You’re Cheatin’ President

April 7, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

“How you do one thing is how you do everything,” says Rick Reilly, author of Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump.

Reilly may be right about Trump and golf. But that “How you do one thing” aphorism is wrong, even about Trump.

Reilly was on the podcast “Right, Left, Center,” interviewed by the show’s podcaster-in-chief Josh Barro. 

Here’s a redacted transcript.

Rick Reilly: He kicks the ball so much the caddies call him Pele. He kicks the ball, he throws it out of bunkers, they throw it out of lakes. But he kicks other people’s balls into the bunker so that he wins.

Josh Barro: . . . in his presidency he was surrounded by people all the time who know he’s cheating.

Rick Reilly: . . . His caddies all get paid to cheat for him, and so they’re kind of his Cohens. They’re always out there doing the dirty work, and then he can say he never touched the ball. Well, OK, you pay your caddies to do it. I snuck into the Bedminster caddyshack, and they all said, “Well Trump doesn’t cheat. We cheat for him.”

How you do one thing is how you do everything, and golf gives you a chance to look at that.

I like the image of Trump kicking his ball out of the sand trap, and kicking the ball of his opponent in. (After a shot, Trump has his “supercharged” golf cart speed up the fairway so that he gets to the balls while his opponents are still far away.)

But why kick? He could place the ball more accurately if he picked it up and tossed it. At first, I thought that it was one of those cognitive gimmicks that we use to give ourselves “plausible deniability.” Picking up the ball seems so deliberate, so unmistakably intentional. Kicking it could be accidental. Then it occurred to me that for Trump, bending over to pick up something off the ground might be too much of an effort.

Deniability is certainly the motive for paying caddies to do the actual rule-breaking. (In the interview, Reilly says, “he throws it out of bunkers, they throw it out of lakes.” I assume that the they in that sentence are Trump’s caddies.) The caddy, for Trump, serves basically the same function that the shabbos goy does for orthodox Jews, the chief difference being that Trump doesn’t brag about the arrangement. (An earlier post on the this topic is here.)

Reilly’s final statement — “How you do one thing is how you do everything” — sounds awfully good. It’s a very tempting and persuasive idea, one that we often use in judging “character.”  At the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, women defending him insisted that the honorable and respectful way he acted as a boss, co-worker, or friend must also be the way he acted as a drunken teenager at parties. (See this post for a fuller discussion.) A lawyer who had known Kavanaugh professionally for 20 years, said that the man he saw in the hearings “seemed like a different person altogether.” (More here.)

Trump too can change his “presentation of self,” especially when he’s trying to get something — money from potential donors, for example. Or sex. Remember the “60 Minutes” interview with Stormy Daniels?

Anderson Cooper: How was the conversation? 

Stephanie Clifford: Ummm (laugh) it started off— all about him just talking about himself. And he's like “Have you seen my new magazine? 

Anderson Cooper: He was showing you his own picture on the cover of a magazine. 

Stephanie Clifford: Right, right. And so I was like, “Does this — does this normally work for you?” And he looked very taken— taken back, like, he didn't really understand what I was saying. Like, I was, “Does, just, you know, talking about yourself normally work?” 

 [she describes threatening to spank him playfully with the rolled-up magazine] 

Stephanie Clifford: So he turned around and pulled his pants down a little — you know had underwear on and stuff and I just gave him a couple swats. 

Anderson Cooper: This was done in a joking manner. 

Stephanie Clifford: Yes. and — from that moment on, he was a completely different person. 

 Anderson Cooper: How so? Stephanie Clifford: He quit talking about himself and he asked me things and I asked him things and it just became like more appropriate. [emphasis added]

There’s no doubt that Trump does a lot of cheating, also a lot of lying. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why the map of Trump support looks a lot like the map of country music. But in different circumstances, as Stormy Daniels says, Trump can become a different person — just  like Brett Kavanaugh, just like all of us.

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