Bad Behavior

Alan Zendell, November 18, 2017

I’ve always liked Al Franken. As a comedian he was smart and funny. As a Senator he’s been a refreshingly level-headed voice supporting decency and progressive values. That said, it’s hard to have sympathy for him in light of the accusations by Leanne Tweeden, just as it was hard to feel sympathy over Bill Clinton’s indiscretions. The viral photo of him aping for the camera with his hands appearing to be about to grope her while she was asleep tells a disturbing tale.

But exactly which tale does it tell? Clearly, in the photo, Franken is acting manically on a flight home from a long tour in Afghanistan entertaining the troops. Clearly, he’s acting like a jerk and behaving inappropriately. If it winds up costing him his Senate seat it’s his own fault, but as it was with Clinton’s impeachment trial, the big losers will be the people of the United States.

There’s more to this story, much more. Our president chose to attack Franken on Twitter while ignoring the charges against both Roy Moore and himself. Trump’s outburst was another in a long series of tweetstorms that confound most Americans. Why would he focus on Franken’s misstep which Franken himself called disgusting, but was not remotely as serious as the allegations against Moore and what we’ve seen Trump admit to doing on tape? Why would he want to stir up those cans of worms when Franken has already acquiesced to a Senate Ethics hearing, admitted his wrongdoing, and made a very public apology which even Tweeden said was heartfelt?

When White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about that she said Franken had admitted his guilt while the president had not. So in this administration’s official view admitting guilt deserves derision and insult, but denying responsibility and offering no defense in the face of numerous credible accusations is a virtue. What kind of message does that send?

Trump must have thought it would be a political plus for his base, but mostly it was his narcissistic need to insert himself into every issue, to assure that his name dominates every news cycle. It’s a measure of how seriously unstable and vulnerable his psychological disorder leaves him that he will probably have done more damage to Moore and himself than to Franken. Whatever else he accomplishes or is given credit for, his extremely dark compulsions continue to make him unfit to lead this country.

Even if his base loves his antics, the rest of the world apparently doesn’t. The National Brands Index, a measure of how the world perceives each major nation developed by British international policy consultant Simon Anholt, found that in the first year of the Trump Administration, the United States fell from first to sixth place in global reputation. While the respected index has no official significance, it is based on the response of over 30,000 people in twenty-five countries. America still ranks very high in most areas, but it was the Governance category that caused the drop in our global reputation, which Anholt calls the Trump Effect.

Consider the president’s recent Asia trip. His remarks about Putin had to be walked back the next day with an explanation so flimsy, it was almost comical. At the economic summit in Danang, Veitnamese President Tran Dai Quang pointedly said “…it is our policy to settle disputes…through peaceful negotiations and with respectful, diplomatic and legal process…” whereupon Trump sarcastically commented on the likelihood of becoming friends with Kim Jong Un and upon returning home couldn’t resist insulting him on Twitter.

It may very well turn out that Chinese President Xi Jinping will follow through with aggressive new sanctions aimed at crippling North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ICBMs, and when that occurs we can be assured that President Trump will take full credit for it. Xi will not contradict him publicly because it’s not the Chinese president’s style to engage in such things, and he has no need to engage in grandstanding to enhance his own image. But it must be clear to the rest of the world that China will do exactly what is in the interests of China and the region. If anything, Trump’s barrage of belligerent tweets aimed at Kim may have heightened tensions so much that Xi felt compelled to act. If that’s what Trump means by deserving credit, we should be very concerned about the future.

The best thing we can say about Trump in Asia was that he showed restraint. He didn’t insult anyone in public, and he didn’t make waves on Twitter, though that only lasted until his plane touched down at Joint Base Andrews. If you met with your son’s principal to discuss his progress at school, and the best thing you heard was that he didn’t beat anyone up on the playground today, would you consider that positive?

Neither would I.

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