You’re fired, Donald.
After the calamitous events of the last few weekends – the lowest point of which was the unearthing of 11-year-old footage that showed the business magnate and then reality TV star bragging about habitually assaulting women – it has become abundantly clear Donald J. Trump’s presidential aspirations are effectively over.
It was, of course, not a matter of if, but when an October surprise such as the “Access Hollywood” tape would torpedo Trump.
Even before entering the world of politics, when he formally announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015, Trump exhibited an appalling inability to tame his tongue. But it has been this very character deficit of Trump’s – an unwillingness to censor even his most puerile and bigoted of thoughts – which has allowed him to soar upon a tidal wave of lunacy all the way to his presidential candidacy.
What absolute delicious irony it is, then, that Trump’s most effective political weapon – his loose lips – would be what delivered the fatal blow to his dream of being president.
So while the media and its parade of political pundits will undoubtedly perform a postmortem on Trump’s presidential campaign in the coming days and weeks, we as Americans, every last one of us, need to ask ourselves one very important question.
How did a man like Trump even come this close to claiming the most powerful office in the world?
If we are to be honest with ourselves, Trump’s ascension in the Republican Party should come as no surprise. Not in today’s United States, where a virulent strain of right-wing ideology has been growing. It’s been referred to as the alt-right – a popular umbrella term for the amorphous movement that feeds off the paranoia and disillusionment of those Americans who traffic in the dark underbelly of conservative ideology.
They are a very vocal minority of conservative Americans who fear the “other.” Their delusional xenophobia has led them to view Mexican and Muslim immigrants as modern day Visigoths who wish to storm our gates and mutilate the very fabric of our nation. They earnestly believe the feminist, racial justice and LGTBQ+ movements are affronts to American values.
To put it bluntly, they are propagators of hate and fear.
So it is of little surprise Trump would be the perfect Republican presidential candidate in today’s political climate. No other Republican politician was so willing, so proud, to become the public face, the personification if you will, of the Right’s most debased qualities.
With his ability to command the national stage, Trump legitimized the bigotry that runs deep within the alt-right movement. In turn, the alt-right’s fervent support of Trump propelled him all the way through state primaries and caucuses to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio this past summer.
But it wasn’t just the symbiotic relationship between Trump and the alt-right which brought upon this national nightmare.
Trump’s cult of personality has beguiled many well-intentioned mainstream Republican voters. Their growing leeriness of American politicians has led them to find comfort in an untested political outsider. He charms them with his “straight talk” and “take-no-prisoners” approach to politics. So badly do they want something new and different that they have chosen to look the other way while Trump makes pernicious promises to the alt-right. Their silence has been an acceptance of contract with Trump’s darker policies.
This has been Trump’s greatest political accomplishment – making the far-right fringe seem mainstream.
And no one is more culpable for the unholy matrimony of mainstream legitimate politics and political extremism than the Republican Party.
For many years now, the Republican leadership has given its tacit approval to the darkly paranoid and conspiratorial ruminations of its radical fringe. In the case of President Barack Obama, they allowed the Birther Movement, which was a racist attack aimed at discrediting the first African American president’s U.S. citizenship, to be perpetuated by conservative conspiracy theorists. During the 1990s, they stoked the flames of suspicion among many conservatives that both Bill and Hillary Clinton were involved in the murder of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster – this despite all investigations concluding that his death was, in fact, a suicide.
After decades of enabling the toxic thinking of its fringe, the rise of Trump – or someone like him – was inevitable.
He is a monster of the GOP’s own creation.
And time after time since he threw his hat into the presidential race, the Republican leaders have shown an alarming timidity in taming Trump’s most odious behavior.
Because whether it was Trump’s heartless comments about Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq, his distasteful pantomiming of a handicapped reporter, or any of his other countless crude and crass acts, top Republicans refused to rescind their support of him. Instead, they only offered the lamest of perfunctory disapprovals of Trump’s behavior.
They had hoped, of course, that they could appeal to Trump’s better angles, to muzzle his most malicious characteristics, molding him into something sort of redeemable.
But now, at the 11th hour, before American voters pull back the curtain to enter the voting booth, some Republicans have finally started to inspect the fine print of the Faustian bargain they made with Trump.
They discovered the devil is in the details.
So now Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and a depressingly short list of Republican politicians are desperately attempting to unshackle themselves from the bloated corpse that is Trump’s campaign.
It’s too little, too late, however.
Because as the GOP are starting to learn, as the saying goes, “When you dance with the devil, the devil doesn’t change. The devil changes you.”