Let’s slow down, everyone. Let’s attempt some non-partisan perspective. Whether you consider Donald J. Trump a necessary course-correction or an unnecessary evil, you have to admit: he’s weird. He’s without precedent. He’s changing the system, for better and worse. Let us count the ways. From A to Z.
Now, you’re probably like me. You read articles about Donald Trump, each elaborating on some different reason that he’s qualified, or unqualified, to be President. George Will says he doesn’t respect the Constitution. A former CIA chief questions his national-security priorities. A Pulitzer Prize winner calls Trump racist. But you don’t see all this aggregated, and you didn’t hear any speeches from the Democratic National Convention that made the full case, not even from Hillary Clinton. Even the Harvard Republican Club made a better stab at it.
Such a comprehensive article would be interesting, yet I pose/post here not to bury Donald Trump, but simply to step back, take a breath, and pull together all of the aspects that make Donald Trump the most extraordinary, least precedented major-party candidate of our lifetimes. I pointedly do NOT include things like his anti-abortion, pro-gun stances; we’ve seen all that before. I noticed twenty-six characteristics that we haven’t seen in Presidential politics, and so I present the ABCs of the Unprecedented Unpresidentiality of Trump. Trump’s critics call him unpresidential, but they may not realize that Trump’s most ardent defenders may see that word as a compliment. Both sides should agree that the following A to Z list does NOT include things one could say about John McCain, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Bill or Hillary Clinton, Bob Dole, John Kerry, Al Gore, or George Bush pere or fils.
You ever see one of those old sitcom episodes where our heroine bakes a cake that blows away everyone at the bake sale, but she can never quite remember all the ingredients in the right order to bake it again? That’s a little bit like the situation the Republican Party is in today. The ABCs of Trump should, nay must, attempt to answer a crucially unasked question: if Trump fails, what will the next Trump-like candidate – call him/her Trump 2.0 – look like? If the GOP were to field a candidate that was kind of like Trump – say, Donald Trump, Jr., whose speech wowed the Republican National Convention – could they get all of Trump’s upsides with none of the downsides? Or are the upsides baked in to the downsides? And would it help to spell out the ingredient list?
Let’s switch metaphors. If you google “Donald Trump” and “Frankenstein’s Monster” you’ll find that not a few writers have compared the current Grand Old Party Presidential nominee to Mary Shelley’s famous first figure of modern horror/sci-fi. You’ll find that none of these writers have taken the next logical leap. Shelley’s brute was well-known for having been stitched together from various parts, and we might also see Donald Trump as an oddly powerful patchwork of positions, personality, and personal grievances – a patchwork with almost a coin-flip’s chance of becoming America’s 45th President. So after this is over and Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus go back to their secret laboratory to build a more perfect beast, what parts of the Trump persona will be rejected and which will be preserved? And why haven’t any of our favorite columnists been talking about that?
If Trump loses in November, if Trump “breaks” the Republican Party as many in the insider class are now guessing, the reckoning should be far more atomized than current speculation. Please excuse one more metaphor. Let’s say red cars get pulled over by cops more often than any other kind of car. Is that because their red-loving owners really drive them faster, because cops notice them more, because red is sold more on sports cars than on Volvos, or some fourth reason? If it’s a combination, what’s the decisive factor? And if Trump wins, or spectacularly loses, what was the decisive factor?
This leads me to postulate, half in jest, the Smith-Rowsey Theorem of Trump: for every point that Trump loses the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in November, Trump 2.0 will need to change one of the following 26 aspects. In other words, if Trump loses the popular vote by 5 points, then Trump 2.0 should remove/alter/eschew 5 of these aspects. If Trump loses the popular vote by 12, Trump 2.0 will have to reform 12 of them. You get the picture. The trick will be, as Kenny Rogers once sang, “knowing what to throw away, and knowing what to keep.” (And I hope Donald Trump Jr. is listening.)
Let’s start with the uncontroversial (?) premise that Trump 2.0 will savage the biased media, no matter how much his/her fame may owe to it. Let’s also assume that Trump 2.0 will be avowedly patriotic, with a slogan much like “Make America Great Again.” Let’s further assume that Trump 2.0 will channel what s/he calls “the will of the people” as s/he “tells it like it is.” None of those three aspects make Trump a particularly unusual candidate. And frankly, Democrats probably have their own Trump 2.0 lurking somewhere in their ranks. Read the following carefully, and you’ll note that all but two of these could easily apply to Republicans and Democrats.
Without further ado, here are the ABCs of what makes Trump, the campaign and person, quite unlike anything we’ve ever seen in a major-party candidate for President of these United States of America:
A. Anti-establishment attitude; outsider-osity
Perhaps the keystone to Trump’s electoral-map-scrambling appeal: the establishment has failed you, and Trump won’t. Every time he reminds people that Hillary Clinton is the establishment, he does well; the problems come with other stuff on this list. For more than a century, every major-party Presidential candidate had previously held some kind of elected office, with the exception of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the champion of D-Day, who was heavily courted to run by both parties. No party leaders asked Trump to run for President (indeed, Trump has done perhaps-irreparable damage to the phrase “party leaders”); no true insurgent has ever come this far. So, does his nomination-clinching embolden future anti-establishment outsiders, or would a November loss squelch such a search? In theory, such a person is easy to find; in practice, most of the people on this year’s Republican debate stages, and all of the people on the Democrat debate stages, were current or former elected officials. Still, there are many Ben Carsons and Carly Fiorinas out there, and many more working as anchors at Fox News that might be persuaded.
B. Bible-averse behavior; little respect for religion or Christian ideals
It’s exceedingly rare to have a candidate with this little humility, and a Republican candidate with this little interest in God. Yes, Trump claimed his favorite book is the Bible; he also failed to name a favorite passage, and I’m not counting “Two Corinthians.” He was divorced twice, meaning sacred oaths aren’t sacred to him. But more importantly, in his two dozen appearances on the Howard Stern show and on the campaign trail, he has repeatedly exemplified all seven sins; without a hint of penitence, he regularly demonstrates the sort of behavior we reprimand our kids for. And right, perhaps this is a feature, not a bug; perhaps this is all part of the anti-establishment package. The more pious conservative Ross Douthat dearly hopes not. In any event, it’s hard to believe that a more pious Trump 2.0 would lose any of the votes Trump has now.
C. Constitution-averse conduct; no stated belief in rights, liberties
The right accuses the left of believing in a “living Constitution”; the left accuses the right of believing in a “dead Constitution.” Trump has come as close to utterly ignoring the Constitution as any candidate (including Democrats) I’ve ever seen. His statements about warrantless surveillance make it clear that he laughs at the Fourth Amendment. His statements about Kelo, the case that corporatized eminent domain, make it clear that he laughs at the Fifth Amendment. His statements suggesting banning and intimidating journalists make it clear that he laughs at the First Amendment. His statements about presidential power make it clear that he laughs at the Tenth Amendment. Even his sworn loyalty to the Second Amendment is really only loyalty to the NRA’s 21st-century version of it; before that, case law had more often emphasized two of that amendment’s first three words, “well regulated.” I should allow that Trump believes in “Article Twelve” of the Constitution. Too bad it has only seven. This is why the Republican defense of “think of the Supreme Court Justices!” rings a little hollow. I don’t see how you lose “outsider” votes by knowing the Constitution a little better.
D. Disrespect for decorum; uses playground insults for opponents
Bill Maher has a nice bit about what we used to consider gaffes pre-Trump, including Gore’s sigh, Bush 41 checking a watch, Dole getting mad, Dean’s scream. People ignoring far-worse things from Trump could be seen as a step forward for the Republic; don’t we all need to be a little less sensitive? Certainly, we never before had a candidate that regularly called opponents names like “Low-energy Jeb,” “Lyin’ Ted,” “Little Marco,” and “Crooked Hillary.” If that was where it stopped, we might consider derogatory name-calling part of his refreshing un-PC outsider-ness. But it doesn’t stop there, and Senator Susan Collins was right: “rejecting the conventions of political correctness is different from showing complete disregard for common decency.” Trump lathered on severe insults of people like Megyn Kelly, John McCain, Mike Bloomberg, Khzir Khan, Gonzalo Curiel, and almost anyone prominent who says anything that might be considered critical. The general tenor is like the mob guys sitting around on The Sopranos, and when that becomes literally bragging about penis size on a national stage, that’s a less welcome rupture of precedent. I admit I’m old and old-school; I still think one should respond to the accusation without belittling the accuser (“who said that? Oh well let me tell you about HIM”), but I realize that train long ago left the station. Nonetheless, no previous candidate has had so little regard for any kind of decorum, and so much regard for playground-bully behavior without apologies.
E. Evident opposition to evidence collection, reading, learning
This just seems weird, because even George W. Bush, widely derided as one of our dumbest Presidents, had book-reading contests with Karl Rove. It’s entirely possible that a more literate Trump 2.0 could lose some support from the people Trump meant when he said “I love the poorly educated,” but surely, like Bush and every other Texas Republican, s/he will find some way to mask that. Hillary called Donald’s 75-minute RNC acceptance speech “odd”; the oddest thing was that it was Trump’s first real attempt to marshal evidence (however shaky/cherry-picked) and not simply point to his “winning” polls. Trump’s ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, told the New Yorker he doubted Trump had read an entire book during his adult life. Mark Cuban told Stephen Colbert he supported Trump, but then rescinded his support upon learning that Trump “won’t do homework.” Trump said, when pressed, he learns what he knows from the internet. Most candidates, like people giving TED talks, pepper their speeches with things they’ve read, especially when trying to convince someone of something.
F. Fascism flirtation; promising to expand Presidential power
Many people have disputed that Trump deserves the label fascist. It’s a close call. Try looking at his promises to disregard the Constitution, eschew the Geneva Conventions, and expand Obama’s already-stretched Presidential power to the point of intimidating businesses and journalists. Yet the even more fascist aspect is that his positions change, but he doesn’t, always humorlessly offering himself as the ultimate solution to any problem. (This is one reason Trumpism doesn’t work on the state or local level.) He makes authoritarian-style promises to “get tough” with a wide range of foreign and foreign-seeming actors. Probably Robert Kagan makes the best case here. As Kagan concludes,
What these people do not or will not see is that, once in power, Trump will owe them and their party nothing. He will have ridden to power despite the party, catapulted into the White House by a mass following devoted only to him. By then that following will have grown dramatically. Today, less than 5 percent of eligible voters have voted for Trump. But if he wins the election, his legions will likely comprise a majority of the nation. Imagine the power he would wield then.
G. Global warnings; foreign non-policy
“Global warnings” isn’t a cute pun. At first, Trump offered refreshing changes from foreign-policy orthodoxy, as when he lambasted both parties for the Iraq war, said “we’ve spent $4 trillion and gotten nothing,” and promised to re-negotiate some bad deals. However, his recent figger-wagging warnings have amounted to endangering NATO, Japan and Korea, and emboldening Russia and Saudi Arabia. His warnings on China and Mexico are contradictory and unworkable. He couldn’t seem to manage his fellow RNC speakers on foreign policy (they all called for all anti-terror war, all the time, as though it were still 2003; Trump’s speech asked for peace and restraint, except for ISIS), so why would he be able to manage them, or our allies, in the White House? He confuses Kurds and Quds. He didn’t know Russia had invaded Ukraine (well, he has a long history of a bromance with Putin). Our allies felt more than warned when they heard: “Nuclear weapons? Why don’t we use them?” There’s a reason that no previous candidate has ever before provoked hundreds of national security experts from his own party to inveigh against him. You just don’t see a letter like this every election:
He is unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood. He does not encourage conflicting views. He lacks self-control and acts impetuously. He cannot tolerate personal criticism. He has alarmed our closest allies with his erratic behavior. All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be president and commander in chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
H. Hoax-hating on climate change, calling it a Chinese invention
Don’t get smug liberals! This is one of the two items on this list that couldn’t have come equally from both parties. (The other is item N.) Speaking on the most important existential crisis of our times, the one about which our great-grandchildren will surely judge us, Trump is more extreme than any major-party Presidential candidate, ever. Bush, McCain, and Romney never called climate change a “hoax,” never mind one perpetrated by the People’s Republic of China. Turns out that in 2015, a few days before Trump announced his candidacy, the Senate voted 98-1 “climate change is real and not a hoax.” In other words, every prominent Senate Republican you’ve heard of, including McCain, Rubio, Cruz, Graham, McConnell, have all specifically said climate change is not a hoax. So yeah, Trump is out there, bringing our national discourse on the environment to a new low.
I. Initial independent financing of campaign; almost no organization
They’re calling it the first true Twitter campaign, and you’d love to believe that the path has been cleared for any straight-talking insurgent to challenge the powers-that-be. You’d also like to think that Trump represents a challenge to the post-Citizens United idea that shadowy, unaccountable rich groups will control all our future elections. The problem is that it’s hard to see how most Americans could have self-financed for as long as him, or received quite as much free media. A related way Trump breaks the mold is by having almost no campaign organization to speak of. When Trump makes fun of his main competition, Hillary Clinton, for the hundreds of employees that may have composed any given tweet, and boasts of his lean mean organization (which is that way by necessity), we’re in a place we’ve never been. In a way, that’s heartening; in another way, it’s almost scary.
J. Jejune job creation; endemic economic entropy
Sure, every previous candidate has finessed their economics a little, but at least there was underlying logic that wasn’t off by trillions. Compared to John McCain and Mitt Romney, you could fit Trump’s economic agenda, as expressed at the RNC, on a cocktail napkin, and it’s not entirely clear he didn’t compose it on one. Trump used to talk about jobs for the disenfranchised, but when pressed for specifics he went straight to trickle-down economics. He has absolutely no plan for, and hasn’t even mentioned, the debt or the deficit; where previous candidates wanted to leave less for our grandchildren to pay back, Trump will be leaving them on their own. He hasn’t mentioned entitlement reform. As Ezra Klein well explains, it’s a worst-of-both-worlds: entitlements forever and draconian tax-cuts for the rich. (Kevin Williamson takes comfort only in knowing that Trump lies about everything anyway.) Ross Douthat laments the loss of his cherished reform conservatism to Trumponomics, but he shouldn’t worry overmuch: Trumponomics hasn’t come around before and is unlikely to come around again, with the exception of his attacks on free trade (see next entry).
K. Killer of K-Street consensus on free trade
If Donald Trump can lay claim to confronting the “lobbyists” and “special interests,” it’s here, and it’s even true. Who knew that Americans don’t actually like having their jobs outsourced to robots and overseas workers? The answer to that question is certainly no one who works on K Street in Foggy Bottom, and no one who, in 2014, received all their news from the mainstream media (The New York Times, the networks). Free trade and the new Trans-Pacific Partnership were generally considered the price you had to pay to live in a civilized society. But this false consensus was an unfortunate happenstance of the media’s bias toward the Democrats and Republicans, who agreed on fighting protectionism if nothing else. After 2016, we can agree, if nothing else, that America isn’t blithely agreeing to maintain old trade deals. Trump did a great job diagnosing the problem, then a much less convincing job prescribing any cure. He’ll do better deals? Are these related to the deals he made to make the RNC such a star-free, President-free, gravitas-free event? So yes, we need better negotiations with China, but probably not from a guy whose ties are made there.
L. Lots and lots of lawsuits in that business record
The “anti-PC” crowd seems to think that accusations of fraud, business duplicity, and cheating are media bias at best, par for the course at worst. They’re neither; most people get through their careers without a tenth of this level of accusations of fraud and abuse. USA Today, hardly known as a partisan shill, counted 3,500 lawsuits in Trump’s career. Depending on your perspective, this should be automatically disqualifying or, alternatively, the best thing about Trump. One thing that’s clear is that we’ve never seen this before at the major-party nominee level.
M. Military mish-mash, making a muddle of respect for service
We’ve had plenty of candidates who haven’t served; that’s not unusual. What’s mind-boggling is five Vietnam-era deferments (including a suspicious one for “bone spurs”; Trump couldn’t remember which foot had them, and his campaign-released doctor’s note acted as though they never existed) combined with the contempt for the military exhibited in his attack on all P.O.W.s via John McCain (“I like people who weren’t captured”) and his response to a Gold Star parents who accused him of “sacrificing nothing,” in which Trump equated creating buildings to dying for one’s country. “Accepting” a Purple Heart for not having served also seemed borderline disrespectful of people who defend our borders. Platitudes about having or restoring “the best military” are just words, not deeds. As for Trump’s apparent, acceptance-speech promise of fewer wars, that’s compromised by every single other RNC speaker acting like Rambo, as well as all the military figures who worry that Trump would make the world less safe (see item F).
N. Nutty, nutty Nativism
This and item H are the only ones that could only have come from the GOP, and not even all of it. To the shock of the party’s business wing, it turns out a plurality of GOP primary voters not only don’t want any more immigrants (not even the skilled ones), they want to build a massive wall between the U.S. and they want 11 million illegal immigrants rounded up and deported to Mexico. Who knew? How many of them saw Game of Thrones as a documentary? If and when Trump loses, does that break down The Wall (as an idea)? This is the part where I point out that such nativism isn’t unprecedented if we count the Know-Nothing and American Parties of the 1840s and 1850s. Sure, but those parties had no chance of fielding a President, and even they didn’t suggest deporting millions of people. In our decade, immigration from Mexico zeroed out last year, or may even have reversed, but no need to get bogged down in facts. And Trump’s anti-immigration stance isn’t just about Mexico anyway: it’s about restricting immigrants from all kinds of countries with all kinds of brown people, just not (for consistency’s sake) from any country that starts with C, ends with A, and has a ANAD in the middle.
O. Obstinate opacity and obloquy on tax returns
If we look at previous races for President, as well as the sixteen candidates that Trump beat this year, as well as all the governors and members of Congress, nobody else insists on this particular refusal to come clean. Some people consider this a big deal. Trump claims he’s waiting for an audit to be completed, though that doesn’t explain the failure to release past returns. Also, waiting for a completed audit is a little like waiting to rescind a proposed ban on Muslim immigration “until we figure out what’s going on.” Anyway, what the heck is in Trump’s 1040s? Russian alliances? Much, much less money than Trump says he’s worth? Far fewer taxes than the rest of us are paying? Exorbitant alimony payments? Almost no gifts to charity? Checks to NAMBLA? (It’s a theory.) Setting that latter guess aside, it’s hard to imagine that Trump is maintaining a lot of “anti-establishment” support that would evaporate the minute he “sold out” and showed his taxes.
Whether or not Trump ever called himself a populist is beside the point; he successfully deployed Upton Sinclair-like, Huey Long-like rhetoric to get further than Sinclair or Long ever did. At least in 2015, Trump made it clear that he was on the side of the working-class, however fatuous his promises to bring jobs back to the Rust Belt through better trade deals. It’s too easy to write them all off as white and without college degrees, and even if it were, the more fortunate shouldn’t disparage the less fortunate. One key was that Trump said he would preserve Social Security and Medicare while still helping lower tax brackets; another was Trump’s contempt for the upper-class…back in 2015. This doesn’t go hand-in-hand with outsider status; in theory, Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid could adopt this sort of populist rhetoric tomorrow. And this remains the lodestar of the August 2016 Trump defender (say, Rick Santorum): there is a vast swath of Americans that feel alienated from society, and Trump has brought the media’s attention to them in a manner that no previous major-party candidate had. Trump still plays this card more than any previous candidate, talking about Hillary’s Wall Street and hedge-fund support. And if Trump has rearranged the electoral map in any sense, for example by making Pennsylvania and Michigan more competitive, it’s all because of the populism…which has unfortunately morphed into its own sort of white identity politics (see item U).
Q. Querulous questioning of both Democrats and Republicans
Not the same as anti-establishment-ism (item A), because we also saw this trait from Capitol Hill veteran Bernie Sanders. Surely one of the key reasons for Sanders’ and Trump’s appeal was a very healthy non-appreciation for the recent non-achievements of both major parties. Neither septugenarian, Trump nor Sanders, pledged any loyalty to their current party until the current decade, and that says something about their acute vision of the current political system and the difficulties experienced by third-party candidates. In other words, to change the political system, you have to at least nominally accept either the Democrat or Republican label, even if you spend your campaign making enemies in both parties. And a year ago, it felt like Trump and Sanders represented the chance to shake up some of the old calcified dialogue and partisan talking points, especially regarding trade policy, campaign finance, jobs, corporate welfare, the tax structure, and especially any foreign policy that even slightly smells like the Iraq War. “Your leaders have let you down”: yes. “I alone” can help? No. There will always be a certain portion of voters (I’m one of them) who counted as one of 2016’s biggest disappointments the moment that Trump announced Mike Pence as his Vice-Presidential candidate. Where Trump could have picked up a non-partisan admiral or business leader, he chose to take the ballast out of his “anti-establishment” argument by promising a healthy dose of More of the Same. Trump got the nomination as a beneficiary of our hatred of both parties; now he’s become half the reason for that intensified hatred. I hate irony.
R. “Rigging” roars and rumbles
You might think every Presidential candidate has called the process “rigged,” but in fact it’s a new thing. And to be fair, when it comes to the primaries, scrutiny of their non-democratic aspects is actually a good thing. But Trump could be more careful about which of America’s institutions he degrades, never mind accuses of betrayal. When Trump said, “And I’m telling you, November 8, we’d better be careful, because that election is going to be rigged. And I hope the Republicans are watching closely or it’s going to be taken away from us,” he became, according to the non-partisan Business Insider, the first Presidential candidate ever to blame a (potential) loss on rigging/fraud. This matters because one of the hallmarks of our democracy is that the losing party defers to the winner even in questionable times; Al Gore gracefully ceded to George Bush upon the Supreme Court stopping the 2000 recount. Without that, we become a banana republic, a prophecy that Trump is coming close to self-fulfilling.
S. Sexism, misogyny
Sure, we could use a slight course-correction. Not every CEO who says “you guys” should be fired. Not every woman who accuses a lover of abuse should be credulously believed. But to course-correct the Good Ship America with Trumpism is to knock it to the bottom of the ocean before turning the wheel. If you google “Donald Trump history of sexism” you’ll very easily read all the greatest hits: the sexist degradation of Carly Fiorina, Megyn Kelly, Rosie O’Donnell, Ivana Trump, Gail Collins, Cher, Angelina Jolie, Bette Midler, Arianna Huffington, Heidi Klum, Miss Universe contestants, and The Apprentice contestants; gratuitous use of terms like fat pig, slob, bimbo, animal, dog, rating, gold-diggers, “bitch be cool,” and “on your knees”; and the rhetoric around Hillary Clinton, like “schlonged” and “disgusting” and “if Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?” But if all that misogyny wasn’t enough, what about his policies? Trump claimed that women having abortions needed to be punished. When asked what his daughter should do if sexually harassed at work, Trump hoped she’d find other employment – not confront her abuser. Speaking of Ivanka, she made an outstanding speech at the RNC about closing the pay gap and guaranteeing maternity leave; where is any of that on Trump’s website or the RNC’s official platform? Presumably overruled by the same person who proudly boasted of never having changed a diaper and lied about offering child care at one of his resorts. It’s strange to think that if a few thousand Iowa caucus voters had gone the other way in 2008, Hillary Clinton would have faced John McCain (and probably later Mitt Romney), who had absolutely no record of saying or doing anything like this, and the media wouldn’t bring up the “woman card” with this election’s regularity. But forget the counter-factual and focus on the actual: Obama won Iowa, eight years later Hillary won the Democratic nomination, and anyone who cares about female dignity is now being asked to choose between Harry Potter and Voldemort. You don’t have to defend every single thing Potter ever said to hope that Voldemort will lose.
T. TV stardom, being a white older businessman
Being a white older businessman (like almost any CEO in the Fortune 500) with Trump’s level of TV-enhanced notoriety (like, say, Mark Cuban) has to be factored into any quest for Trump 2.0. Being a proud, famous white man was part of Trump’s thumb in the eye to identity politics, but it was also a corollary to being an insider-outsider, a sort of Franklin Rooseveltian traitor to his own class, almost a Charles Foster Kane-like industrialist who loves, and can extend industry to, “common people.” Such people have always been white men, notwithstanding the (so far unrealized) political potential of Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina. Ezra Klein explained his initial appeal…
He would bring an outsider’s eye, an executive’s efficiency, and a populist’s touch to crafting a policy agenda that worked for the working man — the kind of policy agenda Republicans should have been pushing all along but were too addicted to corporate cash to dare consider.
…and that was a good idea! But somehow along the way, as Trump started saying things like “No one knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” this feature seemed more and more like a bug.
U. Unrepentant “UnPC”-ness regarding Mexicans, Muslims, and more
Future historians may well describe Trump as simply a reactive symptom to “too much PC.” And yes, not every professor should be hauled before a disciplinary committee for leaving out trigger warnings about the violence in Romeo and Juliet or for defending “The Mikado.” If Trump promised to dial back the PC to roughly 2005, that would be one thing. Instead he’s going back to 1955, to the fire-hose-and-German Shepherd era. If you’ve been reading Charles Blow, you know this list by heart: calling Mexicans criminals and rapists during his premiere speech as a candidate; suggesting banning Muslims from entering the country; raising suspicions about President Obama’s heritage and his “working with ISIS”; impugning a federal judge as impartial because of his Mexican heritage; cruelly mocking a disabled reporter; and retweeting white supremacist tweets, including one that said 81% of white homicide victims are killed by blacks (it’s about 15%). Add to that his history: in the 1970s, he was sued by President Nixon’s Justice Department for civil rights violations (refusing to rent to blacks); in 1989, he took out a full page of the New York Times calling for the death penalty for the young blacks accused of raping the Central Park jogger (they were later acquitted); a Trump employee claimed that when Donald visited the casino floor in the 1980s, black employees were shoved out of sight into the back; John O’Donnell claimed Trump said he only trusted “short guys that wear yarmulkes” to count his money and he didn’t trust blacks “because laziness is a trait in blacks.” I don’t know Atlantic City as well as Trump, but I do know Monopoly, and this goes directly past racist-adjacent and lands you straight on Racist. We do need less identity politics; we don’t need a person whose politics mean demeaning identity.
V. Vilifying and violence-inciting, or very close
Bullying instead of common decency is one thing (as noted in item D). It’s another thing to predict riots if one doesn’t get the nomination, to threaten to release room numbers of non-cooperative delegates, to celebrate being able to shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it, to promise to pay legal fees of people who confront protestors (that being perhaps the only thing on this list he ever walked back), to invoke solutions from “Second Amendment people,” to say,
Oh, I love the old days, you know? You know what I hate? There’s a guy, totally disruptive, throwing punches, we’re not allowed to punch back anymore. I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.
and all the other thuggish rhetoric here. Allowing his rallies to descend into racial slurs and his convention to rise in chants of “Lock her up!” is not comparable to previous rallies and conventions. Hillary Clinton and Jesse Helms had to apologize for comments that were not even close to this violence-inciting; Trump just doubles down. Bob Shrum is right in the Weekly Standard (a conservative site): we’ve never had this.
W. World-champ whopper-telling; lying about past and present
Sounds strange, but most candidates really don’t lie as much as Donald Trump. John McCain and Mitt Romney were boy scouts by comparison. As one source had it, most politicians score “Four Pinocchios” 10 to 20 percent of the time, a far cry from Trump’s 65%. And when confronted, Trump almost always doubles down on the error. Here are 101 such cases; there are many many more. So when it comes to Trump 2.0, whether it’s one of Trump’s kids or a former star of “Happy Days,” it’s hard to imagine they’ll be telling quite as many whoppers, and it’s also hard to imagine that their supporters will mind one way or the other.
X. The X Factor: X-ceptional faith in X-traordinary theories
Granted, this is closely related to items E and W, but a Venn diagram of literate people, honest people, and people who reject conspiracy theories does not entirely overlap. If you’re thinking that finding a non-conspiracist should be easier than finding a non-liar or book-reader, you obviously haven’t been paying attention to mainstream politics. Conspiracy peddling is everywhere, just not at the level of a major-party nominee, not until now. “A lot of people are saying…” and “I hear things about…” didn’t used to be considered Presidential. On the other hand, when we think of how Trump endeared himself to the conservative base, with “birtherism,” we might say conspiracy-mongering is a feature, not a bug. Sure. But in terms of future candidate creation, it would be surprising if Trump 2.0 tosses thunderbolts like these: Obama was born outside the U.S. Obama is in league with ISIS. Vince Foster and Antonin Scalia were murdered. Vaccines cause autism. Thousands of Islamic people were cheering as 9/11 happened. Ted Cruz’s father helped kill JFK. We should take all our 401(k) funds out of the market. CNN has some of them here.
Y. Years, really decades, of supporting the opposing party
We often forget about this one, but it doesn’t have to go with any of the other ones on this list, and it’s a fascinating metric to track in the future. That is, if liberals are correct that the Republican Party is becoming more and more right-wing, shouldn’t we see more and more “defectors” a la George Will and Arlen Specter and, you know, maybe someone who could be elected? On the other side, the GOP has proven that voting for Democrats in the 2000s isn’t a deal-breaker. Perhaps this is yet one more bug that’s actually a feature; maybe partisans have a particular affinity for defectors (he saw the light!), or maybe they’re more strategic than often presumed, looking forward to a general election. (In the case of Trump, as of this writing he has yet to pivot to his previously leftist and centrist positions. To this humble observer this was probably the single biggest mistake of the RNC.)
Finally, no previous candidate has inspired quite the current level of armchair psychoanalysis. Oh sure, previous veterans like Bob Dole, John Kerry, and John McCain were occasionally labeled as “still angry” by a small partisan fringe, but that’s not comparable to the amounts of amateur analyses of Trump’s current mental state. Arianna Huffington insists that he’s not getting enough sleep; Rob Reiner says he’s mentally ill; Sophia McClennan wonders about early-stage dementia, Alzheimer’s, and a highly specious medical report Trump released. Probably the most thorough analysis comes from Dan P. McAdams for a cover story in The Atlantic. McAdams writes “Trump’s personality is certainly extreme by any standard, and particularly rare for a presidential candidate.” And “Across his lifetime, Donald Trump has exhibited a trait profile that you would not expect of a U.S. president: sky-high extroversion combined with off-the-chart low agreeableness.” In the end McAdams diagnoses “narcissistic motivations and a complementary personal narrative about winning at any cost.” It’s true, as McAdams acknowledges, that this may have some antecedent in Andrew Jackson and some aspects of Teddy Roosevelt (the latter having been more agreeable, more of a hail-fellow). But even if Trump is no worse than Jackson, Jackson did not have control of the world’s shipping lanes or its largest nuclear arsenal. The consequences of Trump’s zaniness could result in a finality far more fearsome than the end of the alphabet.