Prominent figures on the right can insist on the importance of decency in American life, or they can enthusiastically support the current president as a national leader. But they cannot do both of those things while retaining any credibility.
Last year, I wrote at length about the blatant ways that public moralist Dennis Prager compromised his longstanding beliefs with his endorsement of Donald Trump. This is a public intellectual who published a column in 2011 titled “F-Word Laced Speech Disqualifies Donald Trump From Presidency”; declared that “any human being with a functioning conscience or a decent heart loathes torture;” insisted that while adultery is a forgivable offense, “adultery would greatly matter to me is if it were engaged in indiscreetly”; and declared of those who tarnish the name of an innocent person, “the rape of a name can be as vicious a crime and as destructive an act as the rape of a body. Sometimes the rape of a body is worse, sometimes the rape of a name is worse. But they are both rapes.” You can see why many were surprised at his endorsement of a profane, torture-supporting adulterer who bragged about his indiscretions in the mass media, insisted that Barack Obama was a secret foreigner, and “raped” the father of Ted Cruz.
If endorsing Trump had marked the end of Prager’s sanctimony that would be one thing. Instead, while appearing Monday on The Adam Carolla Show, a pioneering podcast, Prager declared, at this of all moments: “The right is more decent than the left.” I’ve never been a leftist, but that claim is ludicrous in 2017. Prager’s generalization was prompted by a news item: Several New England Patriots players will skip a celebratory visit to the White House in protest of the president—a protest that the public moralist treated as more indecent than Trump.
Gina Grad, who reads the news on the podcast, next mentioned a Fox News story about a music festival facing pressure to drop Toby Keith because he performed at Trump’s inauguration. Happily, Ribfest organizers in Naperville, Illinois, are standing by the musician. “That's the way they act,” Prager said of the protesters, whose behavior he ascribed to the left. “If you are on the right you should be destroyed. Not your ideas. You.” (Keith will not “be destroyed” if Ribfest disinvites him, nor are the protesters likely to take any additional action against him either way.)
On a lot of talk-radio shows, Prager’s remarks would’ve gone unchallenged. But The Adam Carolla Show, while right-leaning and populist in its frequently politically incorrect analysis—and friendly with Prager, who has many good qualities to go with his bad ones—is neither partisan nor inclined to overlook contradictions when regulars notice them. All understand that neither ideological tribe has a monopoly on indecency. Thus Bryan Bishop, who does sound effects and acts as an on-air sidekick, chimed in, “Wait a second, wasn't there just a story in the news literally last week—Dennis, you would know this because you do a daily show on this stuff. Didn't Trump just say, when there was someone causing problems, ‘Do you want me to ruin that guy's career?’ I remember that quote very clearly.”
Prager said he was unfamiliar with the story.
“I don't follow his tweets as much as the news media,” Prager explained. “I follow what Trump does much more than what he says. And people get blinded by his words. The press fixates on his tweets. I fixate on his cabinet, I fixate on his foreign policy, because what a president does is a little bit more important than what he tweets.” (Prager in 2011: “There is no place in the Republican Party for profane public speech. You cannot stand for small government without standing for big people.”)
In fact, Trump made the threat in an official meeting, as Prager learned when the show found the clip:
Prager ultimately clung to the suggestion that Trump was probably just joking in his remarks. But one hardly needs to lean on this example to know that Trump is a frequently cruel man who tries to ruin people in ways that go far beyond getting them disinvited from music festivals, to use the example Prager cited as an example.
“Revenge is sweet and not fattening.” - Alfred Hitchcock— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 15, 2014
In “Donald Trump’s Cruel Streak,” I recounted the story of the late Freddy Trump, the president’s older brother, who died an alcoholic in 1983. After college, Freddy had tried to join the family business. Later, he became an airplane pilot, showing talent in the profession. When his heavy drinking posed a safety risk, he quit, and wound up living in an apartment owned by his father and working on one of his crews, even as his kid brother began to make a name for himself. Here is the conclusion to the family story, as reported in the New York Times:
In 1977, Donald asked Freddy to be the best man at his first wedding, to the Czech model Ivana Winklmayr, an honor Donald said he hoped would be “a good thing for him.” But the drinking continued, and four years later, Freddy was dead.
Over the next decades, Donald put the Trump name on skyscrapers, casinos and planes.
In 1999, the family patriarch died, and 650 people, including many real estate executives and politicians, crowded his funeral at Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue. But the drama was hardly put to rest. Freddy’s son, Fred III, spoke at the funeral, and that night, his wife went into labor with their son, who developed seizures that led to cerebral palsy. The Trump family promised that it would take care of the medical bills.
Then came the unveiling of Fred Sr.’s will, which Donald had helped draft. It divided the bulk of the inheritance, at least $20 million, among his children and their descendants, “other than my son Fred C. Trump Jr.” Freddy’s children sued, claiming that an earlier version of the will had entitled them to their father’s share of the estate, but that Donald and his siblings had used “undue influence” over their grandfather, who had dementia, to cut them out. A week later, Mr. Trump retaliated by withdrawing the medical benefits critical to his nephew’s infant child.
“I was angry because they sued,” he explained during last week’s interview.
Trump took revenge on Rosie O’Donnell by waiting until her engagement was announced, then sending this message out to millions of strangers to sabotage her day:
I feel sorry for Rosie 's new partner in love whose parents are devastated at the thought of their daughter being with @Rosie--a true loser.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 14, 2011
Prager can choose to support a man who treats people that way.
He can support a man who gave Howard Stern permission to call his daughter “a piece of ass,” who needlessly called the wife of a Republican campaign rival ugly, and who disparaged his ex-wife and the mother of his children in New York City tabloids.
But as long as Prager belongs to the coalition that propelled a flagrantly immoral person to the most elevated position on the political right, despite all of that and much more, he ought to be laughed out of any room where he tries to pronounce upon the political right’s superior “decency”; or criticizes NFL players in moral terms for declining to meet the president; or purports to be outraged by protesters (wrongly) calling for a concert disinvitation. So long as Prager supports Trump, he is a member of the Immoral Majority, the newly ascendant coalition on the American right. Prager can be much better than this, but at present he is not. There are many just like him on the right who’ve compromised their beliefs for Trump. They are now apologists for moral relativism and indecency publicly personified.
Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest -and you all know it! Please don't feel so stupid or insecure,it's not your fault— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 9, 2013
Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2016
.@ariannahuff is unattractive both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man- he made a good decision.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 28, 2012
If I were Dennis Prager, I’d avoid Twitter, too.