Each day, we hear support and rationalizations from Donald Trump’s surrogates and various fellow Republicans concerning his extreme, impulsive, and threatening conduct and speech. What does it say, however, when Trump repeatedly claims that the election is rigged due to “widespread” voter fraud and then refuses to say if he will accept the results if he loses? Yet, he offers no solid evidence, instead forming his own reality. What does it mean when reporters, correspondents, and political writers have been receiving and chronicling unprecedented levels of death threats from Trump supporters and right-wing extremists, and some have had to employ police escorts and bodyguards? What does it portend when Trump’s campaign has inspired followers to wear T-shirts full of foul and violent language and rallies in which they chant “Lock her up!” in unison for many, many minutes, demanding that the government jail his opponent?
It means, primarily, that the United States is facing one of the most consequential presidential elections in the country’s history. Make no mistake that the very rule of law and constitutional functioning of the United States federal republic are at stake.
The third presidential debate of Trump versus Democrat Hillary Clinton on Wednesday night, Oct. 19, encapsulated so much of what is troubling about the Republican candidate and about his campaign. He again displayed a disregard for the truth, as when he said he didn’t know Vladimir Putin, which PolitiFact has rated false (a “Full Flop“) given his prior statements. Most disturbing, Trump made clear that his own ego comes above the peaceful transition of governmental power: He refused to say he would accept the election results, and instead told moderator Chris Wallace, “I will keep you in suspense, OK?” This is a response suitable for a TV reality show, but it’s an irresponsible, perilous stance for a presidential candidate in a democratic election. His statements in questioning the bedrock principles and the integrity of the election have reverberated across the country. Historians noted that Trump’s contentions in advance of an election may well be unprecedented, according to the Washington Post.
Mindfulwalker.com joins many publications nationwide in urging the sound defeat of Trump and the election of Hillary Clinton as the 45th U.S. president. With Trump, this country risks having an extremely ill-suited, xenophobic, misogynistic, authoritarian, and damaged person assume the highest office of the land, with the power of the presidency and the nuclear codes in his control.
No wonder many, many citizens feel more frightened and distressed at this prospect than they have felt about any major party presidential candidate during their lifetimes. I know I do. This election season has been painful, and in many ways, a blight upon U.S. electoral politics. Why haven’t more Republican officials rejected their party’s candidate? The Clinton campaign has been far from blameless in the disheartening level of dialogue at times. To be sure, many voters feel legitimate concerns about incomes that aren’t keeping pace and the displacement that has come from an economy that has lost manufacturing jobs while gaining jobs in services.
Yet even with some reservations and concerns, I wholeheartedly endorse Clinton as someone well-qualified and worthy of support to become the next president. On the other hand, the idea of Trump as president is alarming. That Trump has gotten this far – to become the presidential nominee of a major party – and that so many Americans (including a sizable number of GOP officeholders) still see fit to back him are as disturbing as his actions.
This is a seminal moment: Even if Trump goes down to defeat and Clinton becomes president, what then? Beyond an endorsement of Clinton, here are some key bottom lines of this disturbing election season and what they signal to the nation and world.
The concerns and polarized attitudes have been enflamed for months, and in some ways years. Still, they became even more intense after the Washington Post on Oct. 7 released a video clip of Trump conversing on a hot mic, captured prior to a 2005 Access Hollywood taping, which showed him bragging to show host Billy Bush about sexually predatory actions toward women. In the two weeks since then, major media outlets have published the accounts of 10 women who have alleged Trump had engaged in unwanted sexual advances toward them. Trump has countered that the women have all made up the allegations.
Two speeches on Thursday, Oct.13 reflected the vastly different views of this issue and of this election. First Lady Michelle Obama delivered a speech as morally and emotionally powerful as any in a generation. Her speech resonated with many, from its opening minutes when she talked of her response to hearing what Trump said on the video: “And I have to tell you that I can’t stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted.”
Michelle Obama’s speech was moving and on-target, dismissing any portrayals of Trump’s and Bush’s conversation as simply “locker-room talk”; terming the lewd conversation as “disgraceful” and “intolerable”; calling out its violence and disrespect; and saying that the men she knows do not treat women this way. “If all of this is painful to us as grown women, what do you think this is doing to our children?” the First Lady said. “What messages are our little girls hearing about who they should look like, how they should act? What lessons are they learning about their value as professionals, as human beings, about their dreams and aspirations?”
First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech in Manchester, N.H., on Oct. 13
During that same afternoon, Trump gave a rage-filled rant of a speech in West Palm Beach, Fla., full of paranoia and alleging a broad conspiracy against him, which he maintains includes the media, the Clinton campaign, international bankers, and the political establishment. Reporters, Trump said, have been collaborating directly with the Clinton campaign to “help her win.” Trump told the gathering that the political establishment “will allow radical Islamic terrorists to enter the country by the thousands.” Trump went on to call the women’s allegations of sexually aggressive behavior fabrications – “pure fiction” and “outright lies.” Seen in juxtaposition, these two speeches put in bold relief some of the deep divide that tears at the United States.
Trump has built upon his reality TV show celebrity and a strong cult of personality that has taken advantage of and fueled divisiveness and hate. He has often used code words and stereotypes, e.g., “international bankers” are part of a global conspiracy; African Americans, in the main, are poor and uneducated; many Mexicans are “rapists.” In doing so, he has tapped long-simmering resentments and shown little regard for possible consequences. Trump is dangerous, in temperament and unpredictability, in a stunning lack of knowledge and preparation, and in a flagrant disregard for constitutional process and rights. This doesn’t matter to his committed base of supporters, and such genie-out-of-the-bottle forces aren’t going back in magically on Election Day.
Trump’s campaign and rallies have personified this unleashing of vile, treacherous attitudes toward some groups. A New York Times video recorded the vitriol and various shouted epithets from months of Trump gatherings. At a recent Trump rally in Northeastern Pennsylvania, a supporter, accompanied by his wife and children, wore a T-shirt containing caricatures of Hillary Clinton and Trump, and labeling her with a profanity: “She’s a C—, Vote Trump!” Meanwhile, allegations have surfaced that some Democratic Party operatives were seeking to incite disruptions at Trump gatherings. What kind of message is all of this to children?
Trump has established a campaign whose foundation has normalized scapegoating of “the other,” denigrating and criticizing many individuals and groups, including immigrants, women, Latinos, Muslims, and prisoners of war. Trump’s political rise, one must not forget, came out of carrying on the insidious and failed birtherism effort for years attempting to prove that Barack Obama, the first African-American president, wasn’t born in the United States. This ultimately sought to vilify someone he castigated as “the other.”
Trump has consistently displayed a lack of impulse control, particularly when he has felt that he is cornered or slighted. From the beginning of his campaign, he has engaged in name-calling and ridicule, through his Twitter account and at his rallies. However, this behavior, too, hasn’t appeared to dent the loyalty of his core followers. In fact, they often express an admiration for his ability, in their words, “to tell it like it is.” In turn, Trump has played off the crowd and doubled-down on his outrageous statements and falsehoods, when fact-checking outlets have shown the statements aren’t factual or are exaggerations.
During this campaign, many publications and media entities have deserved enormous credit in the face of a poisonous, hostile atmosphere in which they’re trying to do their jobs. Trump and his top surrogates bear direct responsibility for the reprehensible situation. Trump’s sense of an evil “other” has been unleashed especially at the media, whom he claims is part of a cohesive conspiracy to defeat him and elect his opponent.
This ferocious, ramped-up, and day-to-day disparagement of the press has created a difficult climate for journalists during the campaign. Reporters, editors, writers, and bloggers have cited many instances of receiving death threats through social media, phone calls, and other means. On Twitter, some have shared threats they received that included images of Nazi gas chambers.
One group tracked an incredible level of anti-Semitic language targeting journalists via Twitter, between August, 2015 and July, 2016. At least 800 journalists received anti-Semitic tweets, according to a newly released study of the 2016 campaign that the Anti-Defamation League’s Task Force on Harassment and Journalism performed. The top 10 most targeted journalists, all Jewish, received 83 percent of the tweets, the study revealed. In all, using keyword combinations the ADL designed to track this harassment, the task force found there were 2.6 million tweets containing language frequently found in anti-Semitic speech. Evidence showed that a considerable number of the anti-Semitic tweets originated with people identifying themselves as Trump supporters, conservatives, or “extreme right-wing elements,” the task force said.
While journalists know that death threats are, unfortunately, a part of the business, the types of threats they’ve received have been singularly unsettling. After The Arizona Republic endorsed a Democrat for the first time in its 125-year history rather than Republican Trump, the publisher, Mi-Ai Parrish, wrote a principled essay in response to terrible threats and menacing treatment that the publication and its people had gotten. In an interview with NPR, she described how the newspaper’s employees – including editorial staffers, financial and advertising personnel, and youths who are a part of the Republic’s door-to-door crew – received death threats and vicious taunts that they would be subjected to dog attacks or have boiling water poured over them. In some cases, they were spat upon.
In this distressing atmosphere, Trump has upped the ante, recently taking aim more and more at the election process itself. As his poll numbers have declined, particularly in key battleground states, and Clinton’s have increased, Trump has sought to delegitimize the voting process, repeatedly asserting at his rallies that this is a “rigged election.” Claiming that widespread voter fraud exists, he has encouraged his crowds to go to certain polling places on Election Day to watch others, particularly in “corrupt cities.” His claims are unfounded, and they’ve stoked tensions, caused fears about voter intimidation, and set off alarm bells that disorder may occur on or after Election Day.
In this uncharted terrain, voting will culminate on Nov. 8, to select the 45th President of the United States. If current polling is on target and nothing changes it dramatically, Hillary Clinton looks to be on a path to win and become the first women president of the U.S. If this election has been grueling, governing a polarized nation is likely to be even more difficult. Among those whom a new president will seek to lead will be thousands of citizens who have called for Clinton to be jailed and a hostile, emboldened alt-right media that traffics in bias and division.
The newly elected president and Congress will need to break through the horrible logjam of obstruction that has dogged the federal government in recent years. The voices of moderation, compromise, and reason in our politics have too often lost out to the extremes. Trump’s loss, should it occur, would represent a collective will that rejects him, his virulent politics, and his irrational, unfit personality. Yet many surely will still feel loyal to Trump.
Moreover, the wounds the country has sustained during this 2016 campaign, and the real concerns and frustrations of many who voted for him as well as the bigoted attitudes of others, won’t simply vanish. Considering the spectrum of what the 2016 campaign has revealed, the nation has much work and healing to do. One hopes that this can start on Election Day.