If You Play, Note the Rules

Terry H. Schwadron

Oct. 22, 2020

One principle we teach children is to follow the rules of whatever game is under way. That starts with actually hearing them, understanding them, maybe questioning them, but basically agreeing at the start the game, to follow the rules.

Somewhere early on, Donald Trump decided that rules are for chumps. When a five-year-old says, “You’re not fair,” it simply means that the child is not getting what was wanted. Some five-year-olds protest, act out, whine or nag to get what they want.

We have a president who starts with the notion that he needs to win whether it is elections, negotiations or golf, at any cost, and he will scratch, cheat or bully his way towards that goal. Five-year-olds might see this as heroic instead of dumb.

And so we approach a final political debate tonight before voting ends in which Trump expressly says that he intends to disrupt Joe Biden, moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News or bipartisan debate commissioners in so-called rules that he wants to throw out by creating a chance to throw some shade on his opponent. We should expect that Biden knows what’s coming.

Still, pretty much everyone except Trump thinks that at the first debate last month, Trump’s bullying behavior overshadowed almost anything substantive he may have wanted to achieve. Indeed, the debate did absolutely nothing to help him politically, as reflected in polls that just seem to be worsening for him.

Of course, the same thing could be broadened to say that Trump doing his job in protecting the country against coronavirus spread might include showing a bit of respect for Dr. Anthony Fauci, as the country’s lead immunologist, or for making some attempt beyond sloganeering to understand the steps necessary to deliver on any of the promises he is making to ensure that indeed the disease can co-exist with an operating economy.

Through his bull-in-china-shop behavior, Trump makes clear he has no truck with what the protocols, obligations, history, even actual effective managing that the rest of us associate with following rules.

And, at the end of the day, that attitude alone seems to delight his fan base, who often do not dwell on the governmental details as much as the fight in the ample belly.

Feature, not Wart

That alone is reason to look again at Trump as rule-breaker — something he sees as a feature rather than a wart.

So, when Trump yells “Criminal” over and over about anything in reference to Biden, his son, Hunter, Hillary Clinton and her emails, Barack Obama and “spying” on Trump’s 2016 campaign, even a television reporter for reporting on Covid instead of unfounded charges about Hunter Biden’s activities, Trump is coloring outside whatever loose rules we as a society have accepted.

If we’re going to hear indiscriminate references to “Lock them all up,” aren’t we even entitled to know what exactly Trump finds illegal. If anything, he seems to be saying that Hunter did something legally wrong, though what is not clear. But then Hunter is not a candidate, right? Or are we now supposed to judge Trump by looking at Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, who, indeed, have been involved in running an illegal charity, and have signed off on taxes that raise serious legal doubt.

This is to say nothing of the irony of hearing of criminal behavior by Trump foes when Trump himself faces a passel of criminal and civil charges, protected only so long as he remains in the Oval Office.

As a politician, Trump is flaunting all rules in failing to follow even basic guidelines of courtesy and fairness. He seems unable to play on anything resembling a level political field, and succeeds only when he is tilting the tables.

As a negotiator with other countries or with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Trump does well only when he can deliver a supporting vote of majority Republicans in the Senate. As a leader, he seems to lack even the basic information he would need to complete an actual deal. As a manager, he has proved himself to be inept at hiring, vetting, organizing and retaining advisers in whose judgment he trusts to guide his policy-making.

Policy-making itself is merely to be seen as a manifestation of gut and instinct, of personal druthers and slogans rather than serious policy.

Tonight’s debate

Presuming that the debate actually comes off tonight — that Trump does not just stalk off in rebellion to the idea that someone besides him is holding a mute button — it may be a culmination of sorts of witnessing exactly what Trump regards as persuasion towards a future that he thinks we want.

To do so, he needs to follow some rules, starting with listening to the questions at hand rather than substituting those he wishes were asked.

We have big problems at hand that look to take years to untangle — from international relations to racial tensions to a disease running rampant and all-but-ignored by this president. We can’t even be sure that Trump will accept election results.

He may think that whatever Hunter Biden did, didn’t do, might have done, is the most important issue of the day. But it simply isn’t, and making it the centerpiece of the night will be breaking a different set of rules that govern our daily reality.



Journalist, musician, community volunteer