Trump’s Misconduct and the Boiling Frog

Ben Wittes succinctly describes a phenomenon that I've been struggling with for three years.

“Frog in a Pot 2” by J. Ronald Lee. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

One of the few downsides of being on sabbatical this semester is that, because I don’t have a daily commute—which would otherwise be a boon—I have way less time for listening to my favorite podcasts. I just got around to listening to Wednesday’s edition of the excellent “Rational Security” podcast and was particularly struck by this observation by Ben Wittes:

https://overcast.fm/+EAjDYNMdw/10:46

For those unable to listen for whatever reason, he articulates succinctly a point I’ve been struggling to make for well over two years: “the numbing effect of the sheer scope and volume of allegations of misconduct.” He’s referring to his deep dive into the redacted release of the “full” Mueller report but he may just as well be describing the entirety of Donald J. Trump’s public life since launching his bid for the presidency.

He notes that, if Volume 2 of the report, which deals with the question of obstruction of justice, did not exist, Volume 1, which deals with Russian attempts to tip the election to Trump and Team Trump’s dealings with that attempt, would be a “huge deal” on its own. But, because they were released together, Volume 1’s revelations have been “swamped” by Volume 2’s.

Further, “there are things in Volume 2 itself that are not getting nearly as much attention as they normally would because they’re being swamped by other things in Volume 2.”

Essentially, he contends, “the volume of misconduct is immense enough” we become “inured to it and don’t process it with outrage.”

Again, this isn’t an especially novel take. I’ve said much the same over the years in explaining why I simply don’t blog about Trump’s outrages that often. (And, incidentally, why I don’t post about most mass shootings anymore.) But Wittes’ description really crystallizes the problem.

Wittes goes on to joke that, if you’re going to commit egregious offenses, you should really do so en masse. And that, if you do enough of them in rapid succession, 40 percent of the population will give you a pass for all of them.

So it would seem.

His colleague, Shane Harris, evokes the “boiling frog” analogy that I’ve co-opted for the title.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kylopod says:

    It’s actually kind of variant on the statement often attributed to Stalin that a single death is a tragedy while a million deaths is a statistic.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod: Wittes uses that line, actually, although he says it as “a thousand deaths” vice “a single death.”

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  3. Stormy Dragon says:

    I’d just like to point out that the boiling frog thing isn’t actually true. The frog will start trying to jump out of the water long before it becomes dangerously hot and will only stay there if it’s physically incapable of escaping.

    Also, if you put a bowl of vinegar and a bowl of honey outside your door for 24 hours, there will be far more flies in the vinegar bowl.

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  4. Kathy says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I’d just like to point out that the boiling frog thing isn’t actually true.

    Thank you. I’ve never liked that parable.

    Also, if you put a bowl of vinegar and a bowl of honey outside your door for 24 hours, there will be far more flies in the vinegar bowl.

    How come? Honey is largely sugar, but it contains other nutrients. Vinegar is mostly acetic acid and water, very low in nutrition. But if the flies get thirsty rather than hungry, or they’re not that much attracted to sugars to begin with, well, maybe.

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  5. Teve says:

    I was just settling in to read this at the Atlantic

    Five Things I Learned From the Mueller Report

    A careful reading of the dense document delivers some urgent insights.

    8:08 AM ET

    Benjamin Wittes

    Second paragraph:

    Here are five conclusions I drew from the exercise:

    The president committed crimes.

    full article

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  6. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Kathy:

    Honey is viscous and hard for flies to eat, and in nature is guarded by angry bees who will kill you for trying to eat it. It also doesn’t release a lot of aromatic compounds and cannot be detected from far away.

    Vinegar smells like rotting fruit, which flies are attracted to, but then turns out not to be easy to walk on. So flies smell it from far away, come thinking its rotten fruit, and then drown in it.

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  7. Kathy says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Thanks. That makes a lot of sense.

    It also means if you want to keep flies away from your house, you ought to place bowls with vinegar outside your neighbor’s house 😉

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  8. Kylopod says:

    @James Joyner:

    Wittes uses that line, actually, although he says it as “a thousand deaths” vice “a single death.”

    There are different versions. For a discussion of the history and possible origins of the quote, see here:

    https://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/05/21/death-statistic/

    I find it interesting that the replies to this thread so far mostly concern the metaphors, not the substance of the post.

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  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Kathy:

    If you really want to get rid of flies:
    1. Take a small soda bottle, cut the top third off
    2. flip the top over and put it inside the bottom as a funnel
    3. mix apple cider vinegar with some sugar and dish soap (so that it has no surface tension) and pour it into the bottle
    4. leave the bottle out and wait for it to fill with dead flies

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  10. Joe says:

    Stormy Dragon and Kathy: I find vinegar makes a great fruit fly trap. A little in a cup with just a dab of dish soap (to eliminate any remaining surface tension) with a funnel down lid into the cup. Fruit flies are drawn to it for the reasons Stormy Dragon notes and are more certain to drown for the attributes I list. I find it very effective.

    Oh, yeah, and Trump sucks.

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  11. gVOR08 says:

    @Teve:

    The president committed crimes.

    That we now know of thanks to the Mueller report. There is a preexisting intel investigation that is supposedly still going on. I am fascinated by the statement wrt/ Kushner

    the government has not obtained admissible evidence that is likely to establish the scienter(1) requirement beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Emphasis mine. What do they have that’s inadmissible? And more to the point, are we ever going to find out anything about it? I believe both Schiff and Burr, the Chairs of the House and Senate Intel Committees, have said they’ve received nothing from this investigation. If the President* has decided not approve any retaliatory or deterrent action or release of the Intel investigation, what happens? Do the Republicans on the Senate Committee care? Can the House force release to at least the Intel Committee? Or is this investigation just buried?

    The Intel community appears to be either uninterested in doing anything or thwarted.

    Barr and Rosenstein have made it clear that whatever should be done about this, they’re not going to do anything. Barr won’t even follow precedent and let congress see the unredacted Mueller report. The IRS isn’t following black letter law.

    Can you name a single elected Republican that’s doing anything?

    We are so screwed.
    ________
    (1) Intent or knowledge of wrongdoing. Apparently ignorance of the law is an excuse after all, even if you had campaign lawyers available for consultation.

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  12. An Interested Party says:

    I find it interesting that the replies to this thread so far mostly concern the metaphors, not the substance of the post.

    Perhaps the commenters here are just as numb (as are so many other people) about the numerous offenses committed by the trash in the White House…the worst part of all of this aren’t the crimes themselves…the worst part is the aiding and abetting done by Republicans on behalf of the criminal…since voters probably won’t punish Republicans we can only hope that history will not look kindly on what is happening…

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  13. Guarneri says:

    TDS, like addictions, are difficult to watch.

    Have we descended into economic depression, destruction of basic rights or thermonuclear war yet? It was what I was told would happen in November 2016…………..

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  14. Kathy says:

    @Kylopod:

    I find it interesting that the replies to this thread so far mostly concern the metaphors, not the substance of the post.

    Fair enough.

    I think the real problem s that no matter what Dennison gets called on, or what kind of malfeasance he engages in, his supporters and enablers just go on mindlessly cheering him like a flock of deplorable sheep.

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  15. Franklin says:

    @Kathy:

    It also means if you want to keep flies away from your house, you ought to place bowls with vinegar outside your neighbor’s house

    I wasn’t expecting that ending, and therefore I audibly snorted.

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  16. An Interested Party says:

    TDS, like addictions, are difficult to watch.

    Have we descended into economic depression, destruction of basic rights or thermonuclear war yet? It was what I was told would happen in November 2016…………..

    A perfect example of someone who can excuse anything Trump does…it’s no wonder that these people are referred to as cultists, because that’s exactly how they act…

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  17. JKB says:

    You have to keep in mind what the Mueller report is. The Mueller report is a one-sided prosecutor’s report of allegations, a worst-case viewing of evidence and an explanation as to why prosecution or non-prosecution is recommended.

    Lots of allegations, no evidence considered capable of withstanding an adversarial proceeding. Lots of chattering, but no basis in fact.

  18. An Interested Party says:

    Lots of allegations, no evidence considered capable of withstanding an adversarial proceeding. Lots of chattering, but no basis in fact.

    Another cultist heard from…

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  19. gVOR08 says:

    @JKB:

    Lots of allegations, no evidence considered capable of withstanding an adversarial proceeding.

    This is what Barr said. The Mueller report said something different. It’s been in all the papers.

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