“This is my last regular column before Election Day, so what is there left to say? Instead of giving you an answer, let me leave you with a question, which I think is the question. What would you do if your kid came home from school and said:
“Mom, Dad, my teacher said President Obama ordered the killing of the U.S. Special Forces team that supposedly killed Osama bin Laden. My teacher said Bin Laden is actually still alive, that the guy the Navy SEALs killed was a ‘body double.’ He also claimed that Obama’s aides got Iran to send Bin Laden to Pakistan so Obama could have a ‘trophy kill.’ What’s a trophy kill? My teacher said he had heard all of this somewhere on the internet and he just thought he’d pass it along to our class. Mom, Dad, is this true?”
I know how I’d respond. I’d immediately call the school principal and ask how someone peddling such vile and fraudulent conspiracy stuff could be teaching in any classroom in America. Who wouldn’t? It violates the most basic judgment and norms of decency that we expect of anyone teaching in public school or serving in public office.
And that is really the question Donald Trump’s voters can’t ignore: Why would you be ready to fire your kid’s teacher for passing along such disgusting nonsense but be willing to rehire the nation’s teacher in chief — our president, the man with the most-read blackboard in the world — after he peddled exactly these crazy conspiracy theories to some 87 million people on Twitter the other day? Is there anything more warped?
On Oct. 13, “Trump retweeted a post from an account linked to QAnon, a collective of online conspiracists, which has since been suspended,” reported CNN. “The tweet alleged ‘Biden and Obama may have had SEAL Team 6 killed,’ that Osama bin Laden was still alive, and that the man killed in the Obama-directed raid led by SEAL Team 6 was actually a body double. Later that night, Trump retweeted a post claiming top Obama administration officials colluded to bring Bin Laden from Iran to Pakistan for ‘Obama’s trophy kill.’”
The CNN story continued: “Trump’s initial retweet was rebuked by one of the Navy SEAL members of the raid, who is very much still alive. ‘Very brave men said goodby (sic) to their kids to go kill Osama bin Laden,’ Robert J. O’Neill tweeted following Trump’s retweet. ‘We were given the order by President Obama. It was not a body double.’
“O’Neill, who has previously expressed support for Trump, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that the promotion of these conspiracy theories for the purpose of politics is ‘really trampling on the graves of some of the best heroes I have ever personally worked with.’”
When NBC News’s Savannah Guthrie asked Trump why he would spread such a lie, Trump shrugged: “That was a retweet, I’ll put it out there. People can decide for themselves.”
In other words, Trump sees as part of his job as president — with the world’s best global intelligence network at his disposal — not to discredit malicious conspiracy theories, so Americans can better navigate a confusing world, but rather to spread this bile, without even asking the C.I.A. or the F.B.I. if it’s true. Let people sort it out for themselves, he says — as if their resources match his.
I understand that many Americans stand by Trump because of his policies on immigration, taxes, political correctness or selection of judges, or because they feel he gives voice to their grievances against elites who may look down on them. None of that resonates with me, but those are legitimate positions shared by some 40 percent of the country.
But our president is not just a policy robot. He’s also a role model, whether he or we like it or not. So, for all of you who plan to cast your ballot for Trump, I beg you to ask yourselves: How can you tolerate behaviors in a president that you would never tolerate in your kid’s seventh-grade teacher or babysitter?
Trump has so redefined decency down that we have forgotten what is normal, let alone optimal, in an American president. We have forgotten what it is like to have a truth-teller, a healer, in the White House, someone who starts his day with at least the inclination to unite the country and to project America at its best for the world — not someone who has lived every day in office aspiring to be president only of his base, while offering anyone at home or abroad looking to the United States for inspiration just one message: Show me the money.
As I was reflecting on all this last weekend, my friend Elena Park, an executive producer for Stanford Live, sent me a YouTube video — an incredible performance the other day by the singer Meklit and the Kronos Quartet of “The President Sang Amazing Grace.”
The song was written by Zoe Mulford about the 2015 murder of nine people at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., by a white supremacist. It was debuted by Mulford in 2017, telling in song how a different president, Barack Obama, came down to that church for a memorial service and during his eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney sang “Amazing Grace,” one of the most moving and healing moments of his presidency.
We argued where to lay the blame
On one man’s hate or our nation’s shame
Some sickness of the mind or soul
And how those wounds might be made whole
But no words could say what must be said
For all the living and the dead
So on that day and in that place
The President sang Amazing Grace
My President sang Amazing Grace
So, there’s your choice in a nutshell, folks. You can vote for a president who retweets sick conspiracy theories — claiming that his predecessor murdered U.S. Navy SEALs. Or you can vote for Biden, a man who, like Obama, will strive each day to make our wounds whole, and do it, I’m sure, with dignity and grace.”