In the second presidential debate, Donald Trump loomed behind Hillary Clinton, looking like a two-bit Mafia strong-man, or – dare I state the obvious – a predator. A tall, heavy man, using his physical presence to try to intimidate a much smaller woman. A man who gets off on scaring other human beings, or grabbing their private parts uninvited. It was a deeply unsettling image.
At least as unsettling was his extraordinary, strong man promise that night that, if he were elected president, his political opponent would be in jail. Not that she ought to be tried, but that he, as president, would ensure she was incarcerated.
One would think things couldn’t go downhill from there. It turns out, of course, they can. In debate number three, Trump, aping the dictators whom he so admires, managed to put in jeopardy the entire American democratic project, repeatedly refusing to pledge that he would accept the election result should he lose.
His words are as dangerous as any spoken in American politics since the Civil War. For anyone who knows anything about history knows that it is at the end of such dangerous rhetorical roads, when a man claiming to speak for millions tells those millions not to trust the political process itself, that bloody civil conflicts arise.
Alas, none of this really is a surprise. This election, now – thankfully – drawing to a close, has been a mud-wrestling cacophony of unpleasantness for many months. It’s not, if it ever was, a serious policy discussion anymore; instead, it’s devolved into the crudest, nastiest, and most destructive presidential contest in American political history. It’s become an X-Rated reality TV show, a “political” discussion in which children have to be warned off of listening to the content.
It’s no longer about serious issues such as how the candidates would tackle poverty or global warming, how they would make higher education more affordable for working class Americans, how they would reform the country’s bloated criminal justice system or try to improve the country’s frayed race relations, or negotiate the country’s complex relationships in the Middle East. The energy around these important discussions was sucked out of the process long ago.
Instead of being a genuine clash of policy visions, this election is, overwhelmingly, defined by Trump’s persona: his brutish utterances, his demagogic promises, his increasingly erratic, violent, behavior, his loathsome ability to turn a crowd into a mob, and his recent attacks on the credibility of the electoral process itself. It’s about his puerile sexual boasts and insults, as well as his almost cartoonish plugs for torture and vigilante gun violence. It’s about how much taxes he avoided paying over the years and how. It’s about one cheap publicity stunt after the next – accusing Clinton of taking performance-enhancing drugs before the debates, tweeting middle-of-the-night insults about a former Miss Universe, complete with melodramatic exclamation marks and capitalized words, and so on.
For months now, Trump’s candidacy has represented an existential threat to American democracy – and, given the outlandish influence of the United States on the global stage – to world stability and aspirations of human progress. He has, time and again, shown himself to be frighteningly erratic and thin-skinned – exactly the opposite qualities required in a person with access to the nuclear codes. And he has, time and again, proven himself willing to exploit any and every social, racial and religious divide to his own short-term political ends. His candidacy is utterly banal, a narcissistic ego trip by a shockingly vain and shallow billionaire that threatens to submerge America in violent political strife for years to come.
None of this is meant to say that Hillary Clinton is an ideal candidate; she’s clearly not. But, since the president-elect come November 9 will either be her or Trump, the only sane choice is, over the coming days, to push, and to push hard, for a Clinton presidency. The alternative risks a death spiral for American democracy.
Months ago I wrote in Haaretz that Trump represented a fascist threat to the American political system. Nothing in the months since has altered my view.
When he was riding high, Trump made a spectacle out of humiliating and ridiculing those he deemed “losers.” Now, fervently convinced of his ubermensch qualities, convinced that he was destined for the White House, yet seeing that destiny slip from his grasp, he is willing to bring the pillars of the political system crashing down if he doesn’t get his way.
For the past month, as his poll numbers have cratered, he has muttered darkly about a “rigged” election, a “stolen” election, about a vast international conspiracy against him conducted by the media, liberal policy elites and people with suspiciously foreign-sounding names like “Sidney Blumenthal.” He hasn’t yet pulled out from his jacket pocket a copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but, so bizarre has his recent behavior been, even that wouldn’t surprise me at this point.
A wounded bear in the aftermath of the release of his vulgar sex-talking tape, there’s a Gotterdammerung quality to Trump’s actions these days. And Gotterdammerungs don’t generally end well for anyone.
It’s not possible to turn Trump’s toxic verbal spigot off. But it is possible come Election Day to deliver him a devastating rebuke. Americans of good conscience from coast to coast should use their votes to ensure that Donald J. Trump, Demagogue, not only doesn’t win the election, but gets so politically pummeled that all but his most conspiracy-obsessed die-hard followers will have to concede the validity of the result.
Thoroughly de-clawing the wounded bear at this point, leaving him ranting to an empty room, is the only way this election ends well. Anything else, any ambiguity in the result, would be a catastrophe for American democracy.
Sasha Abramsky is a freelance journalist and author, whose most recent book is The House of Twenty Thousand Books. He is the founder of the Voices of Poverty http://thevoicesofpoverty.org/ project.
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