If Hillary Clinton wins, at some point tonight she’ll deliver a victory in which she’ll speak the words “Donald Trump” or “my opponent,” quiet the brief eruption of boos, then read the words she and her aides have carefully crafted for that moment. She will be gracious and kind, congratulating him on running a spirited and improbable campaign, and asking for his help and the help of all his voters to move the country toward our shared goals of peace and prosperity.
Like the loser’s good wishes to the victor, this is an important part of the election night ritual, because it gives order to the process and reminds us that whatever venom might have passed between the two sides, it was all part of a rational system to which we share a commitment. If the winner was anything less than magnanimous, it would strike us as not just crass but a violation of the rules of the process.
So Clinton will be kind to Trump, because at this stage it’s the right thing to do and because she has little choice. The rest of us have no such obligation.
No, what is required of us now and in the future is just the opposite. If Trump loses, we must ensure that his name and the presidential campaign he ran echo through American history as a dark and distressing tale, a case study in the power of hate, our vulnerability to demagoguery, and the limitations of democracy itself.
And as for the man himself? Every day he walks this earth he should be shunned and shamed.
Some might protest that I’m being unkind. Can’t we leave Trump to his personal anguish and move on? Isn’t it enough that the man will have become the one thing he worked his whole life to avoid being: a loser?
No, it is not enough, not nearly. Because if we allow it, time will soften our memories of who he was and what he did. And that will make us no less vulnerable to some future version of Trump who might actually win. So we have to keep reminding ourselves of how rancid his presidential campaign was, how it was an assault on everything we want politics and politicians to be, no matter our ideology.
Space precludes me from listing all of the despicable things Trump has said and done during this campaign; your own beliefs and priorities will dictate which one you found most appalling. Was it when he called immigrants rapists and criminals? When he got in a fight with a Gold Star family? When he encouraged his crowds to “knock the hell” out of protesters? When he said an (American-born) judge in his fraud case couldn’t be objective because “He’s a Mexican”? When he used his Twitter account to pass on racist memes authored by white supremacists? When he said he’d order the U.S. military to commit war crimes? When he made up nicknames for his primary opponents like a ten-year-old schoolyard bully? When he mocked a reporter’s disability? When he proposed a religious test for entering the United States? When he threatened to sue the dozen different women who had publicly accused him of groping them? When he told his supporters to go to “certain areas” in cities to harass non-white voters? When he used anti-Semitic tropes to warn of an international conspiracy of bankers plotting against him? When he promised to jail his opponent if he won?
Or maybe what most sickened you about Trump was his incessant and shameless lying, or the long list of scams he ran to separate struggling people from their money, or his repugnant misogyny, or his obsession with getting revenge on anyone who criticizes him, or his record of stiffing small businesspeople who did work for him, or the way every neo-Nazi and Klansman seems to have rallied to his cause, or simply, to sum it all up, the fact that he has displayed a positively epic combination of repellent personality traits without evidence of a single human virtue to be found.
Whatever matters most to you, the fact is that never has a presidential candidate worked so hard to win the ignominy in which Trump ought to spend the rest of his days. When this campaign started he was a buffoon, a joke, a character out of a satirical novel, a bizarre manifestation of every dysfunctional tendency in our politics and our media. But that was because we didn’t really know him, despite his having been a celebrity for three decades.
Now we do know him. Donald Trump must be understood, not only by us but also by our children and every subsequent generation, as one of the great villains of our age. He appealed directly to the worst people, and to the worst in people. He was an apostle of hatred, resentment, and fear. He told his supporters to nurture all the ugliness in their hearts, then put it proudly on display for all to see. He treated our democracy like it was one of the gold-plated toilets in the vulgar temples he builds as monuments to his own twisted ego.
So we must give him what he so richly deserves. The name Trump should from this day forward be synonymous with everything we teach our children not to become, everything we argue against and condemn and despise, everything we want to eradicate in American public life. If we make that happen, then we will have begun to make up for the national shame we should feel for letting this malignant pustule of a human being get so close to becoming the most powerful person on earth. It may not be enough to redeem this awful campaign, but it’ll be a start.