The intent of this blog has not been to enter political controversy. The weirdness of the 2016 not-so-presidential campaign has shaken my resolve, but I don’t intend to write another on this topic. Previous ones are “Democrats vs. theocrats” (Jan. 30, 2016); “Batshit crazy, the stupid party” (Mar. 15, 2016); and “America’s celebration of ignorance” (Aug. 26, 2016). The following post is a few final thoughts not yet expressed.
Power in the hands of a paranoid, thin-skinned, impetuous, petty, fact-averse, mean-spirited person is a truly frightening prospect. (I believe each of those adjectives to be true and provable, but nevertheless feel a bit unclean using such a string of them.) Donald Trump has degraded presidential candidacy to the déclassé of a Jerry Springer Show and a banana republic mentality. He has brought a nadir of tawdriness and small-mindedness. He has disguised haughty ignorance as “telling it like it is” to the delight of a base more angry than informed and easily convinced by strong-man solutions reminiscent of Mussolini. He spouts lies and unconfirmed rumors…“people are telling me,” “a lot of people are saying”…characteristic of conspiracy obsession wherein facts are irrelevant. For him, just to make a claim is to establish its accuracy and, it turns out, for his followers as well.
Trump’s supposedly masterful business management is, as is his approach to life, one of lawsuits rather than relationships and ethical practice. His stated political beliefs have no consistency except as they serve self-promotion. His self-proclaimed brilliance makes preparation, study, and experience unnecessary (“…more than the generals”). Like a schoolyard bully, he ascribes each of his grave flaws—paranoia-like—to his opponent. His lying is not so much an occasional defect, but a trademark conversational tactic. He has exploited the severe deterioration of the Republican Party—once a reputable, essential thought leader and custodian of political conservatism—made possible by the wretched participation of spineless Republican officials and candidates. His half-baked, even flippant, pronouncements come not from thoughtful statesmanship, but from ill-informed bloviation, triggered often by perceived personal slights. He would disgrace the presidency just as he has his candidacy.
He has added to the deterioration of the Republican Party, driving it far beyond being—as Republican Governor Bobby Jindal called it—“the stupid party.” Its longtime role of representing an informed, respectable protector of conservative principles has fallen disastrously. Republicans were neither competent enough nor wise enough to fulfill their important role responsibly, abetted by the anti-intellectual, anti-science, uncompromising traits of the Moral Majority, then Tea Party, and FoxNews. The GOP has not just been taken advantage of and embarrassed by Donald Trump, it made a Donald Trump inevitable.
American political discourse has sunk terribly in the past couple or three decades. But Trump represents its further decline. His ceaseless prevarications and small-mindedness are distressing, but some are more dangerous than others, specifically those that endanger the political system itself. He carelessly misinforms his base that they should seek “Second Amendment solutions,” that the election is rigged, and that they should be informal poll-police. (As testimony that he’s not completely devoid of taste, he has not suggested they wear brown shirts.) Should he lose, it means ipso facto that his winning will have been stolen.
The pretended rigging, however, is exceeded by his most terrifying move: calling into question the peaceful transfer of power essential to a republic. To my knowledge, no American president has ever treated the election process that injudiciously, that recklessly. Our system is built on trust that each part of Constitutional government carries out its role despite comings and goings of individuals and parties. (I’ll refrain from dwelling on the Senate’s constitutionally questionable decision not to hold hearings on President Obama’s SCOTUS nomination, along with recent rumbling about avoiding hearings through a complete Clinton term. Particularly galling was Sen. McConnell’s ridiculous claim that “the people should have a choice.”)
If Donald Trump is (1) so unintelligent as to be unaware of the gravity of even hinting at such a grave declaration, or (2) so evil as to intentionally jeopardize the country’s ability to endure, the presidency should be denied to him even by persons who agree with his scattered political views. In fact, under either of those conditions, if Trump’s followers do not rise up against his candidacy, their intelligence, their Americanism, or both are suspect.
Hillary Clinton, of course, has shortcomings herself, ones that in a normal campaign might have doomed her candidacy well before the convention. (I refer to the real failings, not the trumped up ones that Republicans have dogged her with but failed to prove for much of her public life.) But her blemishes and those of previous Republican candidates as well are not the sort that the Republican Party brings us in 2016: Clinton’s mistakes are numerous, some are embarrassing, some problematic. But, unlike Trump’s, they do not endanger the republic.