Donald Trump has a new call to arms: the US presidential election could be “rigged”.
Every time it looks as though Trump has hit a new low with his sensationalist diatribes, the newly-anointed Republican nominee finds a way to out-do himself. Questioning the integrity of the US electoral process is the latest in a one-sided rhetorical arms race that has been accelerating over the past year. Here’s a quick summary of the candidate’s greatest hits so far:
- July 2015: Trump says Senator John McCain, who was held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, was “not a war hero”, questioning McCain’s military achievements because he was captured.
- August 2015: Trump calls Megyn Kelly a “bimbo” and implies she had been on her period when she grilled him in one of the Republican debates.
- September 2015: Trump says of rival Republican candidate Carly Fiorina “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?”
- November 2015: When questioned by Washington Post reporter Serge Kovaleski on unsubstantiated statements he had made about Arabs in New Jersey cheering the 9/11 attacks, Trump mocks Kovaleski’s disability with a farcical on-air impression.
- December 2015: Trump ridicules Hillary Clinton for taking a bathroom break during the Democratic debate, calling it “too disgusting” to talk about.
- March 2015: Trump defends the size of his penis in a national Republican debate.
- March 2015: Trump tweets a meme comparing his wife Melania with an unflattering photo of Ted Cruz’s wife Heidi.
- May 2016: Trump insults the new Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, challenging him to an IQ test after Khan criticised Trump’s “ignorant” views on religion.
- June 2016: Trump accuses Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the judge presiding over a lawsuit against him, of being biased, saying Curiel has an “absolute conflict” due to his Mexican heritage.
The past week, however, has demonstrated that Trump’s attention-seeking rants have been ramped up to record levels. Last Wednesday, he encouraged Russian hackers to find and release Hillary Clinton’s missing e-mails. Over the weekend, he dug himself deeper and deeper into the hole caused by his assault on Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Muslim-American parents of a deceased US soldier, and claimed he himself had made sacrifices equal to that of their son. On Friday, he announced to supporters that Hillary Clinton should be thrown in jail and last night, in addition to warning the election could be rigged, branded Clinton as “the devil”.
At the same time as Trump’s belligerent rhetoric is escalating, attention is being drawn to a former colleague of his: Tony Schwartz, the man who ghost-wrote Trump’s book The Art of the Deal. In a scathing exposé for the New Yorker, Schwartz recounts his experience shadowing Trump for a year in 1986, and admits the deep remorse he feels for contributing to “presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.” His conclusion is damning:
“I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”
The events of the past few days have shown that Schwartz’s assessment is not hyperbole. Trump is, without a doubt, the most thin-skinned and impulsive candidate ever to have a shot at the presidency. When he is criticised, he lashes out in the most personal way possible, callously using misogyny, racism and islamophobia to detract from his own shortcomings. When he is out of the news even for a day, as he was during the Democratic convention, he will stop at nothing to get his name back in the headlines. His actual policies (when he has them) fall to pieces under the lightest scrutiny, but that is secondary to his disastrous temperament.
Compare such a portrayal with Hillary Clinton. Whatever criticisms can be made of her policies and her campaign management style (and there are many), there is simply no equivalence between a highly experienced and knowledgeable former Secretary of State who surrounds herself with expert advisors, and an untested egomaniac who has said “my primary consultant is myself”. Clinton has spent over thirty years in the public spotlight, and has been criticised for everything from her marriage to her e-mails, often with an array of misogynist slurs. She has never been convicted or even arrested for any crime, but at the Republican convention attendees chanted “Lock her up”, and Trump has just called her “the devil”. Throughout it all, while her demeanour has not been perfect, she has never stooped to the level of personal insults, nor abused her critics with ad hominem attacks.
Here’s a thought experiment: imagine Clinton calling Bernie Sanders’ wife ugly, or accusing FBI Director Jim Comey of being a “loser” when he took on the investigation into her e-mails. Imagine her responding to a questions about her campaign with: “I’ve had a beautiful – I’ve had a – had a flawless campaign. You’ll be writing books about this campaign.” Imagine her insulting the family of a dead American soldier to score political points.
This is the contrast I want to highlight to people who argue that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are “both unfit for the White House”, who equate her professional weaknesses with his irascible and sociopathic temperament. Maybe Clinton’s policies would be detrimental to the US economy, or fail to address the myriad social challenges facing America. But she would not cut off relations with world leaders over a perceived snub, or make irreversible global security decisions on a whim. When it comes to electing someone who will have access to America’s nuclear codes, calculated cool-headedness is not an optional extra – it is crucial.
Donald Trump has proved he is a hyper-sensitive narcissist who will say anything for airtime and is incapable of responding to criticism. Even when it hurts his electability, he cannot stop himself from hurling abuse at grieving parents when he feels “viciously attacked”. He does not study, does not take advice, and even has difficulty concentrating. In one of the most disturbing passages of his interview, Schwartz recalls:
“It’s impossible to keep him focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes…. If he had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it’s impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time.”
America will have hell to pay if Trump is elected. And for once, he won’t be able to blame Hillary.