One of the most curious aspects of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is the way his supporters defend him. From televised surrogates to people on the street, there is a tendency to dismiss the most outlandish things Trump says as mere showmanship and to insist of his most bigoted and authoritarian proposals that he doesn’t really mean them. This is the opposite of most politicians. Usually it’s cause for concern that a candidate won’t meet his promises; in Trump’s case it’s supposed to be reassuring.
It isn’t. Nothing about the candidacy, policy proposals, personality, or tenor of the campaign of Donald J. Trump is reassuring. He is the only candidate in history to get the benefit of the doubt – that who he will be in office is better than who he is on the campaign trail. Far from expecting a toned-down Trump in the Oval Office, there is every reason to believe he will be much worse once elected.
After he won the Republican primary, commentators guessed Trump would adopt a more presidential tone. He proceeded to feud with the parents of a dead soldier and a former beauty pageant winner, dog-whistle about assassinating Hillary Clinton, allege the entire electoral process was rigged against him, suggest he might refuse to accept the election’s outcome, and encourage supporters to monitor polling places. Already this has led to harassment of early voters, with white nationalist, pro-Trump groups pledging to suppress turnout on Election Day.
Trump’s willingness to work outside a broken political system is usually seen as an asset. But refusing to accept election results and transforming supporters into a personal goon squad is not a workaround; it’s a fundamental undermining of the nation’s most basic democratic principles. Trump’s hysterical reaction to Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss gives us a hint of the reaction we can expect if he loses: “We should have a revolution in this country!” and “We should march on Washington and stop this travesty.”
But as dangerous as Trump can be even in defeat, and for as much damage as he’s done already, there’s no telling how bad things can get under his presidency. His entire campaign – not to mention his personal life – has been an exercise in getting away with everything. He has called on the military to commit war crimes, used the rankest bigotry to rally support, encouraged violence at his rallies, and praised foreign despots, all without suffering any consequences. He even recovered from his “grab them by the pussy” remark.
There is no denying Trump’s racism. He launched his presidential campaign by disparaging Mexicans as rapists and criminals. His real estate career is marred by discrimination against black tenants. One of the pillars of his campaign is a ban on Muslim immigration. He uses innuendo and outright lies to stoke fear of Syrian refugees, saying they are “pouring into our great country” and “we don’t know what they’re planning.” In reality, refugees are rigorously vetted. Trump has threatened to deport the 12,000 of them already here.
For survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants, such aggressive bigotry has frightening similarities to the Third Reich. Trump’s rhetoric has already inspired hate crimes and bullying. He hasn’t publicly called for genocide, but neither did Hitler. Reporting on Hitler before World War II, journalists said, “This guy is a clown. He’s like a caricature of himself,” and “Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so violent or genuine as it sounded.”
Such reports sound eerily similar to the press’s assessment of Trump. Hitler promised to purify Germany and blamed Jews and immigrants for its problems. Trump has campaigned explicitly on the fear white Americans have of immigration and of having their heartland altered by Muslims. For those concerned about how far Trump might go, the fact that he kept a book of Hitler’s speeches on his nightstand and brags of his superior German genetic makeup is little consolation.
Even if Trump is just an unserious boob using racism as a political tool, his advisors – the people who would likely be making the decisions in a Trump presidency – are a deeply troubling cabal of far-right operators. Many of them come straight from the world of conservative media, including longtime FOX News chief Roger Ailes. Stephen Bannon is the CEO of Trump’s campaign and the founder of Breitbart, the flagship webzine of the alt-right that serves as an online home for America’s ultra-nationalist, racist right-wing.
Michael Savage, on whose show Trump regularly appears, rails against immigrants, Muslims, homosexuals and liberals with the most seething venom in talk radio. His nationalist refrain is “borders, language, culture.” In August Savage said President Trump should “rule by decree” and, if necessary, violate civil rights in a crusade against the “radical left-wing fringe controlling this country.” This must have been music to the ears of wannabe dictator Trump, who tells supporters that he alone can solve America’s problems.
Like so many authoritarians, Trump has declared war on the press and the entire First Amendment. He promised to “open up” libel laws so he can sue over negative coverage. At rallies, he points to the press pit and calls the reporters and cameramen dishonest scum. He has explicitly incited violence against protesters and has zero tolerance for any opinion that doesn’t match his sense of his own magnificence.
Never has a presidential candidate whined so incessantly about unfair press treatment while receiving every break imaginable. In the short window between the election and the inauguration, Trump was to appear in court twice – once to defend his university from fraud charges and the other to defend himself against allegations that he raped a 13-year-old girl. But while the word “email” alone can dominate coverage of Clinton, no mention is made of Trump’s scandals.
Trump University is essentially an open-and-shut case of fraud. Trump deceived poor people into spending thousands of dollars on a worthless degree. He claimed to hand-pick the best business experts in the world as professors, then hired pushy salesmen who only tried to push more expensive degrees on students. When states started looking into it he bribed the attorneys general, including Pam Bondi in Florida. On November 28, Trump will have to answer to fraud charges in California.
The rape charge has been dropped for a third time and the victim has so far remained anonymous – due, allegedly, to threats from Trump supporters. But her allegation is that Trump – along with Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted pedophile whom Trump praised as a “terrific guy” – raped her and threatened to kill her if she told. With Trump on tape bragging about committing sexual assault, ogling teen pageant contestants, and flirting with girls as young as 10, it’s an uncomfortably plausible accusation.
When women accused Trump of precisely the behavior he’s on record bragging about, he promised to sue them after the election. This must make Trump the first man ever to pledge to use presidential powers to settle personal scores. His extreme vindictiveness and need to lash out at opponents on Twitter led campaign leaders to take over his account, keeping it from him like an out-of-control child.
That vindictiveness makes Trump especially dangerous when it’s factored in with his war criminal mentality. For Trump, the biggest problems with our Middle East policy is that we should steal the oil and commit more war crimes. As president, Trump would order the military to torture “even if it doesn’t work” and intentionally murder civilians. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said if such an illegal or immoral order came down, a commander “should and would resign, because we couldn’t follow it.”
Trump has suggested he would fire much of the current military leadership and claims to “know more about ISIS than the generals do.” But his embarrassing lack of knowledge can’t help but be revealed, even by those trying to help him. Conservative radio host and Trump supporter Hugh Hewitt has thrice unintentionally embarrassed the candidate. On Hewitt’s show, Trump confused the Kurds with the Quds, insisted that President Obama literally founded ISIS, and admitted he didn’t know the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah.
Hewitt further embarrassed Trump at a Republican primary debate. When asked about the nuclear triad – submarines, planes and ICBMs, the three systems that make up our nuclear weapons program – Trump’s answer made it clear he had no idea what the term meant. At a briefing by top military brass on the subject, Trump reportedly asked three times why the U.S. couldn’t use nuclear weapons and was inattentive throughout.
That short attention span is one of the most common elements from reports within Trump’s campaign. Roger Ailes supposedly resigned over Trump’s inability to focus during debate preparations. Reports from within the campaign of Trump’s personality are almost uniform in describing an unthoughtful, insecure, petty man. From bragging about his dick size to putting his name in huge lettering anywhere he can, Trump’s entire public persona is an exercise in overcompensation.
Plenty has been written about how disastrous his presidency could be. A Clinton presidency would present challenges and dangers of its own, but they would be in keeping with decades of political motion. Trump represents America’s first serious flirtation with a racist, nationalistic strongman of the kind that has seduced a people and then nearly destroyed civilization in the past. But he also represents an opportunity to reject that poisonous philosophy. We can make America great by demonstrating that we’re better than Donald Trump.