Scott Adams vs. Sam Harris on President Trump: Part II – Harris’s Critique of Trump

In my last post, I discussed Scott Adams’s defense of President Trump in his interview with Sam Harris. In this post, I examine Harris’s critique of Trump.

To my mind, Harris employed two basic critiques of President Trump. The first is what I would call the character critique. It looks at Trump’s behavior over his life, finds it to be extremely problematic, and then uses that to criticize the President. The second, which almost seems secondary to him, is a critique of Trump’s policies.

Obviously, President Trump’s character appears to be deficient. I won’t recount the actions he has taken over his life that might be thought to reflect badly on his character. To tell you the truth, I don’t really follow these things closely, such as his behavior concerning Trump University or his various liaisons and actions with women. Adams attempts to defend Trump, but I think that even the President’s defenders tend to admit that he has done a significant number of problematic things in his lifetime.

What is interesting is how Harris uses the character critique. First, he condemns Trump’s behavior and says that people would refuse to interact with a person who had done the things that Trump had done. His argument appears to be that Trump should not be taken seriously as a potential President, because of his actions. In addition, when Trump does something that appears to be beneficial, Harris claims he is not doing it for the right reason. His bad character just shows it is an accident or an aberration.

Significantly, the character critique allows the critic to dismiss Trump without having to carefully assess his policies overall. The bad things are explained by his bad character and the good things are dismissed as aberrations.  Obviously, that won’t do.

Many people believe that how a President behaves in his private life or even his nonpolitical, business life is not all that relevant to what type of President he would be. Harris clearly has a different view. To my mind, one cannot use the character critique in the way that Harris does. Instead, one should focus on two matters. First, one should look at the policies that Trump is adopting – the good and the bad – and make a balanced assessment of these policies. For me, as with many others on the right, Trump has turned out to be much better as to policy than I ever imagined he would be.

Second, one must look at his character in terms of how it translates into public behavior. There is little doubt that Trump’s character has led to a change – indeed, a decline – in public norms governing the presidency. The responsibility for this is partially due to Trump’s character. That said, Trump is responding to a political environment – of a hyper-partisan press and media, and of social media mobs – that represents a decline in the norms governing our institutions of civil discourse. President Obama also ignored many prior norms. Placing the blame on Trump but absolving those others involves serious bias.

Harris’s critique displays many of these defects, including others. Part of the problem is that Harris appears to get his information only from the mainstream media. Talking in July of 2017, he reacts with incredulity to Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by the Obama Administration. But as we now know, the Trump campaign was improperly investigated by an Obama Administration that was at the same time protecting Hillary Clinton’s misconduct as to her emails. As far as I can tell, Harris has not acknowledged his mistake.

There are legitimate ways to strongly critique the President. But Harris, like many of the President’s critics, seems so overwhelmed by his negative passions about the President, that he cannot seem to formulate those critiques. Of course, he is not alone.

Reader Discussion

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on June 15, 2018 at 12:48:23 pm

I know, it's terrible how the lamestream media reports what Trump says and does. Sad!

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on June 15, 2018 at 15:35:33 pm

The greatest people throughout history have been deficient in character in one way or another. St Jerome who translated the Bible was said to have committed a sin or crime so appalling (to him as we was not forced into the cave by anyone) that he lived his entire life retreated in isolation in a cave.

To be deficient physically (many people were elevated to greatness but were disabled as FDR had Polio) or deficient socially (many great people were elevated to greatness but lived life in isolation or were introverted preferring one on one personal communication rather than large gatherings preferred by extroverts) or some were deficient mentally (but were elevated to greatness because of their heart and spirit and good deeds).

Some people were elevated to greatness because they sought it out and achieved it while others were elevated to greatness because they were the right person at the right time and still others did not seek it but were chosen.

Therefore, I usually dismiss judgements and criticisms of ones person. Obama was very charismatic and his collusion and corruption within the Federal Government practically destroyed our republic. Even today, the full extent of Obama's globalist corruption of our nation is barely getting revealed.

Every presidency is 50% fixing the mistakes of previous presidential administrations and setting the direction of the nation which a future president will have to fix not necessarily because the prior administration was wrong. It might very well have been the best possible decision at that time but a changing world proved it wrong or needing to be changed. IF YOU WANT TO CRITICIZE TRUMP THEM SHOW ME A CRITIQUE OF HIS POLICIES.

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l m
on June 15, 2018 at 15:54:08 pm

I have come to a conclusion about anyone and everyone who for whatever reason dislikes anything about Trump's character, appearance, manner, behavior, opinions, beliefs and history or who for whatever reason opposes any of Trump's policies or proposals. All of these people suffer Trump Derangement Syndrome and are virtually unable to think rationally, converse reasonably and judge fairly about anything and everything pertaining to, affected by or influencing Trump.

Trump Derangement Syndrome is the most widespread illness in American history. It is a highly debilitating psychological illness suffered by those who are emotionally unable to cope with self-induced loss and who seek relief through rationalization, reprisal and the ritual of scapegoating. (Germany after WWI was awash with such deranged sufferers. Jews were their scapegoated victims.) Its symptoms of self-delusion, paranoia, impaired judgment, irrational hatred and bouts of paroxysm are not amenable to assuaging facts, narcotic relief or cognitive behavioral therapy. (Law and order may help.) It will be ameliorated here and abroad only by the judgment of history, which will never help its current sufferers and which will come too late for the sufferers' victims.

Sam Harris is one of its sufferers. Conservatives, Christians, the working class and other Trump supporters are the sufferers' victims.

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Pukka Luftmensch
on June 16, 2018 at 11:05:24 am

Insightful reply!
Although I am a bit conflicted, I disagree with your conclusion that policy achievements, not character, are all that should concern the public in assessing its rulers. I admire Machiavelli for his practical insights into the value of real politique but believe Cato, Cicero, Burke and John Adams had it right is concluding that high character is essential to good governance. America's founding rests on the inextricable link between accomplished self-government, true liberty and public virtue. The Biblical foundations of American literacy and civic virtue affirmed that relationship. And its absence is the bane of our contemporary culture and governance.

The Clintons and Obama are living empirical proof of the dire, irreversible public and private harm that ensues when that link is broken and that foundation is weakened.

My problem with the Trump-haters' "character is destiny" mantra is their inveterate hypocrisy in chanting it, their refusal to extend Christian forgiveness and their denial of the power of redemption. Lacking all decency and strangers to integrity the Never-Trumpers protest Trump's lack of honesty. Atheists for the most part they assert that human nature is perfectible (through government programs) while denying that man is born in sin yet, with forgiveness, capable of redemption. For them, Trump is beneath redemption and warrants no forgiveness for his sins. For Trump-haters Trump's past is inevitable prologue and what he was he will always be.

I reject their cynical, hypocritical assessment of Trump, believe it is but mere projection of their own moral failings and am witness to the fact that as the man has grown into the Office Trump's character has grown with the Office of the Presidency. Trump is slowly (probably grudgingly) becoming the kind of man (a statesman) we want him to be, all the while producing the policies our country needs.

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Image of Pukka Luftmensch
Pukka Luftmensch
on June 16, 2018 at 11:38:23 am

Yeah, the liberals yearn for Hillary. I suppose it's her genius, or her multitude of accomplishments, her compassion, that's it, Hillary's compassion, renowned around the globe, sure. And Bill, with it.
Never have trash risen so high on so low a moral base,
And a hat tip to Obama and the Left, losers one and all, and yearning for more,

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john trainor
on June 16, 2018 at 12:53:43 pm

"The Biblical foundations of American literacy and civic virtue affirmed that relationship. And its absence is the bane of our contemporary culture and governance."

No doubt, it is also the bane of a Globalism that denies The Christ, and embraces a form of humanism that worships the creature rather than Our Creator, as evidence by those who deny the personhood of a beloved son or daughter residing in their mother's womb, while sexually objectifying other beloved sons and daughters, and thus denying their personhood, identifying them according to sexual desire/inclinaton/orientation.

"Who do you say that IAm", is the question; for There Is only One Word of God, One Truth of Love Made Flesh, One Lamb of God Who Taketh Away The Sins of The World, Our Savior, Jesus The Christ, thus there can only be One Spirit of Perfect Love Between The Father and The Son, Who Proceeds from both The Father and The Son, in The Ordered Communion of Perfect Complementary Love, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity.

It is one thing to be a sinner who desires to be reconciled to God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, it is another thing entirely to deny sin is sin. On Heaven and on earth, it is that difference that makes all the differenc.

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on June 19, 2018 at 09:23:14 am

Thanks, John--this makes my day! The Clintons embody so many of the deplorable characteristics of (a) lawyers and (b) politicians that I have coined the term "Clintonitis", one of the prime examples of which is WJC's "that depends on what the meaning of 'is' is" defense. And Hillary, not to be outdone, with her spectacular parade of of untruths and red herrings that she threw out for public consumption during the email investigation, really showed us how it's done!

Character does matter, because one of its consequences is a respect for the truth and the people you are speaking to.

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Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.