by Andy Schmookler
I’m grateful for Donald Trump. Not “to” him, mind you, but “for” him. Because I believe that Donald Trump is accomplishing – far more than I’ve been able to do — what I have been trying to accomplish for the past eleven years: helping Americans see the atrocious thing the Republican Party has become in our time.
Much has been said about the racism, bigotry, hatred, and fear-mongering that he is harnessing. Of course, all these are among the regrettable potentialities of human consciousness that have been systematically cultivated by the Republican Party, increasingly over the past generation, at least since the rise of Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh. And as has also been much noted, what’s remarkable about Trump, within that Party, is only how blatant and unsubtle he is about displaying the ugliness.
This past week, Trump displayed yet another aspect of human brokenness emblematic of the force that has taken over the right: the tendency to do the very opposite of what it claims to be doing.
The Republicans of our era, for example, claim to be conservative, while trampling on American norms and traditions and pushing for radical change. They claim to be patriotic while willingly injuring the nation whenever it is to their advantage. And they claim to be defenders of Christian values, even as the spirit that animates their conduct is the very opposite of the Sermon on the Mount.
And it is in that context, I suggest, that we should perceive Trump’s already infamous comments about Hillary Clinton’s debate-evening trip to the bathroom: “I know where she went,” Trump said. “It’s disgusting. I don’t want to talk about it. No, it’s too disgusting. Don’t say it, it’s disgusting.”
He claims he doesn’t want to talk about it, while makes the startling choice to talk about it. “I don’t want to go there,” he says, even while he makes himself the first presidential candidate in American history (I would wager) to “go there” and make all of us go there with him.
From some points of view, it seems a shame that a candidate like Donald Trump is taking up so much of the space in our public discourse. There are so many important issues we need to confront, from rising inequality in America to rising temperatures and rising seas in the world generally.
But from another point of view, it is good that there is so much focus on Trump —- in the media and now increasingly in the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders as well.
That’s because on all those issues we as a nation need to deal with, it will be necessary to overcome the force that’s taken over the right before the necessary progress can be made. And Donald Trump’s ugly candidacy may prove to be the means by which power finally gets drained from that force.
There’s a risk, admittedly, that Trump may become president – I don’t think it’s likely, but given how surprising his rise in the Republican field has been, one cannot rule out the possibility of future surprises.
But I am willing to take that chance– willing because Trump is giving the Republican Party a face whose ugliness is visible to so many more people than have been able to see through its more disguised forms.
Unfortunately, it is not as though Trump will help an American majority understand more fully the ugliness that has been there – on more subtle display — for years now. But that kind of understanding may be unnecessary for getting the public attitude toward the Republican Party to move in the direction it has so long and so desperately needed to move: to the extent that Donald Trump is seen as “the face of the Republican Party,” his defects become automatically seen as those of the Party.
That just seems to be a big part of the way many people perceive the political world.
Trump has already begun to be the face of the GOP by virtue of his persistent front-runner status. And if he becomes the nominee – which I believe is more probable than the 27% the futures market now says –the equation between Trump and the Republican Party would become solidified.
I’m glad, therefore, that Hillary and Bernie have stepped up their confrontations with Trump. In addition to the value of calling attention to the ugliness, their denunciations of Trump’s offensive campaign rhetoric might make it more likely that the long-inflamed Republican base will choose him as their standard bearer.
And that, in turn, would likely lead this era’s version of the Republican Party to the disaster it so richly deserves.