Covering Donald Trump as a presidential candidate isn’t easy. Everything about the man and his campaign is a distracting spectacle – violent rallies, Twitter feuds and fratty arrogance so immature he defends his dick size in debates. For months he was regarded as a joke. But while the media focuses on theatrics this egomaniacal tyrant is being carried toward the White House on enthusiastic American shoulders. If he’s a joke, we’re the punchline.
So nightmarish is Trump’s campaign that the essence of its danger can only be encapsulated in art. In this case it’s a scene from Louis CK’s new downloadable web series, Horace and Pete, in which a disturbed bartender shakes his head at Trump coverage on TV and muses that Trump would ruin the country. A customer, defiant, asks, “OK. So, why not that?”
“If we vote for him that just means we want to go down. So, let us go down… That’s just how a democracy declines. The populace degenerates until we elect a guy like that, and he just ruins what’s left… So why not Trump? Let’s just get this shit over with. That should be his slogan! ‘Trump: Let’s Get This Shit Over With.’”
CK understands the existential threat of Donald Trump and justifiably points his finger back at the American people for marching alongside his rise. But not all of us are ready to chomp down on the cyanide pill Trump represents. Anyone who’s not cynical must understand, without hype or sensationalism, what a historic danger Trump poses and how important it is to resist him.
Even if he doesn’t win the presidency – which for now seems like a safe bet – Trump has already done enormous damage. His campaign has unraveled every loose string of the nation’s fabric his tiny fingers could grasp. Thanks to Trump, fascism is now a viable American political movement. His bigotry, xenophobia, desire to commit war crimes, and all-around nastiness has given political energy to millions of racists and violent reactionaries.
About the nicest thing that’s been said of Trump is that he doesn’t really mean much of what he says; he’s just provocative for attention. For a man whose appeal is in saying “things others are afraid to say” it’s ironic to hear even supporters make this argument. But they do, including high-profile endorsers like Ben Carson, who said, “Some of the more outlandish things that he’s said… he didn’t really believe those things.”
Trump has a decades-long history of racism. In 1973 Trump properties were accused of discriminating against black tenants. In 1989 he took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to attack five minority New Yorkers wrongfully accused of rape. He popularized the conspiracy that the nation’s first black president wasn’t born here, bringing the most vicious racists out of the woodwork to call for taking “their” country back. And all this is to say nothing of his KKK chicanery or his supporters’ fear of white genocide.
Some of his most outlandish policy proposals are his total ban on Muslims coming to the US; installing a Gestapo-like police presence in Muslim communities; intentionally killing noncombatant family members of terrorists; not just using torture but making it a form of punishment; deporting some 11 million Mexican immigrants; opening up libel laws so he can sue the press for negative coverage; and the centerpiece that launched his campaign, building a costly and pointless wall on the Mexican border.
Such an extremist campaign likely has a low support ceiling, but what Trump can’t win at the ballot he may be prepared to take by force. He warned of riots if he should lose the nomination because of a brokered GOP convention. His rallies have become hotbeds of violence as he urges supporters and obedient police to fight with protesters. A volunteer goon squad calling itself the Lion’s Guard has taken the call to help suppress dissent. Trump is now the leader of a dangerous political cult.
For this reason Trump is often compared to fascists like Hitler and Mussolini. But a more contemporary match is North Korea’s Kim dynasty. They use state-run media to perpetuate a preposterous cult of personality, weaving myths about Kim Jong-Il golfing 11 holes-in-one and Kim Jong-Un winning a yacht race at age 9. North Korea regularly puffs itself up and makes threats to the rest of the world, including nuclear threats.
Listening to Trump is a lot like listening to the ravings of the North Korean dictators. He has already said he’d consider using nukes as president, which should be an instant disqualifier. His propaganda claims him to be the world’s greatest dealmaker, businessman, military strategist and more. He clearly sees himself in the same mythic light as Kim Jong-Un, recently thanking the hosts of Morning Joe for portraying him as “almost a legendary figure” while he presided over a violent rally.
Also like the Kims, Trump has been able to weaponize the American media in his favor. Unlike the Kims, America’s media came along willingly in a quest for ratings. As CBS President Les Moonves said, “[Trump’s campaign] may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” Sites like Breitbart operate as an eager propaganda arm, just like something out of North Korea. Commercial media has given Trump almost $2 billion in free coverage, nearly as much as the rest of the 2016 presidential field combined. Some of it has been negative, but not nearly as much as it should be – networks are terrified of losing Trump as a guest by offending him.
That total control of the media allowed Trump to build a campaign that is impervious to facts. With so much news about Trump coming out on a daily basis it can be hard to keep track of the myriad lies he’s told, the truly heinous things he’s proposed and the violence he’s already wrought. By the time you’ve digested his claim that climate change is a hoax, the media’s moved onto his latest tweet where he calls Ted Cruz’s wife ugly.
Some commentators regard Trump as a “giant question mark” and maintain that Cruz, with his sincerely deranged fundamentalism, would be worse. A few of Trump’s policies – including a relaxed stance on Planned Parenthood, preserving Social Security, working on infrastructure, and bringing jobs back to America – have even won over some liberals. And many of Trump’s worst policy positions are mirrored or amplified by Cruz and Hillary Clinton, who are all about equally hawkish and who would also govern with the wealthiest Americans’ interests in mind.
But Trump’s danger comes from more than just bad policy positions. From the moment of its announcement his campaign has been about picking on people. He riles his supporters until they’re angry enough to sucker-punch peaceful protesters for him. He deliberately taps into America’s most lizard-brained impulses of nationalism and xenophobia. Mild criticism sends him into conniptions and he wants to attack the First Amendment so no one can say anything bad about him.
As bad as Clinton and Cruz are, if they lose an election they probably won’t summon supporters to cause riots. If they don’t like something President Xi Jinping says, they won’t tweet a nuclear threat at him. With Trump, these kinds of things can’t as easily be taken for granted.
Americans cannot risk being careless with Trump by dismissing him as mere spectacle, assuming he’ll be more moderate once the primaries are over, or hoping that separation of powers will impede his more authoritarian desires. The man is the distillation of mankind’s nastiest tendencies and neuroses. His movement is the most dangerous in American politics, embracing violence, intimidation, and blame of nonwhites as solutions to our problems. In November we must show that we are better than this petty, vindictive, wannabe tyrant.