Naively, I always thought that even Donald Trump would stop short of actually inciting violence. I mean, he’s the president of the United States. Imagine being the president: waking up in the White House, going to work in the Oval Office, being surrounded by all those portraits, all that history, all that grandeur. This, Mr. President, is where Lincoln wrote his second inaugural address. This, sir, is where Franklin Roosevelt wrote the declaration of war on Japan. And on and on.
It would humble a normal person. Impose a certain dignity on you. But to Trump, none of it means anything. It’s not about him, so it’s useless to him. History means nothing to him, and the future means even less. Presidents—all presidents, even ones I didn’t like—think about the office, the future implications of their actions, the future of our institutions.
Not Trump. He sits in the White House, which belongs to the people of the United States, and tweets out poison with no thought about any of this. I remember during the Lewinsky scandal, conservatives used to scream about how Bill Clinton sullied “our house.” Are you kidding me? Using the White House as a love nest is almost cute compared to how Trump soils the place on an hourly basis.
And after that looting/shooting tweet, it’s obvious that he will do and say literally anything to advance himself. Anything. He sort of half-apologized for that one, but he’s been tweeting more calls for violence, supposedly to restore order, ever since. The big worry I’ve had in the back of my mind since Trump took over the GOP back in 2016 and we started seeing those rallies is that Trump would literally raise a private army. Many of his fervent backers own guns, and sometimes stockpiles of them. All it would take is a suggestion from Trump, in that on-the-one-hand-on-the-other noncommittal way of his: “I don’t know, if the police can’t handle it, maybe armed citizens should form their own patrols. Maybe they shouldn’t. But maybe they should, who knows? Thank you!”
That would be fascism, plain and simple. I used to think, or hope anyway, that Trump wouldn’t encourage that. And maybe he won’t. But after this past week, can anyone be confident that he wouldn’t?
He’ll spend the campaign vomiting out lies about how the “Democrat” Party is going to steal the election. He’ll spew out racist lies about voter fraud. Fox News will find one example of some small thing that they can make look suspicious and dishonestly blow into a scandal. Armed posses in black neighborhoods on Election Day—not an impossibility at all. The whole country will become 1950s Mississippi, if that’s what Trump thinks he needs to win.
And then if he loses, imagine what might happen. I shudder to think, and I don’t even have to spell it out. I know this is all hypothetical, and I don’t want to sound alarmist, but at the same time, being alarmist is less dangerous than being naive. We better think about these things. Trump is out of control. He’s capable of anything.
He is so morally unfit to be president. He’s morally unfit to be anything. If he were president of a bank, he’d have been fired ages ago. School principal—fired. Partner of a law firm—fired. Hell, chief mechanic at an auto body shop, head of a plumbing business, chief custodian at an office building—fired. Any human being with any measure of professional responsibility spitting out that many lies, that much hate, that much open racism, would be fired from his job, and it wouldn’t even be a close call.
And yet, the president of the effing United States, the most important job in the country, in the world, keeps his job. Why is this? Because only two groups of people can fire him. One is Congress. Well, we tried that, and we know how that worked out. Trump obviously tried to shake down Ukraine and invite foreign interference in the election. Republicans didn’t care.
No—it was even worse than not caring. They celebrated it, most of them. They loved it. My old friend Frank Wilkinson of Bloomberg tweeted over the weekend: “All but one GOP Senator voted to keep a sick, vicious, morally degenerate thug in the White House. They could have had Mike Pence. This is what they want.”
This is what they want. I wonder what they’d say if we could ask them whether they really think Trump is morally fit for office. Of course, we can’t ask them, because by and large they only go on Fox, where they won’t be asked, and for the time being there aren’t any reporters on Capitol Hill. The ability to hide from the press is not some happy accident, by the way—it’s by design, and it’s one more little bullet in democracy’s heart.
But if we could ask them, and they were being honest, what would they say? You’d have to think most of them would admit, as many do when their name isn’t attached to the quote, that he’s not morally fit for office, in which case they are chickenshit moral cowards who are witting accomplices in letting this country’s democratic institutions be stomped to death by a conscience-less madman. But some of them presumably think Trump is morally fit, in which case they’re fascists at heart, too.
Is it really worth it to them? The judges and the tax cuts, really? For this racist thug, and intellectual idiot and liar and cheater and woman abuser? My friend Hussein Ibish tweeted something jokey about the seven deadly sins over the weekend. It was the first time in years I’d given them any thought. They are greed, gluttony, sloth, wrath, envy, pride, and lust. The president of the United States of America embodies all seven.
And now he is a president who openly incites violence against American citizens. This is worth it, Mitch McConnell? Do you have any shame at all? How bad does it have to get? If it turns out that Trump kills democracy, it’ll be McConnell who handed him the gun.
The other group of people who can fire Trump is us—the voters. A free and fair election used to be a given in this country, once everyone had the right to vote: from about 1968 up through 2016 (asterisk for 2000). Now, because of Trump, and Bill Barr and the Republican Party, an unfair and unfree election is a given. We know Trump will cheat. We know he’ll try to steal it if he doesn’t win. We know he won’t accept a negative result. We assume the GOP will be right there with him. And we must fear, and prepare for, violence, violence that will have been egged on by the president.
Trumps wants mayhem and chaos and high racial tensions because they induce fear, and fear makes people more conservative politically. He wants an electorate trembling in fear and as polarized as he can make it. And it has a chance of working.
But only a chance. He is not George W. Bush after 9/11. Bush, though he and Karl Rove exploited fear of terrorism and he started an immoral war, at least acted like a president is supposed to act and was doing what he genuinely thought was the right thing for the country. Trump only does what’s right for Trump. The boogaloo caucus will love his incitements. But I’m betting swing voters are being turned off by this in a big way. And he’s going to get a lot worse than this.