Political News

What Donald Trump gets wrong about being 'tough'

Posted January 12, 2018 10:37 a.m. EST
Updated January 12, 2018 3:25 p.m. EST

— Hoping to quiet the furor caused by his calling certain countries "shitholes" in an immigration meeting with members of Congress at the White House on Thursday, President Donald Trump sought to recast the slur as simply evidence of his muscular approach to governance -- and life.

"The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used," tweeted Trump Friday morning. "What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made - a big setback for DACA!"

The underlying logic of Trump's tweet defense goes something like this: People may not like it when a president curses but what they like less are politicians who are afraid to stand up and say what's right. I am tough and say what everyone thinks. I'm willing to take the heat from the PC police and the liberal media because, at the end of the day, we need to be way tougher and I am the only one who gets that.

What's amazing about Trump's reliance on the tough-talk explanation for his "shithole" comments is that what he actually said is the opposite of tough. It's bullying the weak.

Think about it. The US is a massive economic and cultural superpower. Haiti and El Salvador -- to name two countries Trump reportedly singled out during DACA conversations in Thursday's meeting -- aren't. To argue that the US shouldn't accept immigrants from less economically well-off countries -- not to mention countries whose residents are primarily black and brown rather than white -- is the equivalent of the biggest, most popular senior in high school picking on an eighth grader. Sure, you can do it. But, it doesn't make you tough. Not even close.

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a regular Trump critic, put that well in a tweet Friday morning: "The words used by the President, as related to me directly following the meeting by those in attendance, were not 'tough,' they were abhorrent and repulsive."

Although it's a logical fallacy, the "tough talk = real talk = necessary talk" equation is the premise on which Trump's entire candidacy -- and presidency -- are founded. We need to be tougher. Politicians aren't tough. I am. The end. (According to the invaluable Trump Twitter Archive, the President has used the word "tough" in 362 tweets since 2010.)

Time and again as a candidate and as President -- whether it was in talking about the need to renegotiate trade deals or in urging security to throw protesters out of his rallies -- Trump has projected an unapologetic toughness in all things.

"Throw them out into the cold," Trump famously/infamously said of protesters at a rally in Burlington, Vermont, in January 2016. "Don't give them their coats. No coats! Confiscate their coats." In the wake of the New York City terror attack on the West Side Highway in late 2017, Trump insisted: "We need quick justice and we need strong justice -- much quicker and much stronger than we have right now. Because what we have right now is a joke and it's a laughingstock. And no wonder so much of this stuff takes place." Speaking to a police group in Long Island last summer, Trump urged them: "When you see these thugs thrown into the back of a paddy wagon. You see them thrown in, rough. I said, 'Please don't be too nice.'" After a terror attack in London in September 2017, Trump tweeted: "The travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific-but stupidly, that would not be politically correct!"

The answer to every problem is "be tougher." Trouble with immigration? TOUGH. North Korea continuing its pursuit of nuclear weapons? BE TOUGHER. Protesters at rallies? GOT TO BE TOUGHER.

The problem with Trump's logic is two fold:

Being tougher isn't a failsafe strategy -- or really a strategy at all As documented above, Trump doesn't seem to totally grasp what "toughness" actually is.

Being tough isn't name-calling and stereotyping entire countries -- or a continent!. And it's certainly not blaming others when you screw something up. It's owning your words and your views -- in good times and, especially, bad.