President Trump tweeted that he’d snubbed Mika Brzezinski last new years eve, because she was bleeding still from a face lift. Here’s the tweet:
…to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017
Sheesh. OK, so here’s where things get interesting, at least for the sake of argument. When asked to explain/defend/just talk about apologetically Trump’s tweet, Deputy Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders says he was fighting “fire with fire.”
I think the president has been attacked several times by people on those programs. They elected someone who is stuff, smart, and a fighter. I don’t think it is a surprise to anyone that he fights fire with fire. The things this show called him, not just him but numerous members of his staff, incuding myself and many others, has been very deeply personal. So to turn and pretend like this approach is, you know, I guess it is kind of like living in the Twilight Zone.
So there are two things happening here. First is the thought that if one’s criticized in harsh terms, one has the right to do so in reply. Second is that when one is criticized for one’s tone in reply, it is like the Twilight Zone, that it’s not just wrong but bizarre.
The first point is one about two wrongs reasoning. For sure, arguers should be allowed to give back as good as they get, but there are occasions where this is inappropriate. Consider being a teacher — students are often rude to you, criticize you relentlessly, and maybe make ridiculous requests and claims. But they do so because they don’t know any better. Lucky for them, they have a teacher. And it would be inappropriate to fly off the handle and reply in kind to every critique, no matter how badly off base they are. So, the lesson is: there are institutional roles one plays wherein it is inappropriate to give back in kind. The POTUS is one of those roles. Surely using one’s voice in the role of that office to single out private citizens for hateful censure is an abuse of that office (just as it would be for a teacher to do so in a classroom).
The second is one about what censure one incurs when one breaks a rule of discourse. For sure, it can seem wrong to someone who follows the give it back as good as you got it rule to be on the receiving side of some criticism for doing so. But when is it like the Twilight Zone, where it is bizarre, not even identifiably relevant? Invoking the Twilight Zone is a move that says that the lines of argument are so far off base, one doesn’t even know what to say back. It is a theater of the absurd. But surely Sarah Huckabee Sanders knows what this all means. That’s why she follows up with:
If it happened in the previous administration, the type of attacks launched on this program, the things they say, utterly stupid, personality disorder, mentally ill, constant personality attacks, calling people liars to their faces on programs. They would have said no way, hold on.
Oh. Yes. But that’s exactly what happened. Do you remember when President Obama had that SC Representative yell out “You Lie!” in the midst of the State of the Union? Watch the President stay on track, reply and go on.
For sure, people said “no way, hold on,” but the President didn’t go on a twitter tear about what a doofus Representative Joe Wilson looks like. Or how there’s a question about whether he wears adult diapers. (People are saying!)
But the point is that there’s a difference between (a) saying “no, wait, hold on” when faced with nasty bile and (b) spitting bile back.
Finally, I think it’s pretty great that folks on the right, too, are invoking Rod Serling’s great contribution to our culture, a television series about how fragile our grasp on reality really is. Because, yes, in this political climate, I, too, feel like I’m steppin’ into the Twilight Zone.