AS THE 2016 presidential campaign draws to a close, Donald Trump is airing commercials that present him as a change agent who will shake up Washington. Not a mainstream politician, exactly, but nothing to be afraid of, either. This appeal seems to be having some success, as Mr. Trump pulls even with his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, in some national polls and surpasses her in likely voters’ judgment on who is more trustworthy.
Ultimately, though, this appeal can succeed only if voters succumb to last-minute distractions and ignore or forget Mr. Trump’s record. Allow us to offer a few reminders.
“If I decide to run for office, I’ll produce my tax returns, absolutely.”
This lie is emblematic, for two reasons. First, Mr. Trump’s refusal to release his returns is an unprecedented sign of contempt for voters; every major-party nominee of the modern era has respected this basic norm of transparency.
Second, this early lie presaged a campaign built on lies. Mr. Trump went on to deceive about almost everything else: whether American Muslims celebrated the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, whether he opposed the invasion of Iraq, whether he mocked a disabled reporter, whether his tax plan would benefit him, whether accusations from women he groped have been debunked, and so on and on and endlessly on.
Most politicians are caught in falsehoods from time to time. Mr. Trump revels in them, and when caught simply repeats the lie, more loudly. Similarly, he trades in conspiracy theories that he must know to be false, the more lurid the better: that President Obama was born in Kenya, that Vincent Foster and Antonin Scalia were murdered, that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.
The campaign even lies about his initial lie, denying that Mr. Trump ever promised to release his returns.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. . . . They’re sending people who have lots of problems. . . . They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
These were Mr. Trump’s words when he declared his candidacy in June 2015, and divisiveness remains the foundation of his appeal. In the United States of America most of us aspire to live in, we are each judged as individuals. Mr. Trump judges by group: Muslims are untrustworthy, women are weak or treacherous, the disabled are to be mocked, Jews are tough negotiators, African Americans are living lives of desperation, Mexicans are rapists — and their American offspring are unfit to serve as federal judges.
“You’d be in jail.”
American democracy survives the passions and animus stirred up every four years because its leaders always have accepted this rule: The loser acknowledges the winner, and the winner leaves the loser in peace. Mr. Trump disavows both sides of that time-tested formula.
Perhaps it is not surprising that Mr. Trump would be so cavalier about a Constitution that he apparently has never read. In fact, he has no understanding of the difference between an elected president of a republic and a dictator. “I alone can fix it,” he proclaimed at the Republican National Convention.
He vowed to “open up” the libel laws so that as president he could sue publications that criticized him, though press freedom is protected by the First Amendment and subsequent Supreme Court rulings. When he heard that a wealthy Chicago family was donating to a primary opponent, Mr. Trump tweeted, “They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!”
With the powers of the IRS and the National Security Agency, what might such a man do?
“I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
Mr. Trump’s celebration of torture provides one answer to that question. His vow to kill the innocent relatives of suspected terrorists offers another. A commander in chief in the U.S. system has vast powers, often beyond the reach of Congress or the courts to check. Mr. Trump could in fact order the CIA to resume waterboarding suspects — and worse — to the immense discredit of the country.
“I’ve always felt fine about Putin. I think he’s a strong leader, he’s a powerful leader.”
In keeping with his disrespect for democracy at home, Mr. Trump consistently expresses admiration for the vilest dictators abroad. The fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin has invaded neighboring countries and dismantled democratic institutions inside Russia does not trouble Mr. Trump. He can be counted on to end the American tradition of supporting liberty and human rights where they are under assault. When MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough pointed out that Mr. Putin kills journalists who try to report on the Russian regime, Mr. Trump responded, “Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also.”
“I’d like to punch him in the face, I tell ya.”
Throughout history, a characteristic of strongmen who subvert democracy has been a romance with violence. As his campaign gathered strength early this year, Mr. Trump waxed nostalgic for “the old days” when a protester would have been “carried out on a stretcher.” And he did not limit his dark musings to protesters; speaking of Ms. Clinton, he appeared to invite assassination attempts. “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Mr. Trump said in August. “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”
“When you’re a star, they let you do it.”
After The Post published a videotape of Mr. Trump bragging that he forces himself on women, including by grabbing their genitals, the candidate denied actually engaging in such behavior. The boast was disgusting enough, but many women soon came forward to testify that he is indeed a sexual predator. He responded by mocking the women for being unattractive.
“Make America great again.”
It is mystifying that so many Republicans, after criticizing Mr. Obama for eight years for showing insufficient pride in the United States, would attach themselves to someone who has such contempt for the country, its institutions and its values. U.S. generals have been “reduced to rubble,” the U.S. Army cannot fight, U.S. cities are “hell,” U.S. wealth has been “stripped” away by global interests, the electoral system is “one big, ugly lie.” To each of these disasters, Mr. Trump offers phony solutions (Mexico will pay to build a wall) or none at all. He has neither the interest nor the capacity to suggest actual policies.
We believe, as we have said, that Ms. Clinton is well-prepared to serve as president. But even voters who disagree — who believe that Ms. Clinton is unqualified or ethically distasteful — cannot realistically argue that she represents a danger to the republic.
Mr. Trump is such a danger. Only by forgetting or ignoring what he has told us could Americans decide otherwise.