Donald Trump’s acceptance speech Thursday night, a deranged Fidel Castro parody of maniacal gaslighting proportions, could not be mistaken for an American president’s. In his bizarro unreality, 180,000 dead and rising is public health. Divisive hate mongering is law and order. Historic unemployment and inequity is strength. Police brutality is a race war. Protests for civil rights are anarchy.
Still he attempted to inject himself into the American tapestry of Lincoln, Jackson, and even Roosevelt, of course making zero correlation between their actions and his own in office. That’s because Trump has employed the only strategy he knows: Fake it til you make—or unmake—it, and these past years have fundamentally unmade America.“I alone can fix it” turned out he alone could kill it. Trump is not, as he dreams, “one of the larger-than-life figures” like his predecessors, “who rallied Americans to bold visions of a bigger and brighter future.” He’s the one who’s divided and literally plagued us into our current misery.
Four years ago, the most alarming aspect of his RNC acceptance speech was the complete void of any historical American inspiration. I asked then: How could a major party presidential candidate not even mention, in passing, respect for the Republic for which we stand, and for that matter, some of his Republican forebearers?
In retrospect, Trump’s conspicuous omission in 2016 should have been a clear indication to voters that this is a man who simply does not see himself in the American cloth. His Birtherism, like his current attacks on Biden’s faith, have confirmed Trump deeply resents and despises who Americans have become as a people.
The American people were better than to believe a murderous caravan of immigrants were going to kill them in 2018, and we. should remember that Trump’s creation was used to justify a massacre against Pittsburgh congregants, just as his incendiary race-baiting inflames the current police and racial tension. Beyond rhetoric, it is Trump’s conduct that makes him the abnormality of our times:
Trump is the first president to use the White House grounds and presidential pardons as props for political theatre.
The first president to “take no responsibility…at all” for American sacrifice.
The first to solicit foreign assistance to hack his U.S. opponents in successive presidential elections.
The first to try to kill the Constitutionally created and protected post office.
The first to intimate repeatedly that he would like to serve as president forever.
The list goes on, and on.
Most Americans realize this “weird shit,” as President Bush remarked about Trump’s inaugural, is no longer fleeting bizarreness. It is the making of an un-American America.
That’s why those seeking to defeat Trumpism have to turn to an opposition playbook outside of the American paradigm. Yes, there has been no dearth of compelling and cathartic anti-Trump ads. But there is also a real concern that voters are increasingly desensitized to the negativity and need to imagine not just overthrowing Trump but what the future will look like without him.
There is a useful anti-authoritarian playbook to employ, tracking the phrase “Vamos a decir que no… la alegría ya viene” (or “We’re going to say no… happiness is coming”). The “No” campaign to oust Augusto Pinochet in the 1988 Chilean national plebiscite models how to expose the monstrous cruelty of an autocratic regime and then project an uplifting image for happier days ahead.
Their successful television ad campaign, documented in the 2012 film No, was a one-two punch. They first decried the inhumanity of the Pinochet regime—the authoritarian rhetoric, the chilling and killing of the opposition, and the body bags —and then beamed the sunny faces free of Pinochet. The compelling ad campaign helped galvanize a record-setting voter registration campaign and a coalescing of opposition leaders, much like Democrats saw this year in Bernie Sanders’ and Elizabeth Warren’s full-throated support for the Biden-Harris ticket.
The Chilean lesson—as the plebiscite successfully unseated the dictator and set the groundwork for a return to liberal democracy—is clear: On the campaign trail, Democrats must remind the American people that Donald Trump, through his governance, has proven to be the most anti- and un-American president in our history. Biden and Harris should not be afraid to reiterate why he is an exception to American democracy: A president impeached for corruption, and whose continued corruption denied our country protection against the virus.
Then they must embody in these closing days of the campaign what exactly American democracy looks like, that would make America once again move toward a more perfect union, and how a vote for them will be a vote to let America be America once again.