Almost 20 years ago, Friends scored an easy laugh when Joey was introduced to the game of Cups. “Poor, dumb Joey,” the audience thought. “He doesn’t even notice that the rules of the game are arbitrary, drafted on the fly to ensure a particular outcome!”
In 2016, Trump commented that he could shoot someone and not lose supporters. Let’s assume (reasonably, I hope) that shooting someone would in fact cross a line from which he could not return. But, let’s also assume (again, I hope reasonably) that he’s not actually going to stand on 5th Ave. and shoot someone. We’re left with this question: what would count as evidence that Donald Trump is not the right person for his job?
Here’s why I ask: if the rules of the game are arbitrary, drafted on the fly to ensure a particular winner, there’s just no point in playing the Trump argument game. In this game, the winner determines the rules rather than the rules determining the winner, so either you can’t possibly win, or you already have.
To be fair, no party has a monopoly on changing the rules and moving the goal: we pick the candidate we like, and that becomes the lens through which we view our world. How many Obama supporters assumed his opposition to same-sex marriage was just a political necessity while rejecting McCain for his? Giving the benefit of the doubt was basically my part-time job from 2008-2016. But now that it’s 2017, I’m worried because for the life of me, I can’t figure out what could – even hypothetically – count as evidence in political argument. What is President Trump free to do and say with the comfort of knowing that his decisions will be justified if not outright celebrated? And do we trust him – should we trust anyone – with that kind of blank check?
A couple of months ago, rumors flew that there were tapes of President Trump using the N-word. But let’s be honest: such a tape would not be disqualifying. After all, every time he talks to or about people of color, he discusses violent crime, reinforcing in the minds of his listeners (and in the content of his policy initiatives) an association that quite literally threatens the lives and livelihoods of those same people he (problematically) says he wants to help. If those public comments don’t cost him support, why would the discovery of private ones?
It certainly didn’t cost him when a recording emerged in which he explained that he grabs women because he can. In fact, the third debate audience laughed when he said that no one respects women more than he does. In what was truly a great moment for lady-folk everywhere, “I respect women” was treated as comedy gold but his candidacy was not. Ha. Yeah, that was hilarious. Good times, good times.
I started this blog entry before this week’s revelations about Michael Flynn. I was going to comment on how even those shady ties to Russia and Putin weren’t disqualifying, but instead I’ll make this prediction: the fallout from the Flynn fiasco will provide even more evidence that we’re all trapped in some nightmarish real-world version of Cups.
And that is what keeps me up at night. I’m not just worried because it seems increasingly unlikely that any argument could change anyone else’s mind. That’s worrying, sure. It suggests there’s no role for political discourse, and as both a citizen and a political philosopher with a healthy respect for the role of argument in a democracy, that’s a deeply disturbing outcome.
But mostly? I’m worried about Joey, who eventually loses his shirt playing a high-stakes game because he didn’t notice that he was playing a game without rules.
Yes. Poor Joey. Poor, dumb Joey.