I was wrong about Trump

I am still skeptical that impeaching him is wise

In my most recent conversation with John McWhorter, which will go up on my Patreon page tomorrow, on Monday, January 18, I’ve said a number of things that, because they are tied to recent events, I want to make public sooner rather than later.

So please find a few segments from this conversation below.

The first and most important is my mea culpa, where I confess to having been wrong about Trump and proceed to describe why he should have stepped aside. Also my description of Steven Teles's arguments about the importance of the character of officeholders.

Second in importance is my explanation of why I wanted to focus on the tectonic plates shifting, and not on Trump's character flaws. I wanted to shake things up; I didn't trust the centrists of the two party elites to deal with the issues (America First; the border; China; taxes; Black Lives Matter, etc.)

Third in importance is my argument about questioning the wisdom of impeachment, and my general conclusion that we need to win-over some of those 70 million + who voted for Trump; that banning him from office would not work; that making a martyr out of him could backfire; and that a new McCarthyism (hunting down and deplatforming Trump supporters) would be bad for the country.


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LOURY: There are a couple of things I want to say. 

One is: in this mea culpa moment, the moment when the Black Guys at Bloggingheads.tv, the contrarians, the "conservatives" are being expected to apologize because the Trump supporters—white—have gone mad… And I think you've dispatched that expectation perfectly adequately. I have nothing more to add to it. I say, I'm not going down that rabbit hole. 

However, there is something of the mea culpa variety that I think has to be entertained here. 

MCWHORTER: What? 

“Glenn Loury, Trump apologist.”

Oh yeah. 

Whenever we would have a talk about Trump, you would be in the position that he's a buffoon, he's a jackass, he's an idiot, he's a monster, he's a moron, he's a child.

And I would be saying something like "Well, wait a minute, John, I know you live wherever you live in New York city, and you've got to maintain your viability within your social circle, so you have to spout these kinds of things, but how could he be so stupid if he's been so successful in his political career?

Give the man the benefit of the doubt. He is the President of the United States. He has tens of millions of people who believe in him, he's their tribune. Have some respect for them if you don't have any respect for him.

He's not that bad, you exaggerate it.

At Charlottesville, he didn't support the white supremacists."

I've been heard to say all of this kind of stuff. Okay?

Now, there are many people—I don't read Twitter as much as you do, but I couldn't help but see this—were saying, "See there, Glenn Loury, you were dead wrong about Trump, and this is the cost to the country. I told you."

There are many never-Trumpers who said his characterological flaws disqualified him from the office.

There are many people, like Andrew Sullivan, who said that his election was an existential threat to the integrity of American democracy, or words to that effect.

And here we are now, with our democracy on edge to be sure, in substantial part because of the actions of Donald Trump in the face of his defeat.

And a person could well say to Glenn Loury: "See there? I told you."

They could. 

"This is blood. You got blood on your hands, indirectly."

They might even be thinking about deplatforming me.

They might be thinking about putting me on that enemies list, because there are enemies lists being drawn up, even as we speak. You know that, don't you, John? 

You mean, lists of witches? Right, yeah.

Yeah, witches.

US senators.

State reps who might've said something on the floor of their particular state's legislative house that was supportive of Trump.

Lawyers who people are going to say should be disbarred.

I wouldn't want to have any significant investment in Rudy Giuliani stock at this moment, if you see what I'm saying. 

Yeah. 

And that enemies list is going to extend.

People are scrubbing their social media files. Not me—I can't anyway. There's no way I could scrub all my Trump apologetics off of my Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other accounts. I'm out there.

There are people scrubbing files, and there are people combing through the files trying to find incriminating evidence.

People are losing their jobs.

That's another thing: I don't recall any African-American—I could be wrong, tell me that I'm wrong—whose employer fired them because they could be facially identified in a photo of people surging at the police-barricaded [building]; or in a crowd that got unruly and arson broke out; or with bricks were being thrown at police officers, and a person was seen [doing] it. I don't remember any such person being fired from their job...

A lot of them probably got promotions, yeah.

…or in other ways having their livelihood interrupted because they were seen to have participated in the protest.

And if they were, they would have been a cause célèbre around whom would have gathered the entire liberal establishment of this country to assert—correctly—their right of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

This is not excusing anybody who's actually committing criminal acts. I'm just saying, being a part of a demonstration marking you as somehow unfit for employment or association—I don't remember that happening in the case of the race riots in the summer after George Floyd was killed. 

But it's happening now, and it's going to happen with a vengeance.

People are making open political statements: "Let's not forget, we must never let them forget, we must scar and mark them forever if they..."

If they did what?

If they said they thought that there were irregularities warranting significant investigation in the 2020 election?

Mind, you know, I'm not saying that. I'm just saying a person could say it. That's not seditious. It's not seditious to wonder whether or not irregularities ought to be investigated in an electoral process. There are irregularities all the time in elections.

I'll stop because, if I continue to talk in that vein, I'll be marking myself as one of these rebels or one of these people who have no respect for the Constitution.

But we've gotten to the point now where even to raise a question of that sort is career threatening for people, and I don't recall that as having happened before.

But let me not mince words, and I know I've been talking for a while, John. 

I was wrong about the threat that Donald Trump posed to American democracy. 

I underestimated that threat.


I don't believe—and I'll say this—that Trump and the remarks that he made before that crowd to send it on the Capitol incited insurrection. I think that that's hyperbole.

But he certainly played with fire, and he ended up getting burned by it, and the country even more badly burned.

And a bigger man—I'm saying it now, can you hear me?—a bigger man would have stood aside and accepted the outcome in the interest of the country, regardless of the doubts that he and his people may have had about it. 

Perhaps there should have been a commission to investigate whether or not the move to mail-in balloting in the scope and extent that occurred because of COVID posed threat to the security of the election in such a way that one wants to consider whether or not to adopt that as an ongoing way of carrying on elections. That's a perfectly legitimate thing to investigate. 

But tying that to holding up the inauguration of Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris, tying that to the resolution of this essential right of American democracy and asking for extra-legal—even Mike Pence couldn't be persuaded to go along!—means to be employed in order to stop the enactment of the natural processes of American democracy, when you do not have the evidence on your side to justify your—perhaps legitimate—suspicions? 

That was a destructive and ill-considered act of narcissism and personal aggrandisement at the expense of the republic, and it deserves to be condemned.

I was wrong. 

Glenn, did you really not see this nature of him before? Consider also the lack of remorse since then. I mean, this is a truly narcissistic, empty, heartless being. You didn't see that until now? This is a genuine question.

[I think] Trump's personality is a second-order issue. 

I don't know how intelligent he is. You're convinced he's stupid. I don't know if he's stupid or not. How stupid could he be? 

You say he's venal, and you say he's a child. I say all of this ad hominem about Trump misses the point that large forces are at play in American democracy. The tectonic plates are shifting.

It's the kind of thing that Michael Sandel talks about in his brilliant new book, The Tyranny of Merit. The basic argument is that, around the world, we see populist uprisings, and right-wing governments coming into power, and unsettled politics in democratic countries from the right because a dispossessed class of people who've been rendered economically inviable by globalization are not finding anybody who speaks on their behalf, and because the elites, who are benefiting from globalization, concentrated in the coastal cities in the United States and on the left of our politics, don't have any kind of politics of solidarity, in which their good fortune is shared with the rest of the polity, and that's provoked a certain kind of reaction. 

I thought Trump's arrival signaled a coming to terms with the inadequacy of American governance on behalf of many people—and I'm talking about people, not just white people—who felt that the government didn't speak for them.

Trump was shaking things up. 

I wanted things to be shaken up. And I wanted the conversation to be about that. 

He says "America First"? Let's talk about that. You don't like it? Okay, let's talk about "America First, that's the wrong way to think about our role in the world." 

He says, "We need a border"? Okay, let's talk about that. You don't think we need a border or you think we need a different kind of border? Then we need to talk about that. 

He says the cities are going to hell in a handbasket led by Democrats. You don't like that? Let's have a debate about the governance of the cities. 

Let's have a debate about American education.

Let's have a debate about taxes and growing the economy. 

Let's have a debate about China. 

Let's debate those things where Trump is shaking things up. 

I like that things are being shaken up. I didn't really trust that settled establishment of Democratic and Republican elites who governed from the center of American politics.

I don't like political correctness. I don't like cancel culture. I thought Colin Kaepernick had his head up his ass, I'll say that. 

So, Trump was shaking things up. I wanted things to be shaken up. 

Y'all wanted to make the conversation about him being an idiot and a jackass. I wanted to make the conversation about the tectonic plates of American political economy shifting below our feet, and which way should we be trying to go? Trump will come and Trump will go, but the underlying structural problems will remain with us. Let's not waste our time talking about Trump. That's what I thought.

And I'm saying, I was wrong!

I'm saying, I underestimated this thing that my friend Steven Teles, the political scientist is always saying, which is that the institutions require, in order to function, not just de jure—not just the law, not just the rules—but also the spirit.

People who occupy office have to come into that office—because they have so much discretion, so much is secret and beyond what we can see in the newspaper about what's going on, so much depends upon the mood and tone and intent and so on—that we need good people, people of character holding these offices to compliment the good institutional structures in order to produce good governing outcomes.

And what disqualifies this guy, says a guy like Stephen Teles who wrote a very sympathetic book about the never-Trumpers, is that he doesn't have those qualities of character, which are requisite concomitant to our rules—you know, three branches of government, the Constitution, etc.

There's a lot of stuff that's just custom. A lot of stuff that's just, "You don't do it. We don't do it like that." He was running afoul of all of that stuff.

And Steve, and many others, were alarmed by the fact that a loose cannon, untethered by convention and by respect for tradition, would maybe bend the rules to a way that was never intended, or find another way of subverting the rules on behalf of his own ambition. 

And I pooh-poohed that.

I said, nah-nah, character-shmaracter, if you don't like him, vote him out.

But meanwhile, can we talk about America First? Can we talk about the border? Can we talk about Black Lives Matter? He's not wrong about everything. Let's talk about those things. 

And I was mistaken in underestimating the characterological flaws and the consequences of those flaws for the stability of American government. 


Now, here's a point that you and I may have some difference of view about, and that's the impeachment of Donald Trump. 

Today is January 14th. Yesterday, the Congress, the House of Representatives, impeached the president for the second time. The inauguration is on the 20th, if I'm not mistaken—that's six days from now, on Wednesday of next week. Trump has six days or less to serve as president.

And they started a process to remove him from office. Seems impossible that the process could be complete before the actual inauguration. And so impeachment would extend over—the trial in the Senate, that is to say—into the new administration, and would have to be carried out after Trump has left office.

Now, setting aside the legal technicalities about whether or not you can do that—I gather the consensus opinion is that you can legally do that—there's a question of the wisdom of it.

And while I don't have a firm view here, I am skeptical about the wisdom of pursuing this line. I'm thinking: look, let's get him out of office and get on with the work of the country. Let's not do Trump for another three months after the inauguration of Joseph Biden. 

I understand that people are furious. I understand that people want him to be punished as an example, so as not to go without having been held accountable for his actions. 

I've already said what I think about his actions, and I won't repeat myself. Despicable and contemptuous of the interest of the country, that's what I think about his actions. 

I don't think he incited the riot, but I think the riot was part of the fire that he's been playing with for a while, and he deserves to have been burnt by it. 

But I want to get this behind us. I don't want to carry this forward, and I don't want to make a martyr out of him. 

And I don't know for sure what's the right thing to do here, but the guiding principle should be: what is in the best interest of the country? 

So when Mike Pence, the vice president, declined to pursue the 25th amendment disqualification of Trump in the last days of his presidency for his unfitness to serve, saying that he didn't think it was in the best interest of the country—not addressing the merits of Trump—I was relieved, frankly, that he said that, and thought, “That sounds like the wiser course.” 

I don’t blame Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, because they were the ones having to metaphorically hide under their desk while these rampages went up and down the hallways of the Capitol building. But wise heads ought to be thinking about the country right now, and I'm not sure continuing to litigate this is in the interest of the country. 

I'm not sure. I have my doubts. I'm skeptical about it. 

I'm skeptical about the spirit of vengefulness that wants to make up lists and go McCarthyite—because it is McCarthyesque—down the list:

"Where were you on the moment of…"

"Who did you say…"

"Did you actually support the…"

"What were your speeches…"

"You are a junior insider, and we're going to just..."

You know, I think that would be very bad for the country. 

I respectfully disagree. 

I signed a letter. A bunch of historians signed a letter arguing for impeachment—and I was treated as a historian, and I decided to pretend to be one, because I play one on TV sometimes—and I did sign it.

My interest is not in pointing the finger—and of course there is some of that, the idea is we must indicate our disapproval of this person—well, you know, we did that 10 minutes ago, do we really need to do it again when he's going to be out in five minutes? I get that. 

But to the extent that the impeachment process, especially if it goes further than it's gone at this point—and even just for the symbolic reasons, if it just stays where it is now—to the extent that it keeps him from running again, from being able to serve, it's vital. 

Because that man is—and this isn't just name-calling—he is a narcissist.

He is a clinical narcissist, and as such, to have lost like this is utterly intolerable. 

He doesn't even like being president, but the idea that he was repudiated, we'll just sit with him as an unresolved chord, he just can't have it.

He'll run again. 

And because he's attracted a religious cult, and because, apparently, to be a modern Republican is to be able to look yourself in the mirror caving in to someone like him, as long as it's your party that's in power, he could win again. There's a cult of personality around him. If the best they can do next time is Marco Rubio, Trump could win again. 

And to the extent that we can keep that from happening, I think maybe you and I both agree now that that man has no business being president of the United States. And yet he's going to want to try again.

Here's what I want to say, John. I don't disagree with what you said. He is going to want to try again, and he could win, and that would not be good.

That'd be a horror show.

Yeah, but the solution is to persuade a majority of our fellow voters that that's the case. The disqualification doesn't work. 

I mean, trivially, it doesn't work. Don Jr. runs as a surrogate, and the party gets formed with Trump the obvious patron and Don Jr. the figurehead expression, and everyone who cast a vote for Don Jr. is, in effect, voting for Trump. And when Don Jr wins, if he wins, Trump is "back in power." 

You can't kill this thing by just chopping off its head. You've got to get to the root of it.

You've got to persuade people of the point, I think—I say this immodestly—that I was just making, which is that the country was endangered by what it is that Donald Trump did. Bringing him back to power puts the country at grave risk. 

Disqualifying him because you happen to have a majority in the two Houses of the U S Congress at the moment? So you disqualify him, but you haven't killed Trumpism.

You don't kill Trumpism until you talk to the 70 million people who voted for him and get at least 15 or 20 million of them to agree with you.

That's the task at hand. There's no shortcut around it. 

Except, even if Trump were pulling the strings, there wouldn't be a personality cult around Don Jr. He has the charisma of a kitchen cabinet. He wouldn't be considered as exciting. And so there'd be less of a chance that he would wind up in office.

And you know, if he did, he would not be the most competent president in the world, but I imagine he would do a better job of at least going through the motions of being a thinking statesman than his father was capable of. 

His father was a true aberration, a truly unusual circumstance. Junior is a grownup.

So that doesn't worry me as much as just making sure that the particular person of Donald Trump doesn't wind up in the Oval Office again, because it was a terrible mistake, a real disaster. 

So yeah, I would say let's make it so that he absolutely can't. So that at best he can try to get one of his minions in. 

What you're not taking on board is that, by doing that, by disqualifying him through manipulation of the legal and political process, you only add fuel to the cult's fire.

"They won't let me serve. My son, Don Jr., he won't make a decision without consulting with me."

Don Jr. stands up and says "My dad, the great patriot of our movement—of course I will consult with him before I do anything in this office. Vote for me is a way of indirectly telling those Democrats to go f... themselves," et cetera.

Here's what I'm saying. This is a very difficult problem for the country. There are no shortcuts. We have somehow got to find a way of reconciling the differences between these parts of our polity, which are fueled by the partisanship of the media and by the unprincipled behavior of certain politicians, Donald J. Trump primary among them. It's a serious problem. We got to talk to the voters in order to solve it, I think.

Because of some of the things we've been saying, I worry that there's so many voters who can't be reached, both on that side and on the left.

But here, we're talking about the idea that an actual functioning human being can walk around believing in Q. These are college educated people, people who walk around taking care of their taxes and getting second mortgages who actually believe that. And it's growing. 

So I worry about the wisdom of crowds sometimes, but I know that we have to at least pretend, because that's what this is supposed to be all about. 

But it's tough stuff. It is.


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