Just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, Donald Trump has crossed another line, and it has nothing to do with misogyny and sexual assault. He has moved from nascent demagogue and proto-fascist, to a full-blown enemy of constitutional democracy. He now tells his supporters that the “system is rigged,” and if he loses it means the election will have been “stolen.” This is an explicit and unprecedented repudiation of our democracy and its institutions. He now states that his goal is to demolish the entire political establishment (“replacing a failed and corrupt establishment . . . with a new government”). He admits “our campaign represents a true existential threat like they haven’t seen before.” He threatens, like the worst sort of banana-republic dictator, to jail his opponent upon acquiring power, regardless of her exoneration by established due process. I cannot see how he could possibly take the Presidential oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Like all fascist demagogues, he rejects our laws and institutions, and offers in their place “I alone.”
Up until now, many good people were unable to perceive the real Donald Trump, blinded by their long-time dislike of Hillary and allegiance to the GOP. But the real Donald Trump has now come into focus. As he announced three days ago on Twitter: “It is so nice that the shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to.” I take this statement at face value. The sexual assault video and subsequent allegations finally have freed him from the need to make even a feeble attempt to deal with substantive issues or advance a coherent program. Mr. Trump is now back in his comfort zone, ranting against imagined enemies, spewing unfiltered vitriol, and wallowing in the adulation of rally crowds. His declared enemies now include his own party, pollsters, the financial industry, and the entire journalism profession. Yesterday’s speech was particularly unhinged, with eerie echoes of the 1930s: “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty.” He tells us now that without him we are lost: “This is a struggle for the survival of our nation, believe me. And this will be our last chance to save it on November 8, remember that.” The demagogue as the nation’s last best hope. Classic.
The centerpiece of the Trump campaign is now a “reality” TV story line, where validity is irrelevant, and outrageousness and shock are the only values. The story line is Trump as a victim under vicious assault by a vast conspiracy: “They will attack you, they will slander you, they will seek to destroy your career and your family, they will seek to destroy everything about you, including your reputation. They will lie, lie, lie, and then again they will do worse than that, they will do whatever is necessary.” And of course, the demagogue as martyr for the people: “Nevertheless, I take all of these slings and arrows gladly for you.” At the same time, he remains a winner: “The new, highly respected Rasmussen poll just came out this morning. Just released. Shows up nationally 2 points ahead, Trump. Beautiful.” And the climactic argument: “Vote for Donald Trump. You're going to see something and you'll be so happy. You'll be so thrilled.” Well, in that case . . .
So, as he says, Mr. Trump is now finally free to pursue politics “the way I want to.”
(If you wish to read the whole speech, you can find the transcript at http://www.npr.org/2016/10/13/497857068/transcript-donald-trumps-speech-responding-to-assault-accusations )