Since Donald Trump effectively won the Republican Party nomination by winning the New York primary in May, keeping up with every outrageous statement and small lie and Big Lie he utters has become even more difficult.
Instead of becoming “more presidential,” as he and his aides promised then, he’s become more demagogic – so much so that some politicians and pundits have begun to question what’s really going on in that mind of his.
You know things are bad when President Obama bluntly says Trump is “unfit” for the presidency – an unprecedented attack by a sitting president against the nominee of the opposite party – and no leading Republican has challenged that description.
You know things are bad when conservative and liberal pundits alike suggest “options” by that the GOP could take the unprecedented step of abandoning Trump – even while acknowledging that won’t happen.
You know the Republicans are desperate when you have the diehard conservative pundit, Jennifer Rubin, of Washington Post, writing “There is something farcical about Republicans who flacked and vouched for Trump now complaining that he is ‘off message’ and fretting that he needs a ‘reset.’ They are, it seems, still in denial that they are responsible for lifting an unfit, unstable man to the nomination of a once-great party.”
In fact, there really is no question about who has “lifted” Trump to this position: It’s his overwhelmingly White mob of supporters. Nor is there any doubt about why they’ve been drawn to him. They reflect what motivates Trump himself -a toxic mix of racism, sexism and a ferocious need to cruelly dominate others. The examples of this from Trump himself and from his supporters began piling up from the moment he announced his candidacy in June 2015.
The latest documentation comes in a video published August 3 by the New York Times of the language that pervades Trump rallies – language that is, one can say, the soundtrack of the Trump campaign. What you see and hear in the video isn’t the behavior of a political constituency. Instead, it’s behavior so reminiscent of the mobs of Whites that once gathered in places like Little Rock, Ar. and Montgomery and Selma, Ala. and dozens of communities across the South to try their best to murder the activists of the Civil Rights Movement. Watch the video and you see people who’ve shed whatever decency they possessed and are ready to do anything evil.
This is one of Trump’s greatest sins. He and his followers have revived the lynch-mob dynamic in American life.
So, to anyone who’s even slightly followed the Trump campaign this last year, it’s no surprise that Trump has now drawn another gambit from the demagogue’s playbook: the stab-in-the-back charge.
Last week, Trump claimed that the Clinton campaign and the political establishment have “rigged” the campaign debates and the election itself against him. He said they’ve conspired to deliberately schedule the debates opposite National Football League games in order to reduce the number of people watching them – implying this was done to reduce the number of viewers watch him beat Clinton in the debates.
Of course, anyone who thinks Trump could out-debate Clinton is a fool. Again and again, Trump has shown he has a deeply disorganized mind that can barely compose two consecutive sentences that make sense. Moreover, both the National Football League and the bipartisan presidential debate commission, which set the dates of the debates last year, quickly effectively said Trump was lying.
But Donald Trump lives by lies; and the purpose of his lies here is three-fold. First, the charge is “red meat” to the majority of his supporters, who, as has been evident all along, crave a steady diet of callous insults of others, brazen lies, and bizarre conspiracy theories to feed their fantasies of White victimization.
Secondly, Trump needs to avoid debating Clinton for the same reasons he did so in the GOP primary once only he, John Kasich and Ted Cruz were left. He can’t survive a debate focused on substantive domestic or foreign-policy issues.
Finally, Trump has laid down the excuse for a November defeat – via the “stab-in-the-back” charge that demagogues have forever used to undermine electoral processes and election results in other countries throughout history. Trump long ago made clear he’s willing to trash any American institution and American tradition if he can profit from it.
Of all the wrongs Donald Trump and his followers have committed against America’s national character in the past 14 months, one could say this latest attempt to undermine the American democratic tradition may be their most damnable sin.
The operative word, however, is “may” – because the frightening certainty is that neither Trump nor his mob is finished trying to build themselves up by tearing America down.
Lee A. Daniels, a former reporter for The Washington Post and the New York Times, is also a former editor of The National Urban League’s The State of Black America. He is a keynote speaker and author whose books include Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America. He is writing a book on the Obama years and the 2016 election. He can be reached at [email protected]