Now for this week's demonstration of how far the Donald Trump campaign will drag American politics into the gutter: Corey Lewandowski, Trump's campaign manager, has been officially charged with misdemeanor battery against Michelle Fields. Multiple witnesses, audio and now video footage show that Lewandowski grabbed Fields, a reporter for Breitbart, and pulled her so hard she alleges that it caused bruises on her arm.
Even though there's no precedent for a campaign manager getting arrested for assault during a campaign, at least on a national level, it's safe to say that other campaigns wouldn't have even waited for the arrest warrant before asking for a resignation. But the Trump campaign is not like most campaigns. Instead, it appears they are standing by their man until the bitter end.
Trump Camp statement on Corey Lewandowksi charges pic.twitter.com/Oq6R0QP4rH
— Hadas Gold (@Hadas_Gold) March 29, 2016
Fun fact: Lewandowski's lawyer, Kendall Coffey, used to be a U.S. attorney in Florida, but was forced to resign his position in 1996 after a stripper at a Miama night club accused him of biting her on the arm so hard it broke skin. Trump himself did not wait long before rushing to support his man:
Wow, Corey Lewandowski, my campaign manager and a very decent man, was just charged with assaulting a reporter. Look at tapes-nothing there!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 29, 2016
And then immediately switching to some garbled conspiracy theory, seemingly after it was pointed out to him that there are tapes showing pretty clearly that something did happen:
Why aren't people looking at this reporters earliest statement as to what happened, that is before she found out the episode was on tape?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 29, 2016
It's just another day in the life of the gangster candidate, where your people are less like campaign staffers and more like the muscle. Lewandowski, in particular, relishes the role of the heavy, wandering the floor in a menacing fashion at campaign rallies and allegedly pushing other advisors out so that he is the only guy with Trump's ear. Like his boss, Lewandowski is a big fan of using likely empty threats of lawsuits to cower anyone who might criticize him.
But Trump's loyalty to Lewandowski is not just because they are peas in a pod. We can expect the Trump campaign to stand by their man because throwing Lewandowski under the bus would be a direct rejection of everything the campaign stands for, both implicitly and explicitly. Firing people for allegedly assaulting women is exactly the kind of namby-pamby kow-towing to "political correctness" that Trump promises his campaign will eradicate. They can't back down now, just because there's video footage that makes Lewandowski's denials excessively hard to swallow.
This whole incident strikes right at the heart of what the Trump campaign is all about. The sneering at "political correctness" and the posturing about making America "great" again really boils down to one thing: Creating a society where white conservative men can treat everyone else like garbage and no one can do anything about it.
Trump doesn't really take great pains to hide that his narrative is a promise to return to some halcyon days where white male conservatives enforced their will on everyone else, with violence if necessary, and there wasn't much anyone else could do about it.
Hell, the "if necessary" part is far too nice. Trump absolutely relishes the idea of white conservative men silencing dissent with violence. He loves to wax on about how, "in the good old days", police would shut down protesters with violence, but are supposedly stymied because "everyone is so politically correct."
"We are really becoming a frightened country and it’s very, very sad," he said, suggesting that the way to show how un-frightened you are is to start knocking heads. And his supporters have been listening, and showing their support by attacking protesters.
Lewandowski's flat denials in the face of video and eyewitness evidence is maddening, but that's exactly the level of white male conservative privilege that Trump supporters are excited about reinstating: The right to simply rewrite reality itself to suit your ends. Video evidence? Eyewitnesses? Bruises? Pshaw. The conservative white guy says it didn't happen, and the rest of you will simply have to take his word for it.
The promise of the privilege to rewrite reality itself is one of the things that Trump supporters adore about their man. He lies with an ease that is hard to wrap one's mind around, with over three-quarters of his statements being deemed "mostly false." "false" and "pants on fire" lies by Politifact. Over 1 in 5 statements that Trump makes is a pants-on-fire lie, compared to 1% by Hillary Clinton, 0% by Bernie Sanders, and 7% by Ted Cruz. He's such a massive liar that it's hard to really measure it fairly by political truthfulness standards. It takes a seriously immoral person to make Ted "Gonna Abolish The IRS!" Cruz look like a reality-respectful politician.
But, as Jesse Singal at New York Magazine lays out, Trump's enthusiastic lying is exactly why his supporters love him. They see it as an "ends justify the means" type situation, with the ends being the return of unquestioned white male conservative supremacy.
To Nina Strohminger, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Yale, the certainty Trump projects when he lies is also part of the story here. “It’s his confidence,” she said. “I almost feel like that’s what people are responding to more than whether he’s saying something right or not. It’s just that he’s very confident, and he doesn’t apologize. He basically just acts like the alpha male — I don’t need to tell you the truth, or I don’t need to apologize if I fuck up.” For Strohminger, this sends a signal to Trump’s core supporters and potential supporters that he will be a strong, unwavering leader: “Someone who’s authoritarian isn’t going to ask for forgiveness if they’ve done something wrong.”
If anything, being able to lie and bully and get away with it is the point. Nothing shows how dominant you are better than that does. Which is why Lewandowski's flat denials that it didn't happen shouldn't necessarily be read as literal denials. The subtext there is, "And even if it did, I'm going to get away with it, so who cares?"
An America where someone like Lewandowski gets off even if he's guilty as sin is the America that Trump supporters want. Which is why the campaign is not going to fire Lewandowski over this. Too politically correct. Sad!