Ronald A. Klain writes: For decades, conservatives labored to make their movement more humane. Ronald Reagan put a jovial face on conservative policies — more Dale Carnegie than Ayn Rand; George H.W. Bush promised a “kinder, gentler” tenure; George W. Bush ran on “compassionate conservatism.” As a progressive, I opposed many of their specific proposals. But as a country, we benefited from a debate between competing ideas — liberal and conservative — on how to soften the hard edges of American life and create a more inclusive country.
That was then. Today, we are living the Politics of Mean. In the Trump presidency, with its daily acts of cruelty, punching down is a feature, not a bug. And the only thing more disquieting than a president who practices the Politics of Mean are the voters who celebrate it.
President Trump’s decision to put some 700,000 “dreamers” in limbo, his snarling statement that athletes protesting policing abuses are “sons of bitches,” his opposition to bipartisan efforts to maintain health coverage for low-income families, his feud with a Gold Star widow are all recent examples — not of conservative policies — but of a basic nastiness. Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans still lack water, most are without electricity, leptospirosis is spreading, and Trump talks about withdrawing federal aid and belittles local leaders. Nine months into his presidency, Trump is not even paying lip service to the compassionate ideals — such as improving low-performing schools or combating homelessness — that previous Republican presidents pursued.
Trump always will be Trump. He won the White House on a campaign of insults and taunts, urging rally attendees to punch protesters and threatening to jail his opponent. We have known who he is. But what is his presidency saying about the rest of us? [Continue reading…]