The allegation that Donald Trump cheated on his wife — the current first lady — with a porn star and then paid to cover it up is gaining attention. Given the legal paperwork involved in that cover-up, never mind everything else we know, I think most people are inclined to believe it happened. The relevant question is, Who will care?
I thought this Twitter exchange was revealing.
Josh Hammer tweeted:
To which Glenn Reynolds replied:
I have a few observations.
First, I think saying, “I’m a libertarian, so I’m fine with people having sex with porn stars” sails past a few important details. I know plenty of libertarians who are not fine with people cheating on their spouses with porn stars or anybody else. There is literally nothing inherent to libertarianism that requires people to be “fine” with adultery. That’s libertinism, not libertarianism.
It seems to me that libertarianism only enters the picture on things like this when the question is “What should the state do about it?” or, perhaps, “Should this matter to voters?” The answer to the former is, of course, nothing. The answer to the latter would probably elicit different responses from lots of people, including among libertarians. But any serious understanding of libertarianism must allow for people to be free to judge other people for their moral failings. I certainly think Glenn is a serious libertarian. And I suspect he was just writing in shorthand, because it’s Twitter.
As for his second point that lots of conservatives are tired of having their principles used against them, this seems incontestable to me. This was a big psychological and political undercurrent among Trump enthusiasts in 2016. It could be summarized in the famous line from Huey Long, “What’s the use of being right only to be defeated?”
And, without spelling it out for liberals who might seem flummoxed by this widespread attitude on the right, I think it’s a legitimate gripe. I can even understand why many rank-and-file GOP voters would throw their hands up and say, “If liberals aren’t going to play by the rules, why should conservatives?”
But I think this is ultimately the wrong way to think about this. It’s a bit like the bureaucrat or cop who won’t take bribes feeling like he’s a fool since everyone else is on the take. He’s not a fool. If it’s wrong to take bribes, it’s still wrong if “everybody does it.”
But while voters are perfectly free to make their own decisions about what factors they want to take into account in their estimation of politicians, I am at a loss as to how various social- and religious-conservative leaders can, with clear conscience, or even a straight face, shrug off this kind of thing, never mind defend it. If you’ve dedicated your professional or pastoral life to upholding and enforcing public standards of decency, there is no principled argument for giving Trump a pass. There are any number of transactional, prudential, “pragmatic,” or instrumental arguments for doing so. But when liberals — and many other Republicans — were embroiled in sex scandals, those leaders were at the forefront of repudiating such defenses as moral relativism. At the very least, Jerry Falwell & Co. should be condemning Trump’s behavior.
Morality is supposed to be way, way upstream of politics. If your position is that your team doesn’t have to do right because the other team does wrong, you don’t really believe in doing right for its own sake.