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Editorials of The Times

Posted November 19, 2018 11:45 p.m. EST

Trump’s Foes by Any Other Name ...

A new week, a new opportunity to dissect President Donald Trump’s forays into the art of the personal insult.

By now, most people are familiar with the president’s habit of slagging the physical, mental and moral fitness of his detractors. From “Crooked Hillary” Clinton to “Psycho Joe” Scarborough to “low energy” Jeb Bush to “crazy,” “unhinged,” “low IQ” Maxine Waters, Trump adheres to the belief that, if you’re going to go low, you should get as personal and elemental as possible.

This past weekend provided a particularly redolent example, as the president, perhaps still vibrating from his overconsumption of the Sunday news shows, hit back at a bit of displeasing commentary by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., with this scatological twit fit:

“So funny to see little Adam Schitt (D-CA) talking about the fact that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker was not approved by the Senate, but not mentioning the fact that Bob Mueller (who is highly conflicted) was not approved by the Senate!”

Quicker than you can say “White House decorum,” Trump’s remarks became the talk of social media. Did the president really just call the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee that? If it was a typo, he didn’t bother to delete the tweet and correct it, as he often does. In any case, doesn’t Trump realize how childish he sounds? How rude? How unpresidential?

“I feel like I’m back in seventh grade here, where we have juvenile name-calling,” Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., marveled to CNN. “We’re talking about protecting the rule of law, and the best the president can do is start calling people names.”

Trolling the libs with serial outrages — just for, one might say, schiffs and giggles — is a source of endless delight for Trump. It is also central to his survival strategy: The president burnishes the swaggering, politically incorrect persona that thrills his base, even as he siphons attention away from the substance of the real outrages that his administration is perpetrating on a near-daily basis. Who has time to focus on the finer points of trade policy or prescription drug costs or the continuing assault on democratic institutions when the leader of the free world is tweeting bathroom humor?

This is how Trump rolls. And if you think he has been over-the-top while his Republican enablers have controlled all of Congress, just wait until the Democrats take over the House in January. This president has repeatedly made clear that he considers himself above the law and accountable to no one. He is unlikely to greet Democratic efforts at oversight with any sort of restraint. Expect the nicknames to get nastier and the attacks more gratuitous. Trump thrives down in the mud and is eager to drag his opposition down with him.

During the past two years, there has been much talk about the risk of the public becoming exhausted by Trump’s constant outrages — of allowing him to normalize bad, dangerous behavior. That remains a risk, but only if we continue to let his potty mouth consume so much public attention.

Trump’s critics should continue fighting fiercely against his attempts — on Twitter and off — to undermine the rule of law, to rig the system in favor of himself and his cronies and to take down not only the Constitution but also quite possibly, if he gets the chance, the Ptolemaic model, Newton’s Law and maybe even the Pythagorean theorem in order to establish himself as the sole arbiter of truth.

But as for his vulgarity and petty personal insults: In the grand scheme of things, who really gives a Schitt?

So Much for Bipartisanship, Eh Mitch?

“The Senate has proved its ability to reach bipartisan solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing our nation,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wrote last week not on the satirical news site The Onion, but for Fox News.

“After years of rhetoric,” the irony-free op-ed said of McConnell’s Democratic adversaries, “it’s hardly news that some are more interested in fanning the flames of division than reaching across the aisle.”

At a news conference the day after the midterm elections, the Senate majority leader warned that it would be “presidential harassment” if the newly elected Democratic majority in the House used its constitutional prerogative to act as a check on a president who has pushed ethics, decency and the rule of law to the brink. It was as if McConnell’s obstructionism in the Obama years had never happened.

But after two years of pushing for extreme legislation and appointments that succeeded or failed on party-line votes, McConnell is now putting the brakes on what is likely one of the only true examples of bipartisanship of the Trump era so far: a criminal justice reform bill that has brought together the American Civil Liberties Union and the Fraternal Order of Police, Republican conservatives like Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Democratic liberals like Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Until last week, all the stars were aligned for the bill — called the First Step Act — to be voted on before the end of this Congress: President Donald Trump announced his support at a ceremony in the Roosevelt Room; House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., agreed to push it over the line in the House; and McConnell had promised before the election to bring it to the floor after the midterms.

Now McConnell is reneging. He told Trump that a vote on the bill is no longer likely this term because the remaining time on the floor will be taken up by other priorities. Among them are the stalled farm bill and possibly more judicial nominations.

This is a repeat of what happened in the waning months of President Barack Obama’s administration. That period is more likely remembered for McConnell’s blockade of Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court and his refusal to join Democrats in denouncing Russia’s attempt to hack the 2016 election. But McConnell also had a hand in scuttling an earlier bipartisan criminal justice reform measure that enjoyed broad support.

This time around, not even Grassley, who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has been an ally in the Republican drive to ram through judicial nominees, seems to have much patience left for McConnell’s tactics.

“I think it deserves a floor vote, and McConnell should honor his indication that he gave us that he would bring it up if we could show the votes,” Grassley told The Times last week.

Grassley is right. Rather than bragging about nonexistent congressional unity, McConnell should unite with those who’ve already put in the work, and bring the First Step Act to a vote before Congress adjourns.

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