It’s hard to pinpoint this week’s most disturbing campaign moment.
Perhaps first prize goes to the sociopathic insomniac’s latest batch of tweets. Yup, while most of us were sleeping, Donald Trump attacked the beauty queen – again. He said that “my worst Miss U” was “disgusting” — and worse. The first tweet went out at 3:30 this morning, which should reassure us that this commander-in-chief will be wide awake, working the best thumbs, when he gets that 3 a.m. crisis phone call. Now that’s stamina. He has duh best stamina.
Or perhaps first prize goes to Trump, Newt, and Rudy — the toxic trifecta — for publicly threatening to assail Hillary Clinton for her husband’s past sexual sins. Which is bizarre in the extreme, given the fact that the three serial philanderers have tallied nine wives.
But actually, the week’s most disturbing moment came at the close of Monday night’s presidential debate. I’ll replay the dialogue and annotate:
Holt: One of you will not win this election. So my final question to you tonight, are you willing to accept the outcome as the will of the voters? Secretary Clinton?
Clinton: Well, I support our democracy. And sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But I certainly will support the outcome of this election…
Holt: Mr. Trump, very quickly, same question. Will you accept the outcome as the will of the voters?
Trump: I want to make America great again. We are a nation that is seriously troubled. We’re losing our jobs. People are pouring into our country. The other day, we were deporting 800 people. And perhaps they passed the wrong button, they pressed the wrong button, or perhaps worse than that, it was corruption, but these people that we were going to deport for good reason ended up becoming citizens. Ended up becoming citizens. And it was 800. And now it turns out it might be 1,800, and they don’t even know.
Holt: Will you accept the outcome of the election?
Trump: Look, here’s the story. I want to make America great again. I’m going to be able to do it. I don’t believe Hillary will. The answer is, if she wins, I will absolutely support her.
What’s most disturbing is not that Trump dodged the question by quoting his baseball cap and riffing incoherently about a recent immigration incident; what’s most disturbing is not that Holt needed to pin Trump down in order to get a simple answer to a simple question.
No, what’s most disturbing is that Holt needed to ask that question in the first place.
Until this year, presidential candidates have always stipulated – indeed, taken it as an unspoken article of faith – that our democratic election system is legitimate. But here we have a demagogue who believes that if he loses, it’s only because the election system is “rigged.” In fact, he believes that if he loses pivotal Pennsylvania, it’s only because “certain areas” of the state are rigged. (“Certain areas” is dog-whistle code for “lots of black people voting.”)
The only other politician who’s trying to assault our election system in this manner, trying to sow doubts about its legitimacy, is Vladimir Putin. Our intelligence community knows this. And it would be nice if Trump were half as concerned about Putin as he is about Alicia Machado.
Trump’s Putinesque behavior is what prompted Lester Holt to ask his question. How disturbing it is that he had to.
I want to thank two people:
Uri Friedman – a former political journalism student of mine, now a staff writer at The Atlantic magazine – alerted me to the significance of that debate exchange when I saw him the other day.
And Jennifer Lin – a former colleague of mine at The Philadelphia Inquirer – has contributed the week’s most disturbing memory moment. Once upon a time, when she was an ace financial reporter, she wrote a story that Donald Trump didn’t like. (Actually, it was just the headline; he never read the article.) So he phoned the paper in a rage. And since she was a woman, he critiqued her with a certain word. Jennifer is tall in stature, so I can assure you the word was not runt.
But enough from me. Let her tell it.