I’m calling on Republicans to repudiate Donald Trump.
Before I explain why, here is a quick note to regular readers: I realise that this post may not be popular with everyone who reads this blog. You come to my site for writing advice and reading recommendations, not for my political opinions.
Plus, I’m not American. Who cares what some British intellectual thinks about the Republican Primary?
On the other hand, I live and work in the U.S. And I intend to seek citizenship as soon as I legally can. And I’m close to many people, here in Appalachia, who I imagine are planning to vote for Trump, and what I write in this post, if they read it, may well hurt and upset them.
And while this is a blog about writing, “writing” becomes a meaningless activity if it refuses to talk about politics, about social change, about the physical concerns of the real world. There’s little value practicing “technique” if that technique is never put to good use.
Trump’s campaign is really frightening. There is a level of violence and hate, spread by Trump and the people closest to him, that should be unacceptable in the politics of the world’s richest and most developed country.
This should not be a matter of debate. The incitement, and practice, of physical violence — towards immigrants, women, Muslims, members of the press, demonstrators and protesters — it should be something that every American public figure (anyone with any kind of voice or platform) should be willing, even eager, to renounce.
Now, I am a left-winger, politically speaking, but this is not about left or right. I imagine that to many people, my political views would seem stupid and misguided. And that’s fine. That’s what elections are for, to see which views are most popular, and to punish politicians who lose the public’s support.
But this isn’t about policies. Trump is purposefully encouraging his supporters to commit acts of violence. See this compilation of such moments in his speeches, starting around the 3:30 minute mark:
What are such speeches like to attend? Here is how one (perhaps rather innocent) observer described it:
The point is, we thought that we were in for a time of jokes and hilarity. And at the beginning, it was… Trump was about to come out. We had our signs ready. We were going to go all out. Yelling and screaming and whatnot. Because, why else were we there if not to join the spectacle?… For the first twenty to thirty minutes I sat there with high expectations of hilarity. After half an hour, my feelings turned extremely grim. I was scared and upset.
Everyone was just filled with so much hatred. If a protester had a sign, even the peaceful ones, they would take the sign from them, rip it up, and throw it back at the protesters. Whenever a protester would get removed, the crowd would yell horrible things. Once, after a protester was removed, Trump said, “Where are these people coming from? Who are they?” A lady, sitting not 5 feet from me, said, “Well hopefully when you’re president, you’ll get rid of em all!” Get rid of them? Get rid of anyone who opposes Trump? It was sickening. I felt truly nauseous. And these people loved the protesters. They loved the drama and the chaos. And Trump fed upon it.
Reporters have commented how likeable and warm attendees at Trump events seem, at first.
This is just what a demagogue does.
If ever you’ve been to a really great speech or reading, you know how powerful it can be. You laugh at jokes you might not normally find funny, you agree with things that you hadn’t even considered before. We humans are social animals, and we have strong impulses to follow a leader, follow a crowd.
As a working writer myself, I’ve had what I imagine are tiny flashes of this capacity, the sense, when I’m standing at the podium, and a reading is going really well, that the whole audience is hushed, anticipating what I’ll say next. There’s a kind of telepathic link between you and your audience — knowing, ahead of time, how they will react to the next joke, the next twist.
I imagine a skilled politician experiences a gigantic version of that power.
Trump has turned out to be skilled at reaching for something very ugly in white America’s spirit, and at coaxing it into greater and greater life. We shouldn’t be surprised that such a thing is possible, because history books are full of such figures and the fervent crowds that follow them. Historically speaking, it’s nothing remarkable or special.
We just need to call it out when it happens, and stop it.
I agree with Marco Rubio:
“This is not about political correctness. This is about rules of civility and the way a society talks to each other.”
Rubio suggested he’s considering backing off his pledge to support the Republican nominee if Trump wins the nomination.
“It’s getting harder every day to justify that statement to myself, to my children, to my family, and to the people that support me,” Rubio said. “This country deserves better. At some point, people have to wake up here. This is really going to do damage to America.”
One might think that as Trump moved closer to winning the Republican nomination, he would discard his racist, violent rhetoric. After all, as his supporters often argue, maybe you can’t take what Trump says seriously. He’s just saying wild things to get attention, we’re told, to show us he won’t back down in the face of pressure. The extreme talk is just a strategy, a ploy.
Unfortunately, the reverse seems to be true. Although Trump has less and less need to rile up Republican primary voters, he has only become more aggressive, more violent:
Sunday morning, in the context of what he knew to be a growing controversy about violent behavior on the part of his supporters, Trump tweeted what can really only be interpreted as a threat to send goons to beat up Bernie Sanders supporters.
He then followed this up by suggesting that he would use the resources at his disposal to help his supporters obtain immunity from legal consequence for violent acts they undertook on his behalf.
This, as Matthew Yglesias says, is not a good sign.
Putting a leader who would condone violence against the supporters of his political opponents in charge of the federal law enforcement apparatus is frightening. Giving him the power to unilaterally issue pardons is terrifying.
Trump’s rhetoric, and the constant media coverage he generates, is already having an effect on American children.
Jon Michaud of Maplewood, N.J., who is white and whose wife is Dominican, wrote on Facebook about a conversation he had with one of his two sons: “So if Donald Trump becomes president, he’s going to bring racism back,” he said his 8-year-old had told him. “That means Marcus, Mommy and I will be separated from you because we have darker skin than you do, right?”
Speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday, Cokie Roberts put the question to the candidate himself. “There’ve been incidents of white children pointing to their darker-skinned classmates and saying, ‘You’ll be deported when Donald Trump is president,’ ” she said. “There’ve been incidents of white kids at basketball games holding up signs to teams which have Hispanic kids on them, saying, ‘We’re going to build a wall to keep you out.’ ”
There are so many other examples to mention. There’s the way that black visitors to Trump rallies are now simply being forbidden entry, on the assumption they are protestors. There’s his mockery of people with disabilities, of women.
And there’s the fact that his actual policies make no sense at all. His tax policies, for instance, are so unrealistic, and so generous to the wealthy, they make the unrealistic plans of Rubio and Cruz seemed sober and egalitarian. Or that he has changed his stance on the H1-B visa at least three times — a visa that many people’s lives and families depend upon.
But here’s one more moment, one that maybe seems trivial. It’s a small incident, and maybe seems irrelevant when compared to the crushing fear that non-white, non-Christian Americans must already feel. It’s about his steaks.
Trump steaks: that’s when I became even more afraid.
A host of Donald Trump-branded products, including Trump Steaks, Trump Water, and Trump Wine, made cameo appearances at the businessman’s victory speech Tuesday night in Jupiter, Florida.
Trump flaunted the products as a rebuttal to 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who last week condemned Trump’s presidential bid and criticized some of his failed business ventures.
As a British person living in the United States, one thing I’ve noticed is how deferential most U.S. journalists are to their politicians. Politicians are generally allowed to answer questions in whatever manner they choose. It’s rare to see an on-screen roasting: politicians are in charge, the custom goes, and the journalist doesn’t want to offend them.
So, when Trump felt he needed to defend his business record, to show how great his Trump Steak business was, he brought out a pile of steaks. He encouraged the audience to fact-check him. He even offered samples to the watching journalists. He suggested these steaks cost fifty dollars apiece.
But the steaks, on display on TV, weren’t Trump Steaks at all: Trump’s steak business is long dead. The steaks weren’t even made up to look like Trump’s: they had another brand’s label on them! The packaging said “Bush Brothers.” Trump had nothing to do with them, yet his campaign couldn’t even be bothered to remove the labels.
In other words, Trump knew that mainstream journalists wouldn’t protest, in the live moment, that they were props in a flimsy con. He clearly has a genius for finding the weak spots in systems, in cultural norms. He is clever at exploiting not just voters’ tendency to conflate certainty with honesty, but with finding weak places in the customs and norms of America’s political system.
That’s why the system needs to oppose him. Specifically, the Republican part of the system.
It’s not good enough for opponents of Trump to trust that Hillary or Sanders will beat him in an election. It’s not good enough to trust that, according to the polls, Trump probably won’t win a presidential race.
Even before he loses, people are going to be killed by his rhetoric.
So, first of all, we should not try to obscure this reality by worrying about the tone the protesters are striking:
… it’s not like the activists are trying to stamp out just extreme speech. The Trump movement has already proven that it’s ready to use physical violence to enact its code of white nationalism. In no uncertain terms, the black, Muslim and Latino activists who are putting their bodies on the line in places like Chicago are acting in self-defense.
Jews always say in response to the Holocaust, “Never again.” Well, this activism is the living embodiment of that slogan. And if we liberals really believe in those two words, we should quit joking about moving to Canada and put our bodies on the line to protest Trump, too.
But there’s only so much, right now, that liberals can do. It should not only be the black and brown protesters at Trump rallies, people who are vulnerable to physical harm and police power, who are required to make a stand.
The people who can do the most damage to Trump’s platform are the people in charge of the Republican party. They need to step up and defend American society.
I don’t really care how they do it.
Whether that means a contested convention, launching Mitt Romney as a non-Trump third-party candidate, waging a “stay home in 2016” campaign, or simply — by changing the rules — disqualifying Trump from running as the Republican nominee, I don’t exactly mind. It’s their choice.
This isn’t about preventing Trump from running for President — that’s his right. It’s about preventing him from running with the aid of one of America’s main political parties.
Because right now, there is a younger version of Trump, a would-be Trump, someone who is learning how weak the Republican party is to hostile takeovers. That younger Trump is taking careful notes, and even if this time, the Donald ends up losing to Hillary or Bernie, his loss won’t change the next demagogue’s plans.
The point is: Republicans, if they care about their society, and, indeed, about their party’s longterm survival, need to take the lead.
I know this is a frightening prospect to Republican elites. They don’t want Hillary to win. They definitely don’t want, if Trump wins, to be personally shut out of his administration. They have mortgages and child care costs, and they need jobs just like the rest of us. But that fear isn’t excuse enough.
The rest of us have rent to pay, and credit card bills to handle. The rest of us are struggling, doing the best we can. Far more vulnerable people than the leaders of the Republican party have risked their physical safety to protest against Trump’s campaign.
It’s time for non-Trump Republicans to do their share.
Here is conservative columnist Ross Douthat, making the same argument:
Denying him the nomination would indeed be an ugly exercise, one that would weaken or crush the party’s general election chances, and leave the G.O.P. with a long hard climb back up to unity and health.
But if that exercise is painful, it’s also the correct path to choose. A man so transparently unfit for office should not be placed before the American people as a candidate for president under any kind of imprimatur save his own. And there is no point in even having a party apparatus, no point in all those chairmen and state conventions and delegate rosters, if they cannot be mobilized to prevent 35 percent of the Republican primary electorate from imposing a Trump nomination on the party.