The day after President Trump and Joe Biden met for their first debate, no one in the United States is happier than the Proud Boys. But when Trump gave them a hearty shout-out, he also sent a message to wavering Republican and independent voters, particularly those who may like some of what Trump has done but are having trouble with either of their choices in this election.

This is what Trump is saying to them: You can vote for Joe Biden even if you don’t like everything he believes in, or if you have doubts about him. I’ll make this easier for you.

The debate was not quite like the movie climax when the villain rips off his mask and shocks the clueless characters by showing them his true nature. We know Trump’s true nature. But he is making it clear that for the next six weeks, he won’t let anyone forget it, or cast their vote with any delusions.

The debate was a horror show from start to finish, so much so that even many Republicans are expressing their displeasure at Trump’s performance. But nothing was more appalling than this moment, when the question of Trump condemning white supremacists came up:

TRUMP: What do you want to call them? Give me a name, give me a name. Who would you like me to condemn? Who?
CHRIS WALLACE: White supremacists and right-wing militia.
BIDEN: Proud Boys.
TRUMP: Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.

In case you aren’t familiar with them, the Proud Boys are a far-right “Western chauvinist” organization that specializes in xenophobia, anti-Semitism and all manner of other hatreds; their primary mode of political action is showing up heavily armed at protests in an attempt to provoke violence.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, “the Proud Boys bear many of the hallmarks of a gang, and its members have taken part in multiple acts of brutal violence and intimidation.” As the group’s founder once said, “We will kill you. That’s the Proud Boys in a nutshell.”

Within moments of Trump’s comments, the Proud Boys were celebrating their victory online. The president of the United States had given them a virtual thumbs-up and an instruction: Stand by, because you’re going to be needed to “do something.”

They were so pleased that they’re literally putting Trump’s words on T-shirts.

This is hardly the first time Trump has been asked about a fringe group and given them what amounts to an endorsement, whether it’s QAnon or the “very fine people” at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. But doing it in front of the largest audience he’s likely to have in this campaign, as we begin the home stretch of the election, sends a particularly important message.

And that was only one of the appalling things that happened in Tuesday’s debate. Others included Trump attacking Biden’s children and all but promising to promote chaos and confusion during the election’s vote-counting.

For those who are still considering voting for Trump but aren’t quite sure, the truth is unavoidable. Trump is not just the worst of us — corrupt, petty, vindictive, ignorant, dishonest — he also wants to bring out the worst in all of us.

Four years ago, there were plenty of voters who decided that he was worth a shot. Sure, he was rough around the edges, but maybe he’d shake things up in a positive way. Maybe he’d grow into the job, become presidential, reach out to all Americans.

Trump simply will not let anyone believe that anymore. As we get closer to the election, there will be no new tone and no reaching out. He will only become more what he is.

For those wavering voters, Trump’s unadorned awfulness offers a kind of liberation. They don’t have to struggle with cognitive dissonance, or labor to convince themselves that the truth might be something other than what is staring them in the face. Trump will not allow it.

Are you a moderate suburban woman who has voted Republican before? Trump tells you that the reason you should vote for him is to protect your “property values” from nonwhite people. He offers a version of “law and order” based on violence and brutality. He promotes white supremacists.

In other words, he won’t let you vote for him for noble reasons; he only wants your vote for the worst reasons. That’s because, as we all should understand by now, Trump believes that we’re all as despicable as he is.

When he appeals to racism and xenophobia, it’s because he thinks we’re a nation of racists and xenophobes who will respond with cheers. When he says you’d have to be a sucker to pay your taxes, it’s because he thinks we’re all as selfish and unpatriotic as he is. When he undermines the integrity of our elections, it’s because he thinks that like him, we don’t care whether democracy works or even survives.

With each step he descends down into his particular moral sewer, the easier it should be for wavering voters to turn away from him. There will be no shame for them in voting for a Democrat — even if it’s just this once — if it means rejecting what Trump wants them to be. He is offering them permission to vote for Biden. Now all they have to do is accept.

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