Michelle Obama said on September 16, “The presidency doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are. The same thing is true of a presidential campaign.” Donald Trump demonstrated the truth of this the same day.
Without explanation or apology, Trump dropped his birther lie against President Obama, and told two more lies: that Hillary Clinton started birtherism, and that he had ended it in 2011. He angered the media in the process by playing them to promote his luxury hotel.
Trump’s heavy-handedness may finally end the false equivalence with which the media have portrayed the major party nominees. The thin case against Hillary (her email server, decades of GOP smears, her every cough being treated like an operatic death scene) pales beside Trump’s nonstop lies and provocations, as his dealmaking pales beside her public service.
Trump’s botched pivot away from birtherism did not dispel the nativist bigots he has riled up, who would sooner pull down our republic than accept the full enfranchisement of women and people of color. Friday evening, repeating his lie that Clinton wants to disarm all Americans, he said of her Secret Service detail, “Take their guns away” and “Let’s see what happens to her.” The previous weekend, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin threatened bloodshed if Clinton wins. These men who talk about terrorists should look in a mirror.
Who made Trump the arbiter of a candidate’s legitimacy? His slanders and fabrications assume a privilege of passing judgment that disproportionately targets minorities and women. The outrage of African Americans at his attacks on Obama is well expressed by my friend Robert Naylor Jr., a leadership and diversity consultant:
“What Mr. Trump has shown during and prior to his campaign is much worse than dog-whistle politics. It’s part of a long-standing, deep-seated effort to denigrate and delegitimize African Americans who don’t fit negative racial stereotypes and who rise to positions of prominence and authority. This underbelly of racism that still exists in our country suggests that African Americans can only achieve through the benevolence of whites, reduced standards, special treatment, cheating, or some combination of those things. One thing I often say to young African American men is that nothing frightens and agitates the racists more than an educated, intelligent, sophisticated black man.”
It is hard to observe Trump’s selfishness, recklessness, meanness, compulsive lying, murky foreign ties, and ignorant blather about grave matters without wondering how otherwise decent people can support him. It only makes sense as a destructive impulse borne of bitterness and resentment. Instead of uplift, he offers boasting and bile.
It’s not just on him. The zeal with which Republicans pursue voting restrictions and revile even the mildest gun regulations suggests abandonment of the social compact that makes our diverse people a nation. Fear and ignorance function as a wrecking ball.
The reality-challenged assassins encouraged by Trump’s call to disarm Clinton’s security detail would be shooting at a cartoon villain, just as Cleveland officer Timothy Loehmann was shooting at a stereotype when he killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014.
Too often white Americans act grievously wounded when criticized, while we take discrimination against others in stride. We are too much like Molière’s Imaginary Invalid for people convinced of our national greatness, hyperventilating over any suggestion that America’s original sin lives on in other guises a hundred fifty years after the Civil War. Thus we deny the white supremacist mindset hiding in plain sight in “stand your ground” and voter ID laws. We tout our Enlightenment values while looking away as our neighbors denounce a planned mosque or harass a woman wearing hijab.
We will discover on November 8 if we have degraded into a silly people swayed by empty promises and brazen ignorance. This summer was the hottest on record; when Trump dismisses climate change as a Chinese hoax, he appeals to our decadence. Any greatness we inherited came from facing challenges, not avoiding them.
Electing a president whom Colin Powell calls “an international pariah” might please those who like nothing better than “sticking it” to friends and enemies alike. Shall America model itself on Trump by being pathologically thin-skinned, stiffing our creditors, and evading responsibility? With such a leader, who needs enemies?
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2016 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.