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When Trump leaves what will be left of us?

Dana Milbank on

He backed a credibly accused child molester for the Senate from Alabama.

And so on.

Yet so strong is the pull of tribalism that we've reached a point where partisanship outweighs morality. Republicans aren't approving of Trump despite his behavior; in calling him a role model, they're approving his behavior.

No doubt some of those Republicans now condoning Trump's behavior will give the standard rebuttal: What about the Clintons?

Well, Quinnipiac didn't poll nationally during the Clinton presidency, but Gallup, during President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial in January 1999, asked a similar question. The number of Republicans back then saying Clinton did not provide good moral leadership, 91 percent, was similar to the 96 percent of Democrats who say Trump does not provide moral leadership today.

The difference: Democrats disapproved of Clinton's morality by 2 to 1 (65 to 33 percent), even as they overwhelmingly approved of his job performance. Only 16 percent of Republicans today say Trump does not provide moral leadership.

The triumph of partisanship over morality starts at the top. Franklin Graham excused Trump's alleged sexual encounter, and Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council, declared that Trump gets a "mulligan" -- a do-over -- for his behavior.

Such normalizing of Trump's behavior makes the seediest elements feel safe to crawl out from under their rocks. The FBI reported in November that hate crimes were up again in 2016 after rising in 2015. And the Anti-Defamation League reported that anti-Semitic incidents were "significantly higher" through the first nine months of 2017 -- a time in which Trump said there were "very fine people" among a march of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville. (This month, as Trump was whipping up loathing of the "fake news" media, a young man was arrested for threatening to gun down CNN journalists.)

Even public officials feel emboldened to give voice to the basest impulses. In recent days:

A town manager in Maine was ousted for promoting racial segregation and "pro-white" views.

A pro-Trump Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Missouri posted a statement saying he expects his wife to have dinner waiting for him each night and denouncing "nail-biting manophobic hell-bent feminist she devils who shriek" and have "nasty, snake-filled heads."

A Republican state representative in Kansas alleged that marijuana was illegal because "the African Americans, they were basically users and they responded the worst off to those drugs."

A Trump appointee to AmeriCorps resigned after CNN uncovered his past remarks saying "I just don't like Muslim people" and similar statements.

Politicians have always behaved badly. What's new is the willingness of so many not just to look the other way but to call bad behavior good.

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Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group


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