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Voices / Column

The terrifying specter before us

One thing is frighteningly real: Donald Trump has exposed and unleashed the underbelly of American society

Saxtons River

It’s hard to believe, given Donald Trump’s constant and egregious lies, his frequent name-calling and hate speech, his puerile tongue lashings, his visible ineptitude, and his recent debate performance, that he can be viewed as a serious threat to Hillary Clinton’s election in November.

Issues and behavior that would have brought down any other candidate — ranging from imitating a disabled reporter to insulting a Gold Star family, to being involved in three serious lawsuits, to refusing to reveal his taxes or professional health reports — should have stopped him long ago. So should his inability to discuss policy priorities with any depth and his pugilistic, pro-Putin posturing.

Yet, here we are, nail-biting our way through every new poll and prediction, scratching our heads about how this looming disaster could possibly be happening.

* * *

Whatever the inevitable political and psychological postmortems reveal, one thing is frighteningly real: Donald Trump has exposed and unleashed the underbelly of American society, releasing into the ether rampant racism, virulent anti-Semitism, overt hatred of “the Other,” including Muslims, and frightening violence borne by those whose worldview he represents.

These people are so full of animus toward human beings who don’t look, think, or act like themselves that Hillary Clinton was honest enough to call them “deplorable,” a descriptor verified by polls questioning any standard of decency among other Americans.

Noted political commentator Rebecca Traister saw trouble coming during the Republican convention.

She wrote that people at the convention were witnessing ”the Republican Party offering its stage and its imprimatur to speakers who have not appeared reluctant or conflicted, but rather buoyed and energized by the way in which Trump’s candidacy has allowed them to come out as inciters of sexist, racist, violent mob action and xenophobic fearmongering.”

“What’s more, by framing their hateful rhetoric in terms of patriotism, they are reminding us that much of the poison in this country runs deep,” she added.

* * *

The kind of indecency and poison that Trump spawns and encourages is all too clear when his son says we should be “firing up the ovens.”

It is clear when white supremacists pride themselves on finally being legitimate within the public arena while wearing white hoods and waving Nazi or Confederate flags.

It is more than clear when a 69-year-old woman on oxygen is physically assaulted at a Trump rally by one of his supporters.

The examples of hate-filled rhetoric and behavior among Trump supporters abound in social media, if not in most of the mainstream press, which has been woefully inadequate in its coverage of Trump’s mania.

Even should he lose the election, the “message of hatred and paranoia that is inciting millions of voters will outlast the messenger [and] the toxic effects of Trumpism will have to be addressed,” a New York Times editorial noted.

Those effects include documented increases in bullying in schools and increases in anti-Semitic and other hate crimes.

Analogies drawn between Trump and Hitler, considered in bad taste and reluctantly shared to make clear similarities in terms of their political strategies, might still be useful.

To quote Robert Paxton, an authority on fascism, in an interview on Slate this past winter, “The use of ethnic stereotypes and exploitation of fear of foreigners is directly out of a fascist’s recipe book. ‘Making the country great again’ sounds exactly like the fascist movements. Concern about national decline was one of the most prominent emotional states evoked in fascist discourse, and Trump is using that full-blast, quite illegitimately […].

“That is a fascist stroke. An aggressive foreign policy to arrest the supposed decline [is] another one. Then, there’s a second level, [one] of style and technique.”

Paxton likened Trump to Mussolini, citing “the bluster, the skill at sensing the mood of the crowd, the skillful use of media.”

* * *

In light of the terrifying specter before us should Trump prevail, the challenge for those who understand how close we could be to a dystopian future is convincing people who don’t like Hillary Clinton that they have to vote for her anyway.

I’ve tried, and it’s not easy.

Some of them don’t get that democracy resides in participation and that without voting they are colluding with a possible Trump win that could mean we enter into an inconceivable Draconian age.

Some of them think he’s not as bad as the show he puts on.

Some of them just don’t seem to care.

How did so many people whose very interests and futures are at stake become so apathetic and deluded? That is perhaps a question for another time.

Right now, what matters urgently is that as many people as possible vote, which means that all of us experiencing cold sweats ratchet up the dialogue, knock on doors, argue with our right-leaning friends — do whatever it takes to shine light on the options.

Either we vote smart and elect Hillary, or we dig in our heels and hope to survive years of dictatorial disaster.

Want to know what that feels like? Ask anyone who has lived under Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Romania’s Ceausescu, and now Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

It’s not a pretty picture. As Trump would say, “Believe me.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #377 (Wednesday, October 5, 2016). This story appeared on page F1.

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