The ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency in the United States has introduced a host of colourful characters to the public stage. With the daily barrage of increasingly shocking revelations about various members of the administration and of the wider Republican Party, the spotlight has been repeatedly thrown on the private activities of various political figures.
Reports of disreputable and often nefarious behaviour has raised questions about whether or not such politicians should be allowed to remain in office – indeed, cases such as those of Donald Trump and Roy Moore shed light on the idea, increasingly present in the current US political climate, that private actions can be overlooked in favour of public actions; that, if a politician votes the right way, even their most questionable alleged behaviour can be disregarded. Such an approach sees politicians as merely representative of a set of party policies, regardless of the behaviour they display off, say, the senate floor.
Trump presents a particularly interesting case, however. Maggie Haberman of The New York Times recently wrote, ‘Before taking office, Mr. Trump told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals.’ In seeing himself as a character in a television show, Trump seems to be fabricating his own story, taking on a role which melds together his private and public persona – contrariwise to what one might expect of a prominent political figure, Trump does not seem to be even attempting to hide anything about his own private life. Quite the opposite – he attempts to incorporate it into this character he has created of himself as this contrarian, unfiltered, and honest figure, the likes of which do not exist in his perception of Washington. His infamous Access Hollywood tape evidences this idea that Trump is prepared to assassinate his own character by openly bragging about his own private misconduct.
In the face of such a brash political leader, as Brian Beutler of Crooked Media writes, ‘a congressional majority behaves like a protection racket.’ It cannot be denied that the Republican majority plays into Trump’s narrative – we see Trump-coined phrases such as ‘fake news’ infiltrate the lexicon of other Republican figures, who increasingly adopt and therefore further perpetuate this character, and in doing so overlook and sugar coat even the most heinous of Trump’s personal exploits. Trump thus relies on this ‘protection racket’ to maintain his power, because it uses this wider narrative to its advantage, capitalising on Trump’s powerful position to pass party agenda, reducing even sexual misconduct to nothing more than just another part of the public persona that has been crafted, not really a reality worth investigating. The public and the private life of Trump are thus willingly separated by such individuals, something that is evident in their complete silence even in the wake of numerous reports of his offences.
This idea that a politician’s private life may differ from his or her public life can be seen most clearly in the recent case of Roy Moore and his highly publicised senate race in Alabama. Despite being accused of paedophilia, Moore managed to receive over 48% of votes. It can be seen in how, when asked in an interview on Fox News about her position on Moore, counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, said, ‘we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through’. Such responses exemplify this greater focus party politics over anything else. Indeed, in countless interviews and focus groups, Moore supporters cite the fact that they do not want a ‘liberal democrat’ in Alabama as a chief reason for their continued support; his private misconduct is put aside entirely in favour of the label of this hard-line Republican conservative that he bears.
You could argue that such a view is sensible – that you ought to support a candidate who votes for your interests, and that you ought to judge them based on their public decisions alone. But what happens when you disregard the private misbehaviour of people with such a platform? You condone it. One need look no further than Trump and his often baseless statements: the narrative bolstered by the Republican Party says that Trump is by nature raw and uninhibited, and so makes such unsubstantiated comments. But in doing so it condones believing and acting on unjustifiable, emotional whims rather than exterior facts, and delegitimises the truth by making it an optional consideration.
The interior and the private matter because they inform the exterior and the public. To ignore them condones unacceptable behaviour, leads to complacency regarding serious issues, and fosters a numbness to the outrageous. Therefore, the reticence induced by this prioritisation of party advancement over fundamental ethics must dissipate: prominent Republicans must hold people like Trump to the same standard as they did Democrats like Senator Al Franken, who was pressured to resign by people on both sides of the aisle for his misconduct. To uphold this hypocrisy ushers in a dangerous trend that spreads from the very highest office to the wider public.