Monday, October 17, 2016

Three columnists look beyond the lascivious Trump to his fundamental danger to democracy.

Three columnists across the political spectrum, from the New York Times' liberal Timothy Egan, to the Washington Post's conservative Charles Krauthammer, with the Washington Post's Fareed Zakaria somewhere in the middle but close to the liberal end -- these diverse three all share their concern with the lasting effect of the Donald Trump candidacy on our democracy, our country, and our people.

Timothy Egan says that Trump "has made America vile," daily ripping at "the last remaining threads of decency holding this nation together. His opponent is the devil, [Trump] says — hate her with all your heart. Forget about the rule of law. Lock her up!"

Egan continues, "Now in the final days of a horrid campaign, an unshackled Trump is more national threat than punch line. He’s determined to cause lasting damage. . . .  Civility, always a tenuous thing, cannot be quickly restored in a society that has learned to hate in public, at full throttle."

Look at Trump's lesson for young minds, Egan says.  ". . . young athletes chanting 'build a wall' at Latino kids on the other side. He’s made it O.K. to bully and fat-shame."   By his example, he's made it O.K. to assault women, to not pay taxes, to lie, to flirt with treason, to stiff people who work for you, to mock the disabled, veterans, and families of war heroes.  

But Egan also sees hope in the young people.  A group of students at Liberty University confronted their own president Jerry Falwell, Jr. -- who continues to support Trump even now, as do some other evangelical leaders  -- calling on Falwell "to practice what the school preaches," and saying that Trump is “actively promoting the very things that we Christians ought to oppose.”

And Egan concludes that "It will take many people like those students, and like the first lady, Michelle Obama, a model of decency and class, to repair the awful damage Trump has done."

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I disagree with Charles Krauthammer more often than I agree, but this is one time we agree.   He calls it odd that Trump's campaign crashed because of a sex-talk tape, which should have surprised no one.  In fact, he says, Trump offers "a dazzling array of other reasons for disqualification: habitual mendacity, pathological narcissism, profound ignorance and an astonishing dearth of basic human empathy."

Added to those, in the second debate, Krauthammer says, was Trump's "threat, if elected, to put Hillary Clinton in jail.  After appointing a special prosecutor, of course. The niceties must be observed. First, a fair trial, then a proper hanging."  In his rallies since then, Trump has joined the crowd's cries of "Lock her up," with his own cry, “Lock her up is right. . . .  She has to go to jail.”

Krauthammer says that "Such incendiary talk is an affront to elementary democratic decency. . . .  In democracies, the electoral process is a subtle and elaborate substitute for combat, . . . [but it] only works if there is mutual agreement to accept . . . the legitimacy of the result."   But Trump keeps claiming that the system is rigged, and his ardent followers say that the only way for him to lose is if the election is stolen from him.   They simply do not believe the polls.   They're rigged too.

Krauthammer adds that "Vladimir Putin, Hugo Ch├ívez and a cavalcade of two-bit caudillos lock up their opponents. American leaders don’t . . . [or] even talk like this.  It takes decades, centuries, to develop ingrained norms of political restraint and self-control. But they can be undone in short order by a demagogue feeding a vengeful populism" . . . .

"In America, we don’t persecute political opponents. . . .  What makes Trump’s promise to lock her up all the more alarming is that it’s not an isolated incident. This is not the first time he’s insinuated using the powers of the presidency against political enemies."  He then cites threats to use presidential power against journalists who oppose him, and the media in general, making it easier for public figures to sue for libel.  He has also hinted that he would use various agencies of government to punish those who oppose him.

Krauthammer concludes:  "This election is not just about placing the nuclear codes in Trump’s hands. It’s also about handing him the instruments of civilian coercion, such as the IRS, the FBI, the FCC, the SEC. Think of what he could do to enforce the 'fairness' he demands. Imagine giving over the vast power of the modern state to a man who says in advance that he will punish his critics and jail his opponent."  [Let me repeat:   Krauthammer is a Republican, although an anti-Trump one.]

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Fareed Zakaria, also writing in the Washington Post, makes the unsurprising prediction that Donald Trump is losing and that the Republican party is dying.   "It will be messy," Zakaria says:  "Trump has now made it clear that he will not go gently into the night.  In fact, he has declared war on the GOP establishment. His goal is surely to take over the Republican Party and remake it into a populist, protectionist, nationalist party, the kind that his Breitbart-oriented advisers have been dreaming about for years."

Zakaria sees Speaker Paul Ryan as leading the more serious conservative intellectuals, "who will try to restore the party to its Reaganesque ideology;  and VP running mate Mike Pence leading the Christian conservatives, who will try to bridge the divides and "keep everyone in a big tent."   But it's Trump "who has — for now, at least — the crowds, the energy and a powerful message."

 "Trump will lose the election. . . .  But Trump will not sit in loyal opposition to Clinton. He tells his legions that the election will be rigged. He says that the media are lying and that reporting cannot be believed. He warns that the country will be utterly destroyed if Clinton wins. He is fueling a toxic movement of protest and insurgency.  Trump will lose.   And he will destroy the Republican Party.   The frightening question is what he will do to the country in the process."

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Only a short time ago, I was looking forward to November 9th, when this would "all be over."    How naive.  This election -- with all its messiness and outrageousness -- is about who we are as Americans and what kind of nation we want to be.   Fundamental to any other values and ideals, however, is the basic one of free elections of our leaders by the people.   If you sew doubt on that, as Donald Trump's propaganda is doing right now, and if the opposition party does not accept the results of an election and the legitimacy of our government, then our democracy begins to unravel.   Already we hear people at Trump's rallies calling for revolution if he is not elected.  It brings to mind this quotation attributed to Benjamin Franklin.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Franklin was asked as he left Independence Hall on the final day:   "Well, Doctor, what have we -- a Republic or a Monarchy?"   To which Franklin replied:   "A Republic, if you can keep it."

". . . if you can keep it" seems a more serious uncertainty than at any time I can remember.   Our work to "keep it," is not going to be finished on November 8th.


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