It is supreme irony that Donald Trump’s campaign slogan is “Make America Great Again!” because his candidacy is surely making our nation worse, much worse.
Nearly every week, he commits some new outrage against truth and decency. This travesty has gone on long enough. Voters have to put a stop to it, and that starts by acknowledging the uncomfortable truth:
Trump is an accomplished demagogue and a clear and present danger to American democracy.
He kicked off his campaign in June by spouting hate against Mexican Americans, and has since moved on to denigrate or stereotype women, Muslims, the disabled and Jewish Americans. He cares not a whit if he’s found out in a lie – like his pernicious claim that “thousands” of Arabs in New Jersey cheered as the twin towers crumbled on Sept. 11. He’ll keep telling it, if he thinks it will win him support.
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Whatever the final fate of his candidacy, he has already done real damage. He’s a bully who has lowered the bar so far for what is acceptable in presidential politics that recovering will be long and difficult. Other Republican contenders are saying ridiculous, hateful things that in any other campaign would be condemned, but they sound almost reasonable by comparison.
Most troubling is that no matter what Trump says or does, his poll numbers don’t drop. He’s still the Republican front-runner.
True, his backers are only a minority of the Republican Party and an even smaller slice of the overall electorate. But millions of Americans are cheering him on. Either they don’t realize what a Trump presidency would really mean, or that’s what they actually want. Which is scarier?
Trying to explain his popularity, the pundits say Trump is not a normal politician. They’re right: A typical politician might have some regard for facts, or perhaps even feel some shame.
All the evidence is that neither trait is in Trump’s DNA – and that makes him all the more threatening. He crosses lines that responsible leaders won’t go anywhere near, and revels in the criticism that follows. He offers little more than bluster and vague promises, and divides his world into “amazing” supporters and “stupid” critics.
This isn’t about holding Trump to a standard of political correctness. It’s about holding him to a standard of honesty and civility that we should expect of one another, much less a presidential candidate. It’s about holding him as accountable as every other serious contender.
In the early months of his candidacy, many people believed that Trump’s entertainment value would wear off, that his campaign would be canceled like a bad reality show. Many dismissed Trump as a buffoon who would self-destruct, sooner rather than later.
Despite his many offenses, his candidacy has not imploded. It’s possible that people will come to their senses when voting begins in Iowa and New Hampshire early next year. Then again, if he doesn’t get the GOP nomination, he may run as an independent.
We underestimate Trump at our peril. He is a master of 21st-century media, yet he must be seen through the prism of American history. He is the latest in a long line of thuggish public figures who incited hatred and sowed division.
During the Great Depression, there was Father Charles Coughlin, the first to use the power of radio to promote bigotry. During the Cold War, there was Sen. Joe McCarthy, who recklessly smeared loyal Americans as Communists. During the 1960s civil rights movement, a racist Gov. George Wallace stood as a symbol of segregation.
It took too long for America to reject these voices, for responsible leaders to step up. How long will it take with Trump? The next Republican debate is set for Dec. 15. Will any candidate have the courage to take on Trump far more directly, to call him what he is?
These are uncertain times. Terrorists are killing innocents. We just had another mass shooting, with 14 dead in San Bernardino. Too many Americans aren’t sharing in the economic recovery. It’s understandable why people are afraid and might be drawn to the simple solutions offered by a huckster like Trump.
But these times demand a leader who can unite the nation and call forth our highest ideals.
Donald Trump demonstrates every day he is not that leader. No matter how many lies he gets away with, he cannot escape that essential truth.