Principle Should Trump Spite


There’s no doubt that Donald Trump is deeply ignorant about affairs of government. He lacks experience and, by his own admission, is not a reader. But the media may be doing the public a disservice by rubbing the President-elect’s face in it. Trump was apparently as shocked by his win as anyone. Now that the presidency rests upon his shoulders, he undoubtedly hopes to do a good job and has already hinted at his own sense of inadequacy. The more he is shamed for his ignorance and need for guidance, the less inclined he may be to ask for help. That would be bad for the country.

The press would do well to keep two things in mind:

(1) When Trump attempts to distance himself from some of his most ill-advised promises (e.g., jailing his opponent, banning all Muslims, erecting a deportation force to expel 11 million immigrants), repeatedly calling him out about it may make it harder for him to moderate his positions. It may give him less latitude with his most illiberal and reactionary supporters.


(2) When Trump does other sensible things, like reach across the aisle for help, the press would do well to speak of it in a respectful manner. This will give Trump room to ask for help without having to worry unduly about saving face.

Trump’s deficiencies are well-known. But we need the best Trump we can get. As much as will be possible for him, we need him to do a competent, scandal-free job. That is in the interests of all Americans.

Donald Trump 60 Minutes Overtime Interview


We have a free press whose members are bound only by their editorial judgment. While they must also inevitably consider the dynamics of the news market and cater to consumer preferences, they would be doing a great public service by not hindering some of the more judicious and sensible impulses of the President-elect.


Democrats may find this advice particularly galling after several years of fierce and acrimonious opposition to the Obama presidency among Republican leaders (but see also here). Nonetheless, our system requires leaders who are capable of acting on principle and, where necessary, suppressing their more natural instincts. Opposition grounded in the differing values of the two parties is to be expected. That is what it means to be the people’s representatives. Opposition grounded in vengefulness and spite is a failure of leadership. Leaders help us to channel our impulses in productive ways.