WE’VE SAID it before, but it bears repeating, and with emphasis: The stakes are higher than usual, much higher, in next Tuesday’s election. At issue is not simply the future of federal legislation on health care, taxes and many other policy matters, important as they are. Rather, the pivotal question this November is whether the American electorate will reward a campaign based on divisiveness and dishonesty.
The president of the United States, campaigning on behalf of the Republican Party, is, in effect, betting heavily that voters can be swayed by appeals to their worst instincts: anger, hatred and fear. Contrary to the practice of all previous recent occupants of his office — including those who might have dabbled in similar politics but, at least, employed euphemisms and intermediaries — he has delivered this divisive message in his own voice from his own bully pulpit.
Characterizing a caravan of Central American migrants moving through Mexico toward the United States as “an invasion,” President Trump has stood in the White House and suggested gunfire would be the right response to migrants if they should throw stones — at the American soldiers he has made into political props by ordering them to patrol the southern border. And on his own Twitter account, the president has posted a video ad that depicts a Mexican who murdered two U.S. policemen while in the country illegally and that claims “Democrats let him into our country. Democrats let him stay.”
This ad’s message would be inflammatory and repugnant even if it were strictly true, which it is not. At least one of the man’s illegal re-entries to this country took place after the Democratic administration of President Bill Clinton had deported him in 1997. And it would be inappropriate even if it were not being pitched to voters just days after an anti-Semitic madman had massacred 11 innocent Jewish worshipers in Pittsburgh which, in turn, followed a series of bomb threats against leading Democrats by a Florida man who festooned his van with pro-Trump stickers and posters.
Mr. Trump thus seeks not to soothe a troubled populace but to exploit its anxiety. It certainly is a bold gambit. His first goal, albeit unstated, is to finalize his capture of the Republican Party by showing that his incendiary brand of politics works. Conversely, his second, and broader objective, is to demonstrate that his opponents’ insistence upon more decent political discourse does not work.
That is where the voters, and their sense of integrity, come in. They have an opportunity to reject those politicians who support, or even countenance, Mr. Trump’s deeply cynical campaign. They have an opportunity to reward those — of either party — who stand up against it.