By Peter Fenn | Contributor USNEWS & WORLD REPORT
Oct. 17, 2016, at 10:45 a.m.
I have had trouble these last couple of weeks writing political columns. Not for a lack of material – there is gobs, really. Not because I don’t feel passionately about the issues and the candidates and the times we are going through – plenty of thoughts on all that.
The reason is pretty simple: The Trump campaign and all that surrounds it is so appalling that I have a serious problem believing that our nation and our politics have come to this.
We have seen some pretty tough words and actions before in American history. As Kathleen Hall Jamieson described in her book “Dirty Politics,” we have witnessed the president of Yale University, Rev. Timothy Dwight, charging that if Thomas Jefferson were to be elected, “we may see our wives and daughters the victims of legal prostitution; soberly dishonored, speciously polluted.” (Not one of Yale’s finest hours!) Harper’s Weekly in September 1864 provided some of the opponent’s descriptions of Abraham Lincoln: “Filthy story-teller, Despot, Liar, Thief, Braggart, Buffoon, Usurper, Monster, Ignoramus Abe, Old Scoundrel, Perjurer, Robber, Swindler, Tyrant….”
Don’t let Donald Trump’s ignorant and insulting campaign become America’s new standard.
In the campaign of 1884, rumors of Grover Cleveland fathering a child out of wedlock led to the chant, “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” which the Democrats countered after his election with, “Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha.” James G. Blaine in that campaign was called “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine the continental liar from the State of Maine.”
We have survived slings and arrows and tough campaigns, and we will survive this one. We have seen the rise and fall of demagogues in America – Father Coughlin in the 1930s who was anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi and who was forced off the radio after initially having 30 million listeners; Joe McCarthy who led a crusade against “Communists in the State Department” until it came crashing down on him in the 1950s; George Wallace who took racism to new heights in the 1960s and 70s.
Donald Trump is of this mold. But he is also the nominee of his party. He is the standard bearer of a new entertainment-infused candidacy that calls into questions not only his own basic values and humanity and competence but the judgment of Republicans who stand beside and behind him. He is also gross. He is disgusting. He is appalling. He is, to use his words, “not nice.” He is so completely out of his element, and as a presidential candidate, that is without precedent. That is why it is so hard to even contemplate the very notion that this man might occupy the White House. It is inconceivable that we would entrust the Oval Office to someone who could wreak such havoc on our country and the world.
Republicans, or most of them, know this. They realize what fury they have wrought. With each passing day of lies about himself and what he did to women, about Hillary Clinton, about insane conspiracy theories, Donald Trump shines more light on his soul. And it isn’t pretty or easy to think about it or write about it. And that is why modern day psychologists are surprised with what his candidacy has done to the national and individual psyches.
There’s a reason he’s descended into conspiracy mongering, but the damage wrought could long outlast him.
So, I try to put this candidacy into the context of history and try to conclude that we have been here before. But we haven’t – not to this extent, not with Twitter and 24/7 cable, not with the vitriol he has created. Not when the man we are dealing with is so close to the presidency. We have never been here before and that is why it is so hard to wrap your head around Donald Trump, this campaign and the extent of his support.
Trump decided over this weekend to double down on the notion that the election is “rigged,” sending his surrogates on the Sunday talk shows to reiterate the Breitbart conspiracy theories. Newt Gingrich talked on ABC about “stolen” elections and urged citizens to act as vigilantes and go into polling stations. Mike Pence charged that there is “monolithic support of the national media for Hillary Clinton’s campaign” on CBS. And, of course, there is the unbelievable Rudy Giuliani who told Jake Tapper Sunday that “dead people generally vote for Democrats.”
This is absurd. It is also becoming more and more of an attack on our democratic system, a fear-mongering attempt to incite citizens to resort to over-turning an election if the outcome is not to their liking. To appeal to his base with such dishonesty and anti-democratic rhetoric and to spend the final weeks of the campaign talking about how it is all “rigged” against him makes Trump the leading candidate for “Celebrity Demagogue.” Let’s hope that show gets canceled on Nov. 8.