Lessons for Our Youth From Donald Trump and Katie Hill
Four years into Donald Trump’s quest to become, and his performance as, U.S. president, a large majority of us are teaching our young to reject his example, to conduct themselves as the opposite of him. Future leaders should also reflect on the sorry saga of Rep. Katie Hill.
Trump and Hill are starkly different in many ways. Our 73-year-old male president doesn’t email or text but can’t stop tweeting, lies constantly, brags he has been better than any other predecessor ever, brawls with anyone from Supreme Court justices to the pope, has mocked a disabled man, attacked Gold Star families, and engages in daily pity parties about the credit he thinks he deserves but doesn’t get. Hill is a 37-year-old woman not a year into her first term in Congress who was seen as a rising star. But she resigned her seat Friday embroiled in a scandal that began when images of her made their way from someone’s phone to a conservative website. She never came close to Trump’s record of offenses, but like the victim-in-chief she too let us know on her way out the door that she feels sorry for herself.
Though the published texts and naked pictures revealed drug use, a controversial tattoo and the “throuple” she and her now-estranged husband were engaged in with a younger campaign staffer, Hill decried a double standard in a “misogynistic culture that gleefully consumed my naked pictures, capitalized on my sexuality and enabled my abusive ex to continue that abuse, this time with the entire country watching.”
Hill apologized several times in her speech to the people she disappointed, but just like Trump she sought to blame others for the mess she made, casting herself the target of a “horrible smear” at the hands of “an abusive husband” and “right-wing media.” Hill said she was resigning because she didn't want to be “used by shameless operatives for the dirtiest gutter politics that I've ever seen, and the right-wing media to drive clicks and expand their audience by distributing intimate photos of me taken without my knowledge, let alone my consent, for the sexual entertainment of millions.”
Hill was emboldened by scores of liberals, pundits and her younger female colleagues in the House who raced to her defense, even suggesting Hill change her mind and stay. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the whole episode “horrific” in an interview with Politico. “I don't think we’re really talking about how targeted and serious this is. We're talking about a major crime ... being committed against her,” she said. “Katie Hill’s resignation is a travesty. This is not what justice looks like,” read a headline in The Guardian. Kendall Brown wrote on CNN’s opinion site: “The targeting of Rep. Katie Hill and her subsequent resignation are meant as a warning shot to young women across America: if you run for office and challenge the status quo, we will destroy you, too.”
Um, not really. Despite the righteousness, Hill was sleeping with subordinates, something she and her defenders ignore as they rail against cyber exploitation. She allegedly violated House rules by having an additional relationship (beyond her throuple with the campaign staffer) with her male legislative director, who reportedly received a large and questionable bonus that Hill denies. That relationship prompted an Ethics Committee investigation and likely made it impossible for her to remain in the House.
The real lesson of Hill is to avoid doing what she did. Sure, publishing photos without consent is illegal, but CNN reported that Republican operatives have 700 more photographs of the California congresswoman, and her claim to have not known people were taking nude pictures of her is ludicrous. And sure, plenty of men should have paid steeper prices before Hill, but WhatAboutIsm only makes things worse. Defenders are screaming about double standards and him and him and him. Former Sen. David Vitter’s prostitutes, former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s pictures, former Rep. Joe Barton’s pictures, Rep. Duncan Hunter’s indictment and affairs and violations of campaign finance laws. And of course, President Trump tops everyone as an unindicted co-conspirator in a felony his former lawyer is serving time for, who has been credibly accused of both obstruction of justice and rape. Indeed, it’s repulsive and outrageous -- so Democrats are mad because they want to join the race to the bottom? We need leaders in our next generation, in both parties. Is this how we produce them?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Hill’s decision was her own but stated that “she has acknowledged errors in judgment that made her continued service as a Member untenable. We must ensure a climate of integrity and dignity in the Congress, and in all workplaces."
These days, politicians are teaching the leaders of tomorrow that shedding shame, in scandal after scandal, is the key to holding power. Yet our governance has always depended on the power of dignity and shame -- it’s what made President Nixon leave instead of face impeachment. Trump has neither, which makes him so corrosive.
As Hill’s resignation took effect Friday, President Trump was closing out the day by tweeting wildly while Kathryn Watson, a CBS News White House reporter, posted a picture of more than a dozen people waiting (in the cold) outside the Oval Office -- people whom Trump had kept waiting for 35 minutes.
The entire world is watching, including our kids.
To those planning runs for public office: try putting your phone down sometimes because tweeting isn’t leadership, and don’t seek a seat in Congress if other people’s phones are full of nude pics of you because they will likely be hacked and seen. Be accountable, so we can have a government of integrity and dignity; Pelosi may be a grandmother but these values are not outdated. In fact, they are essential. Strive for excellence -- it’s what built this country, and it’s the only thing that can get us out of the tunnel we’re in.
As our first lady tells us, Be Best.