At this point there are no words left. Or maybe there are just two: paranoid, and dangerous.
Per Donald Trump’s latest stump screed, the election is rigged and everyone’s plotting against him: The New York Times, the broadcast media, Carlos Slim, his microphone, Anderson Cooper, Megyn Kelly, the debate moderators, SNL, the women who accused him of sexual misconduct, the Republican party establishment, the FBI, the State Department, the Department of Justice, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and the entire Clinton Machine, which has conspired with international bankers with whom Hillary meets in secret to “plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends, and her donors.”
Quite an enemies list. Nixon would be envious. Although the use of this tactic is no coincidence. This is page one from the Roger Ailes playbook, who was a confidant of the impeached president.
The poor little rich boy is having a meltdown because voters won’t anoint him president and hand him the power he thinks he deserves, so he needs to deflect blame by claiming his enemies are all crooks and liars. And he’s the Christ figure taking their “slings and arrows” on behalf of his people. All that’s missing is the crown of thorns, as opposed to that comic windswept corn silk confection on his head.
But as he casts himself as the noble, virtuous hero, he simultaneously threatens Hillary with prosecution and jail, as if he had the power to investigate, prosecute, and incarcerate, all in his tiny little hands. He leads chants of “lock her up” as a cynical Hail Mary to demonize an opponent he can’t defeat. His incendiary language is reaching a level of fever pitch that his more unhinged acolytes are hearing as a call to arms, like the supporter who told a Wall Street Journal reporter that if she gets into power “Hillary Clinton will need to be taken out.” He added, “if I have to be a patriot, I will.” Or the woman at the Pence rally who called for revolution if Hillary won.
This isn’t just political passion. It’s the direct result of Trump’s deranged rhetoric. There was a time he was more dumb than dangerous. He’s now become more dangerous than dumb, whipping up voters by spreading the conspiracy theory that the election is rigged, and that he and his followers are patriots who need to save the country.
When you break down reality into a Manichean struggle between good and evil, and make not-so-veiled references to the Second Amendment, you are re-framing violence as a holy act. This is a psychological tactic employed by those who incite terrorism. In our outrage over these attacks, this is often the point we miss. People committing violence think they’re striking a blow for righteousness against an enemy that is pure evil, which is how Trump painted his opponent. He’s actually called her “the Devil.”
And if his words incited some unbalanced mind to action, he would, of course, express fake regret and absolve himself from blame. That’s where he diverges with terrorists. They proudly take credit for their actions. He’s a chickenhawk who talks tough, then fakes innocence and avoids blame. He brags about shooting people but has never been to war. He rails about bombing ISIS and killing their families but has never had the responsibility of actually issuing the order.
Unless you’re inside his head — and frankly, who wants to spend more time there than we already have — it’s hard to know what’s driving him. Either Trump is so dumb that he’s just absorbed the entirety of the alt-right worldview. Or he’s so childish and damaged that his frail ego can’t cope with losing.
But how dark do you have to be to ride hate to power? How cynical do you have to be to play off people’s desperation? How narcissistic do you have to be to make it all about yourself? How much disdain do you have to have for people to manipulate them with lies? How twisted do you have to be to incite violence at rallies? How morally bankrupt do you have to be to think it’s just about you winning at any cost
In a sane world, Trump might have eventually disintegrated like Bogart’s Captain Queeg at the end of The Caine Mutiny, where his paranoid ravings lead to a pathetic, sad moment of clarity, in which he comes to the realization that he’d lost his moral center and cracked. But we’re not in a sane world. And Trump will never have that moment, because that would require a level of self-awareness, and an inner decency that he doesn’t seem to possess.
Whether this election turns out to be close, or becomes the blowout it’s shaping up to be, at least according to the demographics, it won’t be the result of any conspiracies, but of a deeply damaged candidate, who should never even be close to actual power.
Perhaps his endgame is just pre-game, and he’s laying the groundwork for the Trump News Network — We Incite, You React. Whatever it is, he’s going to play this out to the bitter end by dragging the country into the dark netherworld of his own twisted psyche. He’s obviously apathetic about the fact that he’s not only debasing the political process, a process one would think couldn’t be debased any further, but he’s demeaning the presidency, itself.
But as with all such dark moments in our history, there’s something in the American character, or maybe just in human nature, that makes us desire a return to normalcy and decency. No matter how deep into the muck we sink, no matter how cynical we get about the process, we never fall out of love with our ideals, and they’ve proven strong enough in the past to rebound from these psychotic episodes, whether it’s McCarthyism, or Trumpism.
The only remaining question is the level of raw anger, and the potential violence he’s left in his wake.