Donald Trump's Crab Bucket Moral Universe

From the Weekly Standard:

We should be clear about this. John McCain haunts the Trump White House, not because of his votes or policy disagreements, but because he represents the man that Donald Trump cannot ever be.

McCain, who is battling brain cancer, is exiting the stage as a Man in Full, his integrity intact and intent on having the last word. With every passing day he sharpens the contrast between himself and the man in the Oval Office: In his final book, due out this month, he writes of Trump that “[f]lattery secures his friendship, criticism his enmity.” The former prisoner of war has also expressed his opposition to the nomination of Gina Haspel to lead the CIA.

“It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway,” White House aide Kelly Sadler reportedly quipped dismissively. Sadler’s crass comment drew angry and well-deserved rebukes. "People have wondered when decency would hit rock bottom with this administration,” former Vice President Joe Biden said in a pointed statement. “It happened yesterday."

Notably, the White House does not deny Sadler’s mockery. But on Friday, Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, refused to apologize, expressing more concern about the leak than the attack itself. "I'm not going to get into a back and forth because people want to create issues of a leaked meeting.” The voluble Trump himself is also notably silent, unwilling to make a single gracious gesture or expression of regret.

None of this should be surprising, because in Trump World, the tone is set from the top.

Indeed, despite his claims to support the military, Trump seems oddly embarrassed by actual heroism. Asked about McCain’s record, Trump famously responded, “I like the ones who weren’t captured.” He has reportedly mocked McCain’s disabilities, caused by injuries he sustained during his stint as a POW. At rallies he has goaded the crowd into booing McCain’s name.

Trump’s refusal to recognize McCain’s heroism has been thoroughly diffused to his followers, both in the White House and in the toxic swamps of Trumpist social media. (If you want to maintain any shred of faith in humanity, don’t search the words “John McCain dead” on Twitter.)

But as appalling as the open mockery of an American hero has been, it also opens a window into Trump’s crab bucket moral universe.

As the parable goes:

A man was walking along the beach and noticed another man casting his fishing line over the end of a pier. As the first man drew closer to the fisherman, he saw that the bait bucket had no lid, and to his surprise, it was full of sea crabs crawling on top of each other. Knowing the crabs could certainly escape, the man wondered why there was no lid. He asked the fisherman, “Why isn’t your bait bucket covered so the crabs won’t escape?” 


The fisherman explained, “You need to understand that if there’s a single crab in that bucket, yes, it could certainly escape. However, since there are so many if one tries to crawl out, the others grab onto it, making sure it can’t escape so it will meet the same fate as the rest of them.”

Wikipedia defines the crab mentality as “a way of thinking best described by the phrase ‘if I can't have it, neither can you.’”

We all live in Trump’s crab bucket now.

If you can’t win respect, then try to destroy the basis by which respect is granted by flattening the moral landscape. Because Trump is incapable of appreciating or emulating the senator’s sense of duty and honor, Trump resorts to the petulance of the bitter and the envious. “You’re no better than me,” is the timeworn playground taunt of the bully, the cretin, and the coward.


Although the term is overused, it is inescapably ironic that Trump’s most ardent supporters admire him because, they say, “he fights.” But he didn’t.

While McCain fought, Trump sat it out, the pampered rich boy with bone spurs who partied so hard that he bragged that his own Vietnam was avoiding venereal disease. Meanwhile, John McCain endured the unendurable with grace and courage. As a an admiral’s son, McCain was offered an early release by the prison camp’s commander, “The Cat.”

McCain realized that the Code of Conduct gave him no choice. [Everett] Alvarez, who was being held elsewhere, was supposed to be the first man released.
"I just knew it wasn't the right thing to do," he said. "I knew that they wouldn't have offered it to me if I hadn't been the son of an admiral.

"I just didn't think it was the honorable thing to do."...McCain calmly told The Cat that the prisoners must be released in the order they were captured, starting with Alvarez.

As an inveterate narcissist, Trump is incapable of understanding this sort of selfless heroism or the sense of honor it represents. But it seems to haunt him anyway.

In far too short a time, McCain will be laid to rest, honored, respected, and remembered by a grateful country.

Donald Trump will not be on hand and he will be acutely aware of the contrast the rest of the country will be watching. Perhaps it is too much to hope that this man without shame will feel a little ashamed.