Trump and the annihilation of shame

The annihilation of shame requires two things. First, nerve: Whatever else might be said about Trump, it takes immense brass to lie as frequently and flagrantly as he does without apparently triggering any kind of internal emotional crisis. Ordinary mortals tend to blush when caught out in some kind of mischief. Trump smirks.

But it also takes public acquiescence. Van Doren might have succeeded in quickly burying his shame if the revelation of his cheating hadn’t led to tidal waves of dismay and disdain. The United States of the 1950s wasn’t yet the land of premature exoneration. A half-century after the scandal, when Van Doren finally wrote about his experiences in an essay for The New Yorker, he confessed, “It’s been hard to get away, partly because the man who cheated on ‘Twenty-One’ is still part of me.”…

It was once the useful role of conservatives to resist these sorts of trends — to stand athwart declining moral standards, yelling Stop. They lost whatever right they had to play that role when they got behind Trump, not only acquiescing in the culture of shamelessness but also savoring its fruits. Among them: Never being beholden to what they said or wrote yesterday. Never holding themselves to the standards they demand of others. Never having to say they are sorry.