This piece has an unusual history. I drafted it around the end of 2017 with the intention of soon running it as my weekly op/ed in newspapers in my very red congressional district (VA-06). But, then I held off on publishing it — something I’d never done before — because I felt that maybe it was just too challenging for my target audience of Republicans (primarily in the Shenandoah Valley).
But now, after more than a year of such restraint, I’m going ahead with it. We’ve seen and learned so much by now about this grotesque man in the White House, that I have just stopped seeing any need to soft-pedal anything that’s true about this President whom too many Americans persist — somehow! — in “approving.”
And, regrettably, the thesis of this piece this still seems to me entirely true: Donald Trump belongs on the list of human monsters.
It will be running in the papers during the coming week.
How disturbing it is that the person who gets to dominate our national conversation is a habitual liar who likes to pick fights, who cares only about himself and is cruel and contemptuous toward others.
All quite extraordinary in an American president. But such abysmal character has not been so rare among the major figures of history.
It is power that gives people the ability to shape the course of history, and thus the world. And in many situations, the human qualities that can lead to power are ugly.Too often, over the course of human history, those who have ascended the throne have been moral monsters who got there by wading through the blood of their rivals.
In just the past century, we have witnessed a number of human monsters bringing nightmares upon their societies. Among them: Stalin in Russia, Hitler in Germany, Mao in China, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Idi Amin in Uganda.
America’s founders understood well the dangers of power; they knew the history of injustice at the hands of kings. So they fashioned their Constitution to help solve the problem of power.
- Using power to check power—for example, giving Congress the power to remove from office a President who threatens the integrity of the system.
- Limiting the permissible uses of power, protecting the rights of citizens to free speech, press, and religion, and requiring the state to observe due process against those it accuses.
- And giving the people to power to choose who would wield power over them.
By such means, America’s founders spared us the kind of nightmares that, over the millennia, so many of our fellow human beings have had to endure.
That system has worked well: Over the course of more than two centuries, America had 44 presidents without any whom one would be tempted to call “monster.”
These 44 presidents had human frailties, of course. But none were so wholly ruled by their dark places that they were altogether given over to destruction.
But now, for the first time, America has a president so defective in character that he really is a kind of monster.
True, he is not consumed by murderous impulses, as some of the most grotesque of history’s monsters have been. For this President, it seems enough to insult and humiliate and dominate those against whom he directs his ever-visible hostility.
But he so consistently acts from his many moral defects — dishonesty, corruption, vanity, sadism, selfishness, arrogance, self-delusion, ignorance, narcissism, greed– and he seems to care so little about advancing any true human good in the world that, like the other monsters, he seems possessed by the spirit of destructiveness:
- He has widened the gap between the richest and the rest.
- He has made the United States the only nation in the world not party to the global agreement on climate change.
- He has sought to tear down a system that has enabled millions of Americans to have what the citizens of every other advanced nation have—access to decent and affordable health care.
- He has inflamed hostilities between races and ethnic groups.
- He has ripped young children away from their parents.
- He has refused to acknowledge a major attack on our democracy by a hostile power, and refused to take any steps to safeguard America from further such attacks.
- He has opened the gates to industry enriching itself even in ways that injure the future of the nation and its people.
- He has sought to undermine the independence of the instruments of justice, and dismantle the rule of law.
- He has demeaned this nation’s friends and served our main adversary.
So how did it come to pass that, after more than two centuries, such a monster of a human being has come to wield the powers of the American presidency?
This nation could hand power over to a monster only if enough of the people either could not see, or did not object to, the monstrous qualities on display.
It’s not as though, as a candidate for the presidency, this man had hidden his basic human qualities. Anyone with eyes to see could witness that this man who would be President was a liar and a con man, a bully who takes pleasure in humiliating people, an ignorant man who boasted of knowing more than anybody about just about everything.
Nonetheless, with all that before their eyes, enough Americans liked what they saw to hand such a man the powers of the presidency.
So America has entered previously uncharted territory. For the long-term health of American democracy, it is necessary not only to deal with the immediate threat to the nation. We also need to look deeply into how there came to be so many Americans willing to make such an unprecedented choice.