wherein The Donald speaks and the news media dutifully records. With few exceptions, there has been very little effort to elicit the candidate’s views of his prospective responsibilities under the American system of governance, which has enabled him to fill the airwaves with a familiar litany of utterly fanciful promises and his own vastly over-sized ego. It has been suggested that Trump’s celebrity has afforded him billions of dollars’ worth of free advertising; more damning, however, is the dynamic by which his putative wealth and pugnacious attitude have served to intimidate many in the Media whose careers depend on access to news-makers with the power to deliver millions of viewers/readers.
Where, one wonders, are the Edward R. Murrows of the present age? I’m afraid we’ll have to do better than the bloviations of late-comers to the anti-Trump cause like Joe Scarborough, who recently challenged Republicans to prove to him that they are not bigots. Joe, it seems, is running for Arbiter in Chief with all the humility and nuance of his newly-discovered nemesis. But then, according to one theory of history, great men and women are not born so much as made by the necessities of their times, in which case it is to be hoped that, in addition to a crucial decision point for all serious Americans, the next several months will serve as an important proving ground for a new generation of serious journalists.
Meanwhile, consider for a moment how a man engaged in a lawsuit can presume to impugn the impartiality of the judge in the case and at the same time argue for his election to the presidency, all while insisting that his interlocutors in the press have little right and no occasion to question his motives even to the limited degree that they have. That such a man could be elected by the American people to preserve, protect and defend a document whose stated purpose is “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” is simply preposterous.