WASHINGTON -- As Donald Trump continues to surge forward as the most-likely Republican nominee, perfectly sane people are beginning to wonder: “Was there something we missed? Maybe he’s not really so bad?”
Shed that self-doubt and purge the thought. You’re not wrong -- and he’s that bad. Just ask the Breitbart reporter who was roughed up at a recent Trump rally. And she’s one of the “good” people. Imagine what happens to his critics once a Trump presidency takes shape.
Nothing makes Trump more acceptable today than yesterday or last week -- or six months ago. He is still a boastful, volatile, misogynistic, race-baiting, willfully and strategically ignorant, exploitative fear-monger who is guided by profit over principle, and whose hair-trigger temperament has the world on edge.
Never mind he has begun softening his tone or walking back some of his more radical statements, Seeking redemption through press release, he now says he wouldn’t order the military to hunt down and kill the families of terrorists.
But he did think and say such a thing. We know his mind and yet many people are willing to shrug off such dangerous deliriums as, oh, that’s just Trump spouting off. Or, as I’ve heard, “Well, you can understand why he feels that way.” No, not really.
Rational objections seem not to matter to a third of the Republican Party, including a swath of evangelicals, and reflects our sadly degraded culture. From Bill Clinton’s cigar explorations to Trump’s musings about menstrual cycles, anything goes. We’re all trapped in one big sleazy reality show, no longer spectators but fellow actors with people we can’t stand.
Nevertheless, politicians are beginning to pivot toward Trump, despite having found him reprehensible five minutes earlier. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions and Dr. Ben Carson have all surrendered their own good conscience, apparently for whatever access or privilege may accrue to them. Even the three other remaining GOP candidates have pledged to support the man they still find reprehensible.
Will they, like Carson, discover and befriend the “real” Trump after the chads have all been unhung?
Perhaps Carson hopes to become surgeon general in a Trump administration -- or secretary of education, as Trump hinted during a news conference following Carson’s endorsement.
Maybe Christie and Sessions both hope to become attorney general. Anyone who believes Trump will do any of the things he has promised might want to ask Carson about brain surgery.
The commentariat, too, is beginning to turn. You’ll notice a softening of criticism, a leaning toward the possible next president of the United States. Again, the bottom line in Washington is access -- to the White House, the president and, hardly least, Palm Beach.
Even the brilliantly irreverent Camille Paglia wrote recently she was wrong about Trump, whom she earlier had called a carnival barker. Now, though she thinks he may still be a barker, she finds his candor and impetuousness refreshing.
Whatever one hopes or wishes to believe about him, Trump is still terrible for the country and, therefore, the world. It should concern us that other nations are worried -- and not in a good way. David Ignatius, The Washington Post’s leading foreign affairs commentator, recently said international leaders, including our allies, are cornering him to ask how the world might look under a President Trump.
To such concerns, Trump responds that he can be as presidential as anybody -- whatever this means. That Trump knows how to use a finger bowl? That he can hold his tongue and resist the urge to defend the dimensions of his endowment?
Who knows? Every day is a new day for Trump, who believes whatever wispy notion flits past his periphery while his lips purse around the words, “Believe me.”
Never believe anyone who says, “Believe me.”
There has always been a balance among our nation’s governing institutions. No one was ever perfectly satisfied, but at least we had a sense that the country would remain fundamentally stable. Elsewhere, other nations could reasonably rely upon the United States to be a certain kind of country -- not perfect but always striving toward a more perfect union.
With a Trump at the helm, given his own vows and threats, this balance feels at risk. His so-called refreshing candor has the power to rock markets and collapse nations. His deal-making prowess notwithstanding, Trump would be a destabilizing force both here and abroad.
The only real strength of Trump’s candidacy has been to expose and shame the cowards and opportunists among us. Remember them.