I'll say it plainly. The rise of Trump, and Trumpism, is the worst thing I've witnessed happen in or to America in my lifetime. It is a hundred times more dangerous and damaging than 9/11, which merely killed 3,000 people. (No more than we've lost on the roads in each of the 180 months since yeah, that's a half-million dead and about which no one takes any notice.) But Trump strikes at the very heart of what America is and represents. Right now, simply, America is having a close call with fascism.
In order to give my reasons why I believe this, let me back up.
I stopped taking news, of almost any sort, in any medium, for about the last two years. (*) So I was extremely slow to have any idea what was going on with the U.S. presidential election. But when I was in the States in March, I watched one of the Republican primary debates. I soon ardently wished I hadn't. “This?” I said. “This is the best we can do?” The only one of the lot who wasn't manifestly a fourth-rate mind in an otherwise empty suit was John Kasich. And he was absolutely no Reagan, never mind a Lincoln. And then…
And then there was Trump.
And he said one thing in that debate which otherwise seemed to pass notice but which sent my jaw straight to the floor. Trump had come out in favour of torturing terrorism suspects and murdering their families. And so a group of military officers wrote an open letter pointing out that they would be obliged to refuse any such orders. Of course they would! Those would be illegal orders, never mind that military officers are bound by a code of honour on top of being bound by the rule of law. So the question to the candidate was, “How do you respond to this, Mr. Trump?” And his answer was, in full, and I'll never forget this as long as I live:
And I thought: Holy f*&^ing s&^%! THAT'S FASCISM! Pure and simple. Fascism, as we know, is when the rule of law goes out the window, and the whims of a strongman are enforced by men with guns, under pain of no one cares to think what. And this was what the leading major-party candidate was advocating. I simply couldn't believe what I was hearing.
And so then I watched some Trump speeches. And I saw bits like this:
And I stitched that video together and posted it to facebook with this commentary:
I didn't understand then, and don't now, how anyone could support this sinister clown. Nor how half the country is doing so at this point. I suppose a big part of the answer is: because the Democrats elevated the most hated politician of her generation to be their candidate. If anyone else were on the Democratic ticket, I think there would be no danger of a Trump presidency. I blame the Democrats for doing this and Clinton for running again, evidently because the amount of power and validation she's had just isn't enough for one lifetime. (But that's definitely another dispatch.)
And as for the people supporting Trump, as well as Clinton's “basket of deplorables” quote…
…Clinton is an elitist, and an idiot, for saying what she did. But she's perhaps not wrong. Trump has shown me an America, and Americans, I don't really recognise and don't much care for. Then again, I guess we've always known America has a bit of everything, including way out at the fringes. Trump has just made it safe for the worst of them to come out from under their rocks.
And, in a final observation: Trump is not just a threat to the ideals that make America what it is. But, with his sinister whisperings about the election being rigged in advance, he's also a threat to the very political system that makes American democracy possible. Even Al Gore, who won the popular vote in 2000 and probably believed he had the election stolen, or at best handed to Bush by the courts, conceded in a clear, graceful, and statesman-like manner for the outstanding reason that he knew the system is much, much more important than the outcome of a single election.
But Trump is an arsonist of democracy, a clear and present danger, a threat to the 240-year experiment that is the Great Republic. He is a racist, nativist, authoritarian, know-nothing, conspiracy-mongering, foul-mannered, fascist nutjob. His elevation is already, quite simply, a catastrophe. But if he were elected, I think America would be over. Not, I hope and trust, forever. But, for the time being, the shining city on a hill would go dark.
If you don't believe that, I urge you to take a quick pass through the pronouncements of smarter people than me, economically excerpted below. They tell the tale much better than I can.
To the extent he has views, they are wrong in their diagnosis of America’s problems and dangerous in their proposed solutions. Mr. Trump’s politics of denigration and division could strain the bonds that have held a diverse nation together. His contempt for constitutional norms might reveal the nation’s two-century-old experiment in checks and balances to be more fragile than we knew. Any one of these characteristics would be disqualifying; together, they make Mr. Trump a peril.
Trump represents a political threat to the country that is unmatched in our lifetime. He traffics in the language of white supremacy with a wink, a nod and no apologies. He threatens to throw out decades’ old alliances that are the bedrock of American interests. He invites a foreign strongman to intrude in our elections on his behalf. Were he to win, the country could enter a period of instability few of us have known.
The demagogic candidate must paint a bleak picture of the status quo, citing every catastrophe and failure before presenting the even darker future ahead if he isn’t granted the power to act, and act now. Instead of telling people what he will do if they elect him, he threatens them with what will happen if they don’t. The democratic leader needs the people. The tyrant, and the would-be tyrant, insists that the people need him… Be careful whom you vote for, it could be the last election you ever have.
Has the party of Lincoln just nominated a racist to be president? We shouldn’t toss around such accusations lightly, so I’ve looked back over more than 40 years of Donald Trump’s career to see what the record says. Here we have a man who for more than four decades has been repeatedly associated with racial discrimination or bigoted comments about minorities, some of them made on television for all to see. While any one episode may be ambiguous, what emerges over more than four decades is a consistent pattern and I don’t see what else to call it but racism.
Great Trump Speech, America First! Stop Wars! Defeat the Corrupt elites! Protect our Borders!, Fair Trade! Couldn't have said it better!— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) July 22, 2016
Khizr Khan, the bereaved father of Army Captain Humayun Khan, recalled his son’s character, his faith, his patriotism and, ultimately, his courageous death in the service of the country he loved, and the fellow soldiers he was protecting. And, yes, the Khan family is Muslim. Under Trump’s proposed policies, they would be innately suspect; had he been president when they immigrated to America, they would’ve been barred from entering, and Humayun Khan never would have served… Trump listened to a speech by the bereaved father of a fallen Muslim soldier and used it to slander the fallen soldier’s family. That was his response. That is his character.
Donald Trump has insulted veterans by comparing his business success to those who have sacrificed their lives in battle for their country.
Mr. Trump doesn’t know the difference between the Quds Force and the Kurds. He can’t identify the nuclear triad, the American strategic nuclear arsenal’s delivery system. He had never heard of Brexit until a few weeks before the vote. He thinks the Constitution has 12 Articles rather than seven. He uses the vocabulary of a fifth grader. Most damning of all, he traffics in off-the-wall conspiracy theories by insinuating that President Obama was born in Kenya and that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination.
Trump, who says he doesn’t read much at all, is both a product of the epidemic of ignorance and a main producer of it. He can litter the campaign trail with hundreds of easily debunked falsehoods because conservative media has spent more than two decades tearing down the idea of objective fact. If Trump supporters knew that illegal immigration peaked in 2007, or that violent crime has been on a steady downward spiral nationwide for more than 20 years, they would scoff when Trump says Mexican rapists are surging across the border and crime is out of control.
Amid all the self-made myths about Donald Trump, none is more fantastic than Trump the moneymaker, the New York tycoon who has enjoyed a remarkably successful business career. In reality, Mr. Trump was a walking disaster as a businessman for much of his life. This is not just my opinion. Warren Buffett said as much this past week.
Back when the Trump campaign was ostensibly about the loss of middle-class jobs, it was at least pretending to be about a real issue: Employment in manufacturing really is way down; real wages of blue-collar workers have fallen. You could say that Trumpism isn’t the answer (it isn’t), but not that the issue was a figment of the candidate’s imagination. Basically, American cities are as safe as they’ve ever been. The nightmare landscape of the Republican candidate’s rhetoric call it Trump’s hellhole? bears no resemblance to reality.
“Nice wall, Mr. Gorbachev.”
His vision of American influence and power in the world is wildly inconsistent and unmoored in principle. He swings from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence. His advocacy for aggressively waging trade wars is a recipe for economic disaster in a globally connected world. His embrace of the expansive use of torture is inexcusable. His hateful, anti-Muslim rhetoric undercuts the seriousness of combating Islamic radicalism by alienating partners in the Islamic world. Furthermore, it endangers the safety and Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of American Muslims.
My point in originally posting that as I believe Obama's was in saying it was, again, that the rise of Trumpism is much more dangerous than terrorism in that it threatens the very core of what America is and represents.
It took Mr. Trump five years of dodging, winking and joking to surrender, finally on Friday, to reality after a remarkable campaign of relentless deception that tried to undermine the legitimacy of the nation’s first black president.
The Grand Wizard of Birtherism against President Obama admitted that birtherism was bunk, not by apologizing for his prominent role in the racist campaign, but by suggesting that he deserved credit for dousing the flames he’d fanned. This man is so low that he’s subterranean. Trump has a long history of elevating the idiocy of conspiracy theories and normalizing the nonsensical. He is not only bending the truth, he is breaking the notion that truth should matter in the first place.
What should hold our attention is Trump’s mainstreaming of conspiracy theories, and the hate speech that usually accompanies them. All fascism takes on a peculiar national tone, and where the national tone of Germany lent itself to anti-Semitic theories, that of the United States involves paranoia about secret government actions. Trump, by bringing such cracked reasoning into the mainstream, becomes a truly sinister figure, rather than merely oafish. Here, the analogy with Hitler in his early phase is not overdrawn: part of what wise people have come to recognize is that Hitler’s confederates, like Streicher and Goebbels, were not normal nationalists but malcontents from crazy fringe groups.
We owe it to our readers to signal when we’re writing about a crackpot. Even if he’s a presidential candidate. No, especially when he’s a presidential candidate. For my part, I’ve never met a national politician as ill informed, as deceptive, as evasive and as vacuous as Trump. He’s not normal.
Because he’s being graded on a doofus curve that is unprecedented in presidential politics, Donald Trump said more than a dozen outrageous, scary or untrue things in the last 10 days and got away with all of them. But now he wants the United States to become a nation that steals from its enemies. He’s already called for war crimes killing family members of terrorists, torturing suspects. 'It used to be to the victor belong the spoils,' Trump complained. Oh, for the days when Goths, Vandals and Nazis were free to rape, pillage and plunder.
What America represents (as I wrote on the first anniversary of 9-11): diversity, tolerance, and equality under the law. Also elective representative democracy, equal justice under the law, civil liberties, a free and market-driven economy, tolerance, gender equality, and strong protections for freedom of expression, religion, and political redress, all of which bind us together as participants in the ongoing Great Experiment. Ours is the first nation-state in the history of the world founded on a philosophy one you can express nicely in six words: “…with liberty and justice for all.”
I can give my reasons why, believe them to be excellent ones, and should probably write a whole other dispatch on this.