By William Saletan
May 19, 2016
In the two weeks since the Republican National Committee declared Donald Trump the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Republican politicians have rallied around him. They’re betting, in the words of RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, that “people just don’t care” about Trump’s treatment of women or his other flaws. That’s a nice way of saying that the party itself doesn’t care, as long as Trump does well in the polls. But Trump’s flaws aren’t ordinary. He’s a race-baiting, authoritarian demagogue. Anyone who supports him is saying, in essence, that race baiting, authoritarianism, and war crimes are acceptable.
Trump’s collaborators, like the 20th-century politicians who collaborated in segregation, internment, and McCarthyism, don’t want to face the full meaning of their complicity. But they must. All of them—Priebus, Newt Gingrich, Gov. Chris Christie, and the long line of cowards and sycophants behind them—must be held to account. They must explain to the public, under scrutiny from the press, why they’re willing to suspend the fundamental values of the United States.
To facilitate this scrutiny, I’ve put together an indictment. It’s a summary of Trump’s record as a sectarian arsonist, a threat to the Constitution, and a war criminal in waiting. The indictment has 10 counts, each one specific to a transgression or a target group. These aren’t just character flaws. They’re insinuations, accusations, and threats that make Trump a menace to minorities and to the country as a whole. Here’s the list.
1. Banning Muslims. Last fall, Trump issued a series of escalating statements against Muslims. He spoke of tracking them through a database and closing mosques. He claimed that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey had appeared on television celebrating 9/11, and he persisted in this libel despite his failure to produce evidence. Then, on Dec. 7, he called for a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” This was not an off-the-cuff remark. It was a written statement, which Trump read aloud at a rally. Critics pointed out that such a ban would be unconstitutional and un-American, but Trump hasn’t withdrawn it. He views civil liberties and human rights as expendable.
2. Sowing distrust of Christian minorities. Christie, Rudy Giuliani, and other Trump supporters dismiss the Muslim ban as an aberration. But it’s just one example of Trump’s ruthless use of fear. Ben Carson, for instance, is a member of the Seventh-day Adventist church, a Christian denomination. Last October, after two polls showed him surging past Trump in Iowa, Trump tried to scare evangelicals away from Carson. “Look, I don’t have to say it: I’m Presbyterian,” Trump told a crowd. “I’m Presbyterian. Boy, that’s down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness. I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don’t know about. I just don’t know about.” Afterward, Trump’s spokeswoman said “the remark speaks for itself.” When Trump was asked why he had brought up Carson’s faith, he feigned innocence: “I just said I don’t know about it. I said nothing about it. … I’d never say bad about any religion.” But in the video of Trump’s attack, you can hear his insinuating tone and his deliberate choice of words. This was a cynical appeal to prejudice.
Perhaps Sen. Orrin Hatch can explain to his constituents in Utah, many of whom belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, why he “totally endorses” a candidate who would target a Christian minority in this way.
3. Dog-whistling against Cuban Americans. By early December, Carson had faded. The new threat to Trump was Sen. Ted Cruz, who had passed Trump in Iowa polls. So Trump did to Cruz what he had done to Carson. At a rally in Des Moines on Dec. 12, Trump tried to drive a wedge between Cruz and conservative Christians: “I do like Ted Cruz, but not a lot of evangelicals come out of Cuba, in all fairness. It’s true. Not a lot come out. But I like him nevertheless.” Again, the video of Trump’s remarks shows his cynical intent.
Trump repeated the attack at a rally in Council Bluffs on Dec. 29:
Just remember this. Just remember this. You gotta remember, in all fairness: To the best of my knowledge, not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba. OK? Just remember that, OK? Just remember. In all fairness, here we are. Just remember that folks. When you’re casting your ballot, remember.
Perhaps Gov. Rick Scott of Florida can explain to his Cuban American constituents why he’s telling the GOP to “coalesce behind” the candidate who said these things.
4. Stereotyping Latinos. When Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015, he said that some undocumented immigrants from Mexico were drug mules or rapists, but others were “good people.” Then he sank into pure tribalism. Illegal immigrants, legal immigrants, unfriendly Latinos—they were all suspect. On July 4, Trump retweeted an allegation that Jeb Bush “has to like the Mexican Illegals because of his wife.” Trump didn’t bother to explain the logical inference that got him from Mrs. Bush, who immigrated legally from Mexico more than 40 years ago, to present-day “illegals.” When Trump was asked whether he regretted the retweet, he said no. “I don’t regret anything,” he told Anderson Cooper. “If my wife were from Mexico, I think I would have a soft spot for people from Mexico.”
Trump’s conflation of Latino ancestry with softness on “illegals” might have been forgiven as a one-time lapse. But then he repeated it. In February 2016, he told a crowd in Arkansas that he was still grappling with a lawsuit against Trump University “because there’s a hostility toward me by the judge—tremendous hostility, beyond belief. I believe he happens to be Spanish—which is fine. He’s Hispanic—which is fine … but we have a judge who’s very hostile.” The next day, Trump was asked why he had brought up the judge’s Hispanic background. “The judge has been extremely hostile to me. I think it has to do with perhaps the fact that I’m very, very strong on the border,” said Trump. He offered no evidence of a connection between the lawsuit, the judge’s ethnicity, and the immigration debate. Instead, Trump simply repeated: “He is Hispanic, I believe. He is a very hostile judge to me. I said it loud and clear.”
Yes, loud and clear. Being Hispanic or Mexican American is, in Trump’s mind, sufficient grounds to accuse someone of judicial bias and softness on illegal immigration. Perhaps former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas can explain why he’s now praising Trump as a man who “loves his country” and pledging to “support him and help him and do what I can.”
5. Practicing group blame against blacks. The worst anti-black statements attributed to Trump are 25-year-old hearsay. But in what he’s written more recently, you can see resentment. In December 2011, he tweeted about Kwanzaa, a nonreligious African-American holiday: “What a convenient mistake: @BarackObama issued a statement for Kwanza but failed to issue one for Christmas.” (The charge was false.) In November 2014, during riots in Ferguson, Missouri, Trump tweeted: “Sadly, because president Obama has done such a poor job as president, you won’t see another black president for generations!” A few hours later, Trump complained, “President Obama has absolutely no control (or respect) over the African American community.” And in April 2015, after the death of Freddie Gray, Trump tweeted, “Our great African American President hasn’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore!”
You can’t fix him with a TelePrompter, a super PAC, or a team of policy wonks. He’s not a project. He’s a menace.
It’s hard to believe that Trump’s ridicule of Kwanzaa, his explicitly racial use of “thugs” (you don’t need to guess that it’s code for black people—Trump draws the connection for you), and his perpetual quest to prove that Obama wasn’t born in the United States don’t reflect some underlying animus. Trump’s 2014 tweet also provides a rationale for voting against future black candidates. But even if you give Trump the benefit of the doubt on all these things, his comments convey an ugly assumption: that a black president, by virtue of his color, is responsible for the worst behavior of other black people.
Perhaps Priebus or some other RNC official can explain why that assumption, which no Republican leader would apply to a white president with regard to the behavior of white people, isn’t flatly racist.
6. Blaming sexual assault in the military on the integration of women. Trump has a record of cringeworthy quotes about women, ranging from the indirectly attributed (“treat ’em like shit”—which Trump denies he said) to the directly recorded (“fat pig,” “piece of ass”). In April 2015, Trump’s Twitter account recirculated this joke: “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?” Trump’s spokesperson blamed the retweet on a staffer. But in August and again in January, Trump was at it again, retweeting several references to Megyn Kelly as a “bimbo.”
Sunday’s New York Times story, based on more than 50 interviews, suggests that Trump has trouble distinguishing between women as sex objects and women as colleagues. Even if you distrust these interviews and give Trump a pass for his crude language about some women, it’s hard to explain two tweets he posted on May 7, 2013. First he wrote: “26,000 unreported sexual assults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?” (The typo was his.) Nine minutes later, he added: “The Generals and top military brass never wanted a mixer but were forced to do it by very dumb politicians who wanted to be politically C!” Trump later tried to spin his remarks as ambiguous, but his meaning was clear: When you integrate men and women, even in the military, there will be sexual assaults. Therefore, integration is dumb.
Perhaps Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, can explain to the women of America why he has enlisted as a convention delegate for the man who wrote these things.
7. Advocating torture. Many Republicans defend waterboarding on the grounds that it isn’t really torture and that it could save lives by extracting timely intelligence. Trump rejects these constraints. He told an audience in South Carolina that even if waterboarding were torture, it would be “absolutely fine,” and “we should go much stronger.” In Ohio, he said that even if waterboarding didn’t extract useful information, he would approve it and even harsher measures, because “if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing to us.” That’s a policy of torture, without limits, as sheer retribution.
Perhaps Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, who presents himself as a faithful Christian, can explain why he’s promising to “campaign hard” for a man who preaches such cruelty.
8. Targeting civilians. On Dec. 2, Trump announced a new target in the war on terror: “With the terrorists, you have to take out their families.” In a follow-up interview, he was asked whether that meant deliberately killing family members. “They would suffer,” he said. “There has to be retribution.” On Dec. 6, he explained that because terrorists “want their families left alone,” these families could be targeted as a deterrent against future attacks. On Dec. 15, he elaborated: “I would be very, very firm with families. Frankly, that will make people think, because they may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families’ lives.” The next day, Bill O’Reilly asked Trump: “You’re not going to assassinate them, are you?” Trump replied, “I don’t know what I’d do.”
That’s at least five occasions on which Trump declared noncombatants legitimate targets, based purely on their value as hostages, and refused to limit what he would do to them. Since then, he hasn’t backed off. At a debate in March, he was asked what he would do if the military refused his orders to target terrorists’ families. “They’re not going to refuse me,” Trump replied. “If I say, ‘Do it,’ they’re going to do it.” In subsequent remarks, he said he would “have the law expanded” to make his orders legal.
Perhaps former Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Tom Cotton, or Jerry Falwell Jr. can explain why they’re backing a candidate whose proposed use of noncombatants is legally akin to terrorism.
9. Rationalizing plunder. Trump says his strategy against ISIS is to “take their oil.” But as Jim Geraghty points out in National Review, Trump has preached oil confiscation since 2011—long before ISIS, in its present form, existed. Trump has said we should seize oil from Iraq, Libya, or any other oil-rich country we invade. It’s “not stealing,” Trump argues, since we’d just be “reimbursing ourselves.” The reimbursement starts with $1 million for the family of every American soldier killed in the target country, plus extra cash to “take care of other countries that helped us” in the war. The Geneva Conventions forbid such plunder, but Trump doesn’t care. He explicitly invokes the ancient rule of conquest: “To the victor belong the spoils.”
Perhaps Dick Cheney, who defends the Iraq war as a matter of national security and humanitarianism, can explain why he’s supporting a candidate who frankly advocates taking that country’s wealth.
10. Inciting violence. Trump has repeatedly encouraged violence at his rallies. On Nov. 22, he defended supporters who beat a protester at one of his events in Alabama. “Maybe he should have been roughed up,” Trump said of the protester. On Feb. 1, he told a crowd in Iowa: “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. OK? Just knock the hell—I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.” On Feb. 22, when a demonstrator interrupted his speech in Las Vegas, Trump told the audience, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” Trump went on: “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.” On March 13, after a Trump supporter sucker-punched a protester at a rally in North Carolina, Trump said he had “instructed my people to look into” paying the supporter’s legal fees.
Perhaps Gov. Nikki Haley, who purports to represent a new GOP more interested in listening and healing, can explain why she’s falling in line behind Trump.
There are lots of other reasons to vote against Trump. But these 10 counts are the core of the case against him. They’re not about ignorance, error, or policy details. They’re about his contempt for principles. Trump has demonstrated that there’s no ethnic, racial, or religious group he wouldn’t target for political advantage. He doesn’t hate Mexican Americans, Cuban Americans, Seventh-day Adventists, or Muslims. They just happen to be the groups whose demonization, in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, seemed likely to help him. If targeting Jews or Baptists had served his interests, he would have demonized them.
Trump has also demonstrated that there’s no line he won’t cross. He would promote vigilantism. He would bar people from this country based on religion—or, presumably, based on race or ethnicity, if terrorism came from a racial or ethnic group. He would torture people just because “they deserve it.” He would target the innocent to punish the guilty. He would subvert the Constitution and reduce the world’s greatest republic, through his mercenary foreign policy, to a medieval empire.
When Trump sees black people rioting, he doesn’t look for an underlying injustice. He sees an opportunity to mock “our great African American President” for failing to “control” them. When Trump hears about sexual violence in the military, he doesn’t ask why so many men treat their female colleagues this way, or why they get away with it. He asks why women were allowed in.
This is not a man who needs seasoning, pollsters, or get-to-know-you sessions on Capitol Hill. You can’t fix him with a TelePrompter, a super PAC, or a team of policy wonks. He’s not a project. He’s a menace. He’s unfit for the presidency of any country, let alone the world’s greatest military power. When the final indictment of Trump is written, the politicians who closed their eyes to his ruthlessness and kissed his ring will be recorded as co-conspirators. To make America great again—to keep America America—they must be voted out.
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