Off the Cuff: Attacking the Spirit of Free Speech

Some thoughts on social media, free speech, and political hypocrisy.

That’s the topic of my Off the Cuff audio commentary this week. You can listen to it by clicking on the play (arrow) button below.


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Cowards in the Age of Trump

If Donald Trump isn’t the worst president in the entire history of the United States, he’s certainly a serious contender for the title.

There is not enough room in all of cyberspace to tick off his many offenses. But he is good at a few things. No one in recent political history has been better at bamboozling those gullible MAGA supporters who practically worship at his feet.

Back in 2016 he told them he’d not only build a wall to keep illegal immigrants out of this country, but that Mexico would pay for it. That lie, which was one of many, helped him get elected.

Ever since he lost the election in November, he told his most loyal supporters, again playing on their gullibility, that he really won the election – and it wasn’t just any old victory; it was a landslide win. And his trusting fans bought that lie too.

And, as was expected, the story was amplified by the president’s sycophant friends in right-wing media.

It didn’t matter to his fans or his media toadies that the president’s legal team made their case to some 60 judges, some of whom Donald Trump himself had appointed – and that he lost every time out. It didn’t matter to the president’s most loyal, gullible, fan base because it didn’t matter to the president.

That’s also why it didn’t matter to the so-called analysts on conservative cable TV and radio. They’re cowards too — fearful that if they don’t pander to Donald Trump’s loyal base – if they don’t cover for his many lies they’ll lose their audience … and their ratings … and maybe their jobs.

And when he whipped up the crowd in Washington with more lies and conspiracy theories about how he really won the election, about how the Democrats stole it away from him, about how he would never concede and how he should rightfully remain in office for four more years, too many in the crowd responded by storming the Capitol — at the same time Congress was counting the Electoral College votes that would officially declare Donald Trump’s opponent the next president of the United States.

Which brings us to something else the president excels at: scaring the cowards in his party.

When they went on television – Fox News, mostly – they condemned the rioting, which was the easy part. But one politician after another – with very few exceptions — refused to state the obvious: that Donald Trump was the instigator, the one who whipped up the passions of his supporters, the one who said, “We’re going to the Capitol” to “try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”

The “we” in “We’re going to the Capitol,” of course, didn’t include the leader of the pack, the president. He went back to the safe confines of the White House.

But Donald Trump isn’t the only one who bears blame for what happened. The cowards in his party, the ones who never told him to stop the chaos that he caused almost on a daily basis – they also bear responsibility for the wretched end of his presidency.

They were afraid to stand up to him when he mocked the heroism of John McCain. They were afraid to stand up to him when he suggested a female opponent wasn’t attractive enough to be in the White House. They were afraid to stand up to him when he made fun of a journalist with a serious physical disability.

A friend of mine emailed me saying: “Ted Cruz is pandering to Trump’s insane ego when Trump mocked his wife’s looks, mocked the looks of the woman Cruz said he’d pick for VP, and accused his father of being involved with Lee Harvey Oswald. Hell, in Texas this would get you off on grounds of justifiable homicide!”

Time after time after time over more than four long years they refused to draw a bright red line; they refused to tell him to stop acting like a schoolyard bully and start acting like the President of the United States of America.

And what exactly was it that his Republican enablers were afraid of? They were afraid of Donald Trump’s rabid base, the voters who would never abandon him – no matter what.

They were afraid that if they stood up to Donald Trump, the MAGA crowd would make them pay for their disloyalty. They would either find a primary opponent to run against them or if that failed they’d sit home on Election Day and let the Democrat win.

Yes, the GOP has a problem, one brought on by Donald Trump and his party’s cowardly refusal to stand up to him and confront the loyalists who blindly trust and support him. So what to do?

Here’s an idea for Republicans: Stop being cowards. Stop fearing the wrath of those rabid Trump supporters – the ones who will demand loyalty to their leader long after he’s out of office, the ones who won’t support you if you ever say a bad word about Donald Trump. Let them go and start their third party as they’re already threatening to do.

The Republican Party will be better off without them. Like Donald Trump, they alienate more voters than they attract.

At the same time, mainstream Republicans should focus their efforts on a bloc that has voted for GOP candidates in the past, but abandoned the party when Donald Trump came along.

They should make their case to those educated, moderate, suburban voters – mostly women – who voted for Joe Biden because they couldn’t stomach four more years of Donald Trump.

If the GOP wins them back, they can win elections. But it takes courage to stand up to a bully. Profiles in courage are always hard to come by, but cowards in the age of Donald Trump, unfortunately, have been plentiful.

Hypocrisy Doesn’t Excuse an Insurrection

Some headlines would seem to state the obvious, with no further argument or distinction really required. You’d think the one at the top of this column would be among them. But even as an angry mob converged on the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday, assaulting police officers, beating in doors, and breaking through windows, there was a disturbing (but unfortunately not surprising) counter-narrative being shaped online in response to the horrific images and video being broadcast on news networks and the Internet.

The larger issue quickly picking up steam from many on the right was that there was a political double-standard at play in the appall over what we were witnessing. And that perceived hypocrisy prompted partisan snark.

“Mostly peaceful protest!” people tweeted, mocking mainstream-media sentiment from earlier in the year, when journalists bent over backwards trying to play down the violence the erupted at some Black Lives Matter protests.

“Where was your outrage over the summer riots???” they reflexively responded to those who were sharing the media reports of members of congress being evacuated.

In fact, I personally received a number of such responses as I weighed in online during the mayhem, pointing out that the violence was a result of Trump’s post-election conduct. Of course, it didn’t matter that I actually had condemned the other riots at the time. It was just assumed through a partisan lens that I hadn’t, and thus riot whataboutism was their natural, seemingly liberating response.

And it was hardly just random Twitter trolls spreading this sentiment:

Later that very night, after the violence had finally ended, rioters had been cleared out of the Capitol, congress had reconvened, and we knew that several people were in the hospital and at least one was dead, Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) felt compelled to defend President Trump’s belated and tangled tweets as being “far more explicit about his calls for peace than some of the BLM and left-wing rioters were this summer when we saw violence sweep across this nation.”

A number of Gaetz’s congressional colleagues clapped in concurrence. I’m sure many others watching at home did as well.

But why? Is an act of domestic terrorism, which is exactly what the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol was, somehow less serious or horrid in the context of individuals’ poor reactions to violence in the past?

To be clear, it’s perfectly fair and even appropriate to be making a separate argument that a number of liberal journalists and politicians downplayed the riots we saw over the summer in places like Portland, Seattle, Chicago, and New York City. That absolutely happened. In some cases, it was because they believed in the underlying message of “social justice,” and were twisting themselves into pretzels to keep that message from being tarnished. In the case of elected Democratic leaders, some were initially afraid to unequivocally denounce the violence out of fear that it would offend their progressive constituencies.

Either way, it was shameful and cowardly, and those who partook in the effort absolutely deserved the criticism they received from the political right.

But how is evoking that behavior a defense of — or a valid response of any kind to — a mob whose active violence was incited by months of lies and conspiracy theories from a U.S. president and his enablers? How are any of those past examples an excuse for millions of Americans being conned into believing that their nation’s system of democracy was being overthrown by figures within the government, and that January 6th, 2021 was the last day to save it?

It doesn’t, but in the days that have followed, the narrative just keeps picking up steam.

Friends of mine, who I mostly keep in touch with on Facebook, are using their timelines to hammer this “point” over and over again, while not even addressing what happened at the Capitol. Nothing about the five people who died. Nothing about the elected representatives who were targeted. And certainly nothing about Trump’s role in it.

In fact, some of them seem far more upset that our president was de-platformed by social media companies than they are by the event that prompted those companies to consider such a measure.

Sadly, this seems to be an effort to minimize the seriousness of what happened Wednesday by many of the same people who were outraged (and justifiably so) when similar minimization was done by the left over the summer.

And now that serious consequences are being called on for President Trump’s role in Wednesday’s violence, a brand new round of whataboutism has begun. The view from a growing number of Trump defenders is that if the president is going to be impeached and removed for inciting the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris should also be impeached and removed for inciting violence.

In fact, in response to my column last week, in which I personally called for those measures to be taken against Trump, a regular reader decided that I was a “flaming deranged hypocrite” for not calling for the same actions against Harris.

So, what did Harris say or do, exactly? What the reader and other Trump defenders are increasingly citing is a popular Internet meme that made the rounds a few months ago. It highlighted a quote from Harris when she was a guest on Stephen Colbert’s show. The clip, which has been labeled with such mantras as “Kamala Harris advocates for riots” and “Kamala Harris wants the riots to continue,” features this statement:

“But they’re not going to stop. They’re not going to stop. They’re not. This is a movement. I’m telling you. They’re not going to stop, and everyone, beware. Because they’re not going to stop. They’re not going to stop before election day in November, and they are not going to stop after election day. And everyone should take note of that on both levels. That they’re not going to let up. And they should not, and we should not.”

The problem with the framing, as multiple fact-checkers have pointed out (and is pretty common among political memes), was the omitted context. In the virtual interview, which took place on June 17 (months before she was Biden’s running mate, and weeks before the meme was circulated), Harris and Colbert had been discussing the broader topic of protest marches and how they have historically facilitated legislative change. There was no mention of anything related to riots or violence. Toward the end of the exchange, Colbert said that he hadn’t seen as much media coverage of the BLM marches lately. The now heavily focused-on quote from Harris was her explanation that they were still happening (which they were all over the country), along with her expressed passion for the movement and message.

Now, would the exchange have been an excellent opportunity for Harris to specifically call out and denounce the violence that had stemmed from at least two marches by that point in time? Yes! Instead, she waited until a few weeks later. Colbert should have also acknowledged the violence, and asked her about it, but he unsurprisingly didn’t.

The omission was negligent, cowardly, and worthy of criticism (and I have a long list of other gripes about Harris)… but did it amount to an incitement of violence? Of course not.

When people are inclined to defend indefensible behavior from their tribe, by identifying it in the other tribe, context and proportionality often gets tossed by the wayside in an effort to make the puzzle pieces fit.

There simply isn’t a good-faith equivalence between Harris’s impromptu answer and two months of a President of the United States stoking flames through conspiracy-fueled efforts to sell millions of passionately loyal Americans on the perverse lie that our nation’s democracy had been hijacked, that he had actually won the election, and that January 6th at the U.S. Capitol would be the day of reckoning.

Yet, the narrative is out there front and center because whataboutism is an effective deflection tool in escaping accountability. It also helps convince those who use it that their reflexive partisan sentiments are justified.

A couple of commentators I’ve respected over the years used to talk about the virtues of the political “mirror test,” a self-imposed exercise in which one asks themself if he or she would feel differently about a situation, based on which political party or figure was at the center of it. It’s basically a tool for instilling single-standard, self-reflective analysis.

Unfortunately, at this point in American history, there are millions of broken mirrors, especially when it comes to politics… and I don’t expect clear reflections to return anytime soon.


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Bernie’s Q&A: Insurrection, Continuity, Future Dems, Miracle on Ice, and more! (1/8) — Premium Interactive ($4 members)

Welcome to this week’s Premium Q&A session for Premium Interactive members. I appreciate you all signing up and joining me. Thank you.

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Now, let’s get to your questions (and my answers):

I was thinking about your HBO Sports segment on professional football players that were broke after multi-million-dollar contracts and just a few years in the NFL. I’m a big college football fan. Love the atmosphere. But watching the Big Ten this year with the messages on the back of their helmets, End Racism; Equality; Love; End Bigotry, made me think in the player’s best interest for them long term. Let’s end scholarships for athletics. Make them worry about making tuition payments, insuring their loans for school were processed properly through admissions, and wonder how to paint enough houses in the summer to stay in school and play ball. Let’s make them Equal! Yes, it ain’t happening. But I’m not sure I’m wrong? — Tim H.

It’s obvious the particular content of those messages got you to the point where you want to end the free ride college athletes get in exchange for playing football, basketball, etc. What if the messages were more to your liking? Would you want to end scholarships because of those messages too? For what it’s worth, I don’t like those messages on the helmets. But if you’re going to take away scholarships because of the content, that’s a slippery slope. Somebody else won’t like other messages — those that say “blue lives matter” to use one easy example. Better no messages at all on helmets — not the ones we disapprove of and not the ones we like.

Bernie: It is generally regarded that “The ’60’s” is not so much a decade in time as it is a series of national upheavals marking that period in history. Most sociologists consider “The ’60’s” as beginning with the Kennedy assassination on 11/22/1963 and ending with Nixon’s resignation on 8/9/1974. I think we have a similar paradigm considering 2020, which seems like an entire decade in and of itself. A pandemic, local and national lockdowns, massive COVID casualties, an uncertain recession, violent social unrest and an exhausting Presidential election were just a few of the major events of the past year. Like “The ’60’s”, 2020 can’t be confined to just dates on a calendar. I see “2020” (and all that implies) as beginning with the WHO declaring a pandemic on 3/11/2020 and ending with the Georgia runoff election on 1/5/2021. Is this a proper way to frame these troubled times, or am I wishfully thinking that this thing has ended and we can settle into a new normal? — Steve R.

You make interesting points … but I would pick a different period that transcends dates on a calendar. And that is 2016-2021 … a time when Donald J. Trump did his best to wreck the United States of America.

Bernie, I know you will not write another book, but have you thought of writing another sports documentary like your last one, “Do You Believe in Miracles?” I have said this before, and I will say it again, that documentary is by far one of the best sports documentaries ever! I’ve owned a copy of it on DVD for at least 10-15 years and watch it at least once or twice a year. It is informative, inspirational, and Liev Schreiber is the best documentary narrator ever (sorry Morgan Freeman). — Joe M.

Many thanks, Joe. I appreciate very much your kind words. My favorite line in that documentary — which was held at Lake Placid, N.Y — was “the only thing placid that day was the lake” … referring to the showdown between the Russian pros and the American college kids.  But no interest in another big project, at least not at the moment.

Who do you see as the next leaders of the Dems to replace the geriatric set? — The BackPacker

Kamala Harris ain’t going nowhere. Neither is AOC. Andrew Cuomo has hopes, too. That’s just three; there’ll be more in a few years.

This weekends banter seems a lot about GOPers who are sticking with Trump possibly at their own peril or at least facing post Trump Presidency embarrassment. Is this more a classic case of The Emperors New Clothes (where the Kings court doesn’t want to be outed as disloyal) Or really a case of The Right trying all they can to keep The Left off the throne? We all know The King is a jerk and screwed this election up for conservatives, but I believe this is all about more importantly fighting the Left with an unfortunate leader still hanging on to the horse. My apologies to Hans. — ScottyG

You wrote this question before the insurrection … and yes, that’s exactly what it was at the Capitol. I will never support anyone who doesn’t speak out against what happened in Washington … and who doesn’t make clear that Trump was the instigator. I am sick of the cowardice. Sick of the pathetic pols who fear Trump’s retribution and the retribution of the yahoos who love him unconditionally.

First let me wish you a Happy and Healthy New Year, Bernie. How much input do you have into storylines on Real Sports? I don’t normally care for sideline reporters but one I have come to enjoy and respect is Holly Rowe @ ESPN. She knows her business, that’s obvious, but she also has worked through and apparently has won a long battle with cancer. The other thing that amazes me about her is her work ethic, probably helped get her through cancer. The woman is always on the go, during the college FB season she is somewhere every weekend and once basketball kicks in and overlaps FB she works 3- 4 different venues a week.! From what I can tell she only takes a break for a period in July and August. I hope ESPN provides her with the use of a private jet, can’t imagine flying commercially given her travel schedule. Always thought it would be neat for ESPN to do a “Day in the Life Of” on her. Maybe Real Sports can beat them to it? Very impressive individual. — John M.

Anyone can suggest story ideas but they mostly come from the producers in New York. So I have a lot of theoretical input but I choose not to use it. Writing about the madness of our time is what both interests me … and depresses me.

I found this news story interesting about bestselling author Kurt Eichenwald tweeting, after his brother-in-law died of COVID-19, that he wanted to find an “antimasker” and “beat them to death.” He also scolded “anti-mask” “F***ING ‘Christians’ who preen about God saving [them] from COVID.”

So just for fun, let’s replace all referrals of “antimaskers” with the term “people who resist arrest.” Let’s replace the references to “F—ING Christians” instead with references to “F—ING Looters, BLM protesters, ANTIFA rioters, and anarchists.”

NOW let’s imagine what the responses would be to these edits from Kurt Eichenwald and his readers and followers.   I get that the left wing authors can’t see past their own hypocritical buffoonery, but I find it odd that liberal readers of the New York Times don’t at least notice it. Do they? I mean, Eichenwald gripes about the GOP being silent on deaths and wickedness, but I have to wonder—while liberal readers of the New York Times may agree with the spirit of the piece, do these liberals truly admire and wallow in the hatred as well?  That same hatred that the Trump supporters have been accused of since 2016?

— “Hypocritical Stench From Kurt Eichenwald” Regards From The Emperor

Hello again Your Worship. You’re right about the hypocrisy. I would add just one thing: Both sides are guilty of it. Equally. Just watch cable news for a while.

As we get ready for the beginning of the Biden Administration, I think it is fair to say that it is now clear that Barack Obama delivered on his primary promise to America. Is there any doubt that we are in the midst of the fundamental transformation of this country, at a minimum in our largest cities and most of our major institutions? Is there any doubt that corporate America is on board the transformation train? I am struggling to understand what comes next and if there is even a goal in sight from the standpoint of what America is to be like if we ever get to the endgame. No doubt many are already exploiting the transformation process and will acquire both wealth and power by embracing the concept of wokeness. But will we in fact be a better society where identity politics and critical theory rule the day and freedom of speech and thought and expression will continue to be restricted? Many of us believed ( and were excited) that we were marching towards a colorblind society only to find that such a society is no longer a noble goal. I await your analysis. — Michael F.

First, a tip of the hat to your analysis, Michael. Revolutions have a way of turning on itself. The French Revolution started as a revolt against royalty. Before it was over a lot of people who supported the revolution wound up with their heads cut off. Here’s hoping that if the woke culture gets even scarier than it currently is, there will be a counterrevolution.

If I recall, you were against the impeachment of Donald Trump earlier this year (correct me if I’m wrong). Trump has spent the last two months inundating us with election conspiracy theories, trying to get state officials to overturn the election, and enraging his supporters with false claims that the election was rigged and that he was the winner. This is clearly what incited the violence at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday (which resulted in 4 people dying, one of them shot). I’m curious if you would be in favor of impeaching him now?

I know that he has only two weeks left in office, but my feeling is that there HAS to be serious accountability for what he’s done, and what happened because of it, instead of just letting him run out the clock in office, and cause even more problems. What are your thoughts? — Jen R.

Jen, I’m TOTALLY with you. I don’t recall if I wrote about his impeachment … but I’d support getting him out of office and out of town by an legal means. Any. Legal. Means. Look for my column going up on Monday.

One of the very frustrating things for me right now, as someone who was disgusted by the “social justice” riots and statue desecrations over the summer, is people on the right using those events (pointing to the way the media and some Dems were reluctant to condemn them) to defend or excuse what happened at the U.S. Capitol.

Yes, there’s partisan hypocrisy. Fine to point that out. But it’s not a DEFENSE of what those MAGA maniacs just did. Furthermore, there’s at least one difference between these riots that we shouldn’t pretend doesn’t exist. While it was bad enough that media figures and a handful of Democratic politicians seemed sympathetic to, and reluctant to denounce, what happened over the summer, Trump actually INCITED what happened at the Capitol. OVER WEEKS he convinced MILLIONS of Americans that the entire election was corrupt, that he actually won, and that January 6th would be the day when “justice” would be served. He even did it that morning.

I have no patience for people brushing that off with “But what about liberals!” — Ben G.

I can’t add anything to what you said. I agree with every word. As I told Jen (above) look for my column on Monday.

A number of people have been resigning from the Trump administration over the past few hours, in disgust over what happened on Wednesday. I get why they’re doing it, but do you think there’s a concern about government continuity for the next two weeks? Between Trump being checked-out, people leaving (including other recent departures like AG Barr), other positions being vacant because Trump has been firing people, and Trump dragging his heels on helping with the Biden transition, that we could be in some serious trouble of a foreign entity attempted right now to attack our country either here or abroad?  — Mary M.F

Fair point, Mary, but right now I’m more worried about the damage Donald J. Trump might do than what some foreign entity might do.  I applaud those in his administration who are resigning.  And I have nothing but contempt for the cowards who continue to run interference for him.


Thanks, everyone! You can send me questions for next week using the form below! You can also read previous Q&A sessions by clicking here.



What They’ll Do for Donald Trump …

In Robert Bolt’s 1960 play A Man For All Seasons, an overly ambitious little man named Richard Rich commits perjury against his friend, a great man of conscience, Sir Thomas More – perjury that he knows will send Thomas to his death.

And why does he do it? Because Richard Rich needs to be somebody bigger than he is. He needs recognition. He betrays his friend in exchange for a job he thinks will give him status – Attorney General of Wales.

After the trial, when Sir Thomas knows he is doomed, he confronts Richard Rich and utters a verse from the Bible – with a twist.

“It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world … but for Wales?” – making sure Richard, a status-seeking careerist, understands what he has just done:  that he gave his soul not for the whole world – but for a trivial job in a trivial place.

None of us is pure. Few of us are as noble as Sir Thomas More. We make accommodations. Sometimes we convince ourselves that our motives are noble, when in fact they’re selfish.

But if we’re going to sell out our principles, we should be motivated by something of great significance. Each of us can decide what that might be, what would cause us to abandon our long held beliefs.

Selling out always comes with a price.

Sir Thomas lived in the 16th century, but his stinging observation holds a message even now, some 500 years later. And so in his final days in office, a question comes to mind about our current president: If it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world … why do it for Donald Trump?

Donald Trump no longer fascinates me. By now, I know who he is and I wish he would just go away and leave us alone, his legitimate accomplishments notwithstanding.

But his most loyal supporters are another matter. Not his rank and file passionate allies, many of whom aren’t as formally educated as the liberal and progressive elite. They aren’t as sophisticated, at least not as the elite define sophistication. They’re more likely to vacation in Branson, Missouri than in Martha’s Vineyard. They felt the scorn, the disrespect of the elite class. And they saw Donald Trump as a man who cared for them.

They also understood that he wasn’t the Hitler or Mussolini his unhinged critics claimed he was.

And I’m not talking about the Latinos or African Americans who voted for Donald Trump in numbers many on the left found both surprising and troubling. Under Donald Trump’s stewardship the economy helped minorities and they understandably wanted four more years with him at the helm.

They’re not the ones who fascinate me. I understand why Donald Trump was and still is a hero to many of them. But the media elite, the ones who abandoned their conservative principles for Donald Trump; the ones who sacrificed their dignity for Donald Trump … they fascinate me.

In a recent column on this site, John Daly names names. “People like Mollie Hemingway, Mark Levin, and Greg Gutfeld, who were once outspoken Trump critics, turned into some of the president’s most shameless sycophants and defenders,” he writes. “When one looks back at National Review’s famous ‘Against Trump’ issue from 2016, they’ll find contributor names like Glenn Beck, Ben Domenech, Brent Bozell, Katie Pavlich, and Dana Loesch … all of whom now bend over backwards not to say anything the slightest bit disparaging about Trump. Some [were] even busy … promoting Trump’s 2020 election conspiracy theories.”

There are others in the media who sold out for Donald Trump, a man who if it suited his purpose would abandon them without a second thought.

Does Rush Limbaugh really admire a chronic liar and narcissist like Donald Trump? I have trouble believing that he does. Yet Rush can’t say enough good things about Mr. Trump. Such is the hold our soon-to-be former president has on otherwise strong willed individuals.

Evangelical leaders are just as bad, maybe worse. I understand why they believe Donald Trump would be more in tune with their conservative values than Joe Biden.

But surely they know that Donald Trump maliciously ridicules and humiliates his opponents. That he mocks their looks. That he makes fun of their physical disabilities. That he lacks empathy. If white evangelical leaders don’t like Joe Biden, fine. But enthusiastically supporting a man like Donald Trump who has trashed so many Christian values strikes me as shameful.

And in Donald Trump’s world, no one is safe, not even his political allies. Just ask Jeff Sessions, his earliest supporter in the U.S. Senate. One “wrong” move and he was banished — and humiliated by his former boss on the way out.

Or more recently, ask the president’s treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, who spent many long hours negotiating a COVID relief bill with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer only to have Donald Trump blow the deal up at the last minute, calling it a “disgrace.”

Loyalty is important to Mr. Trump – but it’s a one-way street.

In addition to everything else, “Trump has taught his opponents not to believe a word he says, his followers not to believe a word anyone else says, and much of the rest of the country to believe nobody and nothing at all,” as Bret Stephens put it in the New York Times.

The sycophants must know this. Maybe they’re afraid of Donald Trump, afraid of what he might say about them if they held him accountable. Maybe they just like being close to power, to give the president advice, to convince him that he’s as wonderful as he thinks he is. Don’t overestimate the lure of a pat on the head from the man at the helm. Maybe the pols fear retribution from his adoring base if they stand up to him. But is any of that worth their dignity?

Or to put it another way: “It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world” … but for Donald Trump?