September 23, 2018

Trump and Weiner

This week, as the firestorm was building over Donald Trump’s racist comments about the “Mexican” judge presiding over lawsuits against Trump University  — you know, the judge who was born and raised just outside that great Mexican city of South Bend, Ind. — I went to see the new documentary “Weiner.” And I had a feeling I never thought I’d have: Poor Anthony Weiner.

It wasn’t that I felt sympathy for the seven-term congressman. He resigned from Congress in 2011 after pictures he texted of his private parts became public, then made a remarkable second-act comeback, leading by 10 points in New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary — until he was caught lying about new texts he’d sent of those same private parts, to a different woman. Weiner’s second round of apologies and promises went nowhere. He got 4 percent of the vote. His political career, for the foreseeable future, was finished.

Make no mistake: The man got what was coming to him, and then some. The superb documentary reveals that not only did he lie to the voters and his wife, Huma Abedin, he also treats her, in several onscreen private and public moments, with withering rudeness and contempt. The creepy underwear pics turn out to be his most forgivable behavior.

But I felt sorry for him nonetheless, because, when the movie ended, I realized that Weiner was simply a victim of bad timing. You see, he was running in 2013 B.T.— Before Trump. In the world of politics before Trump, politicians who got caught doing awful things had to be contrite. They got a second chance to get their act together, but not a third. Before Trump, there was such a thing as shame in the public square.

Trump has shown politicians there is a way to rewrite that old script: Throw it out. 

Here are the rules in 2016 A.T. — After Trump: You make a blunder, you blame others. You say something awful, you attack the people reporting it. You don’t criticize your opponent, you call them names.  Whatever asinine thing you say or do, you never take it back; never apologize. In fact, you double down.

So when Trump demeaned all veterans by calling Sen. John McCain “not a hero” for being captured by the North Vietnamese, he explained, “I like people that weren’t captured.” And his poll numbers went up.

When he called Mexican immigrants “rapists,” he didn’t apologize — he doubled down. He declared he’d build a wall to keep immigrants out. His poll numbers grew.  When the media tried to hold him to his word about his boast that he’d raised $6 million for veteran causes, he blasted the media. After he mocked a disabled reporter, he never apologized.   

When he faced a firestorm of criticism for saying he would ban people from entering the United States because of their religion, he clinched the nomination.  

When U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel ordered that documents revealing the predatory sales tactics of Trump “University” be unsealed, Trump attacked Curiel’s integrity and accused him of being biased because he’s “Mexican,” even though Curiel was born and raised in Indiana. Trump’s response to the backlash: Everyone else “misconstrued.” He went on TV and continued the accusation, simply adding “heritage” to the word “Mexican.”

Even Trump’s most high-profile American-Jewish supporters, such as Sheldon Adelson and Ari Fleischer, have given him a pass on that — unbelievably. What if Trump had said an American-Jewish judge couldn’t be fair on a case involving anti-Semitism, or that a Jewish diplomat couldn’t be fair dealing with Israel?  It is the height of hypocrisy for a Jewish American to pretend he or she wouldn’t be outraged if the same accusation were directed at a fellow Jew. I suppose the silence of these supporters means they think Trump has a good excuse: He’s Trump.     

That’s politics in 2016 A.T. — you say or do something awful, you get caught, you do it more. 

Trump’s supporters not only don’t care, they enjoy the perception of “toughness” all of this gives their man. The media shower him with more free attention. He rides it until the media move on or the next outrage hits. Remember the outcry over Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns? Trump didn’t bend. And then the “Mexican judge” storm came along and seemed to wash away all discussion of those tax returns. 

Anthony Weiner has got to be thinking: If only I were running now.  What Weiner actually did is a flea on the elephant of Trump’s flaws. Weiner didn’t harass or assault a woman. He didn’t even come close to breaking a law. He just made a jackass out of himself. Sure, he misled voters about the extent of his texting, but Trump’s entire candidacy, from his hair weave to his wall, is lie after lie after lie.  

In politics 2016 A.T., Weiner could simply follow Trump’s script: You don’t like my texts? Don’t look at them. You think I’m a jerk? You’re a jerk. You call me a perv? I call you an imbecile.

This will be Trump’s real contribution to our Republic. Taking accountability out of politics, along with every last shred of honor. 

There’s a scene in “Weiner” in which an outraged constituent tells the congressman, “Shame on you.” That’s a phrase we won’t be hearing any more.  

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.