Down in the dark where the demons live, Donald Trump surely knows he’s DOA. So he figures that what the heck, he might as well do his best to exhibit his very worst.
And during the second presidential debate, he did. Because nothing is worse than behaving like an aspiring dictator of a banana republic. Nothing is worse than stalking a stage and soiling our democracy.
Democracy is about continuity. The winning candidate salutes the losing candidate, vice versa, and life goes on. In a democracy, the winning candidate doesn’t celebrate by putting the losing candidate in jail. That’s not what happens in America. That’s what happens in authoritarian backwaters in Africa and Latin America. That’s the kind of thing that happens in North Korea and Russia, where Vladimir Putin’s political opponents have a habit of involuntarily exiting public life.
But last night, Trump went full thug. He said that if he wins, he’ll sic a special prosecutor on Hillary Clinton and lock her away. And when Clinton said, “it’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law of our country,” he shot back: “Because you’d be in jail.”
Presumably, we have not become so numb to his demagoguery that we cannot recognize the clear and present danger he poses to our democratic values.
Not surprisingly, his latest debate performance was studded with lowlights. He said that his audiotaped boasting of sexual assault was just “locker room talk,” but I can attest, from personal experience, that locker-room guys pushing 60 don’t talk about assaulting women. They mostly whine that attractive women treat them like they’re invisible. By the way, Trump also declared that “nobody has more respect for women than I do ” – which is rich, coming from a guy who loved to barge into the beauty queens’ dressing rooms so he could see them naked – because, in his words, he could “sort of get away with things like that.”
Let’s see, what else … He said that Clinton has “tremendous hate in her heart,” which is what the shrinks call psychological projection, the need to defend oneself against one’s worst unconscious impulses. He also made all kinds of excuses for Putin, which figures. He also denied that he sent a late-night tweet asking us to “check out sex tape” of a former beauty queen — “no, there wasn’t ‘check out a sex tape'” — lying about the very thing we all read with our own eyes. He also tried to recycle Bill Clinton sex allegations, somehow forgetting (or not realizing) that when the Republican Congress litigated that stuff in 1998, the GOP lost House and Senate seats, and Bill wound up more popular than ever in the polls.
Let’s see, what else … When a Muslim-American asked Trump, “How will you help people like me deal with the consequences of being labeled as a threat to the country?” he replied that Muslims should stop abetting terrorism. For instance, “In San Bernardino, many people saw the bombs all over the apartment of the two people that killed 14 and wounded many, many people.” Therefore, “Muslims have to report the problems when they see them.” There’s no evidence whatsoever that Muslims in San Bernardino saw “bombs all over the apartment” and refused to report it. This guy doesn’t know how to stop lying. (And I doubt the Muslim-American was satisfied with his answer.)
Let’s see, what else … He stonewalled yet again about his tax returns and his income taxes. (Anderson Cooper: “Can you say how many years you have avoided paying personal federal income taxes?” Trump: “No.”) And he’s not even in sync with his running mate about whether to get tough with Russia. When Trump was told that Mike Pence wants to meet Russian provocations with American strength, he replied: “He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree.” (Um … Your running mate said that stuff about Russia five nights earlier, tough stuff that contradicts your soft stance, and you didn’t speak to him in all that time?)
But of all the lowlights (and there were more), his banana republic thuggery ranked highest. Ari Fleischer, who served as George W. Bush’s press secretary, and who is no fan of Hillary Clinton, said last night: “Winning candidates don’t threaten to put opponents in jail. Presidents don’t threaten prosecution of individuals. Trump is wrong.”
Trump is worse than wrong. He aspires to be Putin’s Mini-Me, to be a tinpot dictator like Juan Peron. He has no respect for the peaceful transition of power — in part because he is ruled by his vile temperament and his vengeful impulses; in part because he has never spent a day in public service, appointive or elective, and therefore has no clue about the responsible exercise of power.
He goes on national TV, in a debate watched by tens of millions of Americans, and threatens a politically-motived prosecution as if it were normal. Shame on us if we take this as normal.
I doubt we will. Most of what Trump said and did last night will be applauded by his wingnut peanut gallery, which has a bottomless thirst for his serial lies and demagogic drivel. He has a lock on 35 to 40 percent of the electorate — that’s his floor — but his debate performance won’t raise his ceiling. There simply aren’t enough acolytes to comprise a winning majority. Based on what he said and did last night, will tens of millions of new voters suddenly flock to him? Nah. Will he miraculously erase his dire poll deficit? Nah. Will the dozens of Republican lawmakers who dumped him this weekend suddenly change their minds? Nah. And now they’re on record demanding that he quit the race.
Imagine that: A month away from election day, and the nominee of a major party is under siege to quit. Never seen that one before. But hey, I’m glad he’s defiant. For the sake of the democratic values we revere, the best scenario is for this fatally-wounded wildebeest to lumber wildly across the land, bleeding from his wherevers, to the bitter end.