In the interest of ‘pundit accountability,’ I will post my thoughts about the upcoming US presidential election this week. It is a pretty open-and-shut affair this year. As Foreign Policy put it in an unprecedented presidential endorsement: “A Donald Trump presidency is among the greatest threats facing America, and the Republican standard-bearer is the worst major-party candidate for the job in U.S. history.” Yup.
The following op-ed is the English language re-print of my anti-Trump essay for today’s issue of Newsweek Japan. I’d like to thank my editor at Newsweek for allowing me to wander out of my area of northeast Asia to write about the US election. Normally, I wouldn’t do this, but this is not a normal election. Donald Trump represents an unparalleled threat to US democracy. He must be defeated, and I hope this op-ed helps that outcome in however small a way.
Finally, I don’t write this as partisan hackery. I am a registered Republican and have been my whole life. I worked for a Republican congressman, voted against Bill Clinton twice, gave money to a GOP candidate as late as 2002. I even interned for John Boehner way back in college. My ballot this year was split as I voted Republican in some Ohio races. I suppose I could have voted for Rubio. But not Trump. My god. He’s a terror. He’s not really a Republican as we thought of them at all until recently; he’s more like Marine Le Pen than anyone we know from the tradition of American politics. You think Nixon’s abuse of power was bad, just wait till Trump gets his hands on the Justice Department.
The essay is after the jump.
It is a cliché in American politics to say that every election is ‘the most important in our lifetime.’ Usually this is not so. But 2016 has become that because of the character of one of the major party candidates. Republican Donald J. Trump is the most dangerous person nominated for the presidency in the history of the Republic. His white nationalist politics is remaking the Republican party into something like the French National Front, while his character, as revealed over the last 18 months, suggests he would govern as an authoritarian. He is the closest America has ever seen to Mussolini, and the election has now become a referendum on his fitness for the presidency.
Trump is a lurching id with no self-awareness or control. He is flamboyantly ignorant, but even this characterization falls short. He does not just lack access to facts, but the realization that they matter. He lies with breathtaking proficiency, often contradicting himself within minutes. For example, recently he responded to one of the ten or so women who accused him of sexual assault by denying he ever encountered her, and then produced an eyewitness who claimed that nothing unseemly had happened when he witnessed them interacting decades earlier on an airplane – despite that day’s earlier claim that they had never met in the first place. The absurdity of this alibi was not an oversight because it was not intended to convince – only to kick up dust and allow Trump or his enablers to claim that facts are in dispute.
Trump is pathologically abusive to others. Trump University was purportedly a scam that sold plagiarized investment advice to unsophisticated customers at outrageous prices, with customers pressured to increase their credit card limits so that the bill could be raised. He has repeatedly claimed that the key to his success with women was to treat them poorly. He bragged about groping women unknown to him, and when evidence of this confession emerged he attacked those women as too ugly to molest – more confession than denial. He has spoken warmly of slaughtering Muslims with bullets dipped in pig blood as a counterterrorism tactic, a claim so offensive that it is difficult to imagine anything more harmful to US interests or standing in the world, or more encouraging to abusive regimes around the world, whose worst crimes are normalized by this evil rhetoric.
His proposed ‘policies’ are vacuous and self-contradictory. He wants to raise taxes on the rich or perhaps slash them. He wants to withdraw troops from overseas engagements or perhaps install them there permanently to steal foreign oil. Perhaps both. Perhaps neither. Seeking consistency or meaning in these statements is pointless, because they are not policies or even fully-formed ideas, but temporary debaters’ points serving no purpose other than to verbally dominate or confuse at single points in time, after which they cease to exist.
No presidential candidate in American history has ever behaved in this manner.
Trump’s rallies are orgies of hate and violent rhetoric, often directed toward journalists. They, escorted to press pens by police, are assailed by Trump and his agitated followers as disgusting traitors, as deliberate agents of American destruction. He has described journalists as slime, scum, and disgusting, stated that he hates them, and mockingly pondered killing them, deciding after a moment of dramatic consideration that no, he would not. He inflames his fans at his rallies, who verbally assault the penned-up journalists under police protection. After an hour or two of ritual abuse, reporters are then led back out under police protection. While Trump would without question pose a dire threat to freedom of speech in the United States – and, indeed, he has promised to undermine it through the court system and changes to law – what is most chilling is the realization that this talent for generating and projecting hate can be used against other victims if Trump is given the full power of the US presidency – possibly blacks, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, women, or other groups. The abuse has become so acute that the Committee to Protect Journalists has taken the rare step of involving itself in politics to warn about Trump’s attacks.
Authoritarianism is difficult to define, but all the elements for it present in the Trump quest for the presidency except, it appears, enough voters. What is clear is that a great deal of attention and money can be gained by leading this newly awakened movement, and after the election on November 8 it will still be there, seething with anger at the “stolen” election and armed with military-grade weaponry because of lax American guns laws. Trump, humiliated on the world’s biggest stage, will need the love and validation of his passionate and humiliated devotees more than ever, and will feel unconstrained in doing everything in his power to stay in the spotlight. And in four years a smarter and more disciplined leader may emerge to try again, and may succeed.