His menaces of violence, like his suggestion that minorities are not real citizens, are a violation of the countrys most sacred ideals
We may not notice when fascism sneaks up on us: we may be too busy laughing. They say that clever people struggled to take the rise of the 1930 s demagogues seriously. They find the strutting dictators in their silly uniforms merely too ridiculous. And in some cases, mockery was the right response. Britains own would-be Hitler, Oswald Mosley, was taunted into oblivion by PG Wodehouses fictional version, Roderick Spode.
Donald Trump similarly invites laugh. We are appalled but we are also amused. He is funny. The style he delivers a line, the style he repeats a phrase Not good, folks. Not good the route he tramples over every taboo. He has a comics gifts. But theres a hazard in this laughter. It can lower our guard.
Watch the video of Trumps latest cruelty, his clue that if Hillary Clinton appoints judges committed to gun control, it may fall to handgun rights activists to stop her. How? Well, Donald didnt quite spell that out. He shrugged, said I dont know and left off at that.
But visible over his left shoulder was a middle-aged couple. Many have focused on the reaction of the man in the red shirt, whose jaw drops as he realises that the Republican nominee has all but issued an assassination threat to his foe. But look at the woman next to him, apparently his wife. She smiles and then she chuckles, a kind of Ooh, you are awful chuckle.
It helps Trump, this reaction. It enables him to step back from the verge, to say he was only joking. So last month he urged Vladimir Putin to hack Clintons emails, before insisting that he was just kidding.
Often he blames the media for reporting what he said and for being stupid enough to presume he meant it. Its a dependable line of defence for him. Its never his flaw. Its your defect for not realising he was just messing with you.
Humour is only one of several Trump traits that make him, and those like him, maddeningly hard to tackle. Brazen dishonesty is another.
His lies are so legion, it can be impossible to keep up. The fact-checking site Politifact found that of the Trump statements it had assessed, 15% were mostly false, 36% were false and 19% were outright pants on fire lies.
He was at it again this week, calling Barack Obama the literal founder of Isis. He subsequently told he was being sarcastic. But Trump lies all the time, on matters small and large. He lies about his poll numbers, he lies about the crime rate. He lies about his charitable donations, brag of giving$ 1m to veterans but not actually dedicating it until the media demanded to see the money. And he lies about his relationship to Putin, first claiming that he had got to know him are you all right and that they had spoken indirectly and directly, then saying he had no relationship with him.
There was a time when being caught out in a single misrepresentation could destroy a politician. But that relies on the legislator implicitly accepting the usual rules of the game, which Trump does not. As Britons know well from bitternes and recent experience after the pro-Brexit camp cut through with the utterly bogus claim that Britain sent 350 m a week to the EU a willingness to lie can be a powerful asset. Trump enjoys a kind of freedom that his more conventional foes absence. They have at least one hand tied behind their back, feeling their duties to stick as closely as is practicable to the truth. Trump is unbound.
Which brings us to a sensitive phase. Tony Schwartz, who as Trumps ghostwriter had intimate and daily access to Trump over 18 months in the 1980 s, witnessed the constant lies, the tiny attention span and inability to concentrate, the intense egotism and concluded that Trump was pathologically impulsive and self-centred. In short, a sociopath.
The dean of Harvard Medical School has said Trump does not just have narcissistic personality disorder, he defines it. Indeed this view has become so widespread that the American Psychiatric Association felt compelled to remind its members this week of the Goldwater rule named after an earlier Republican presidential nominee routinely branded as unhinged which recommends practitioners not to offer a diagnosis of an individual they have not treated.
The point is, a person who had fits what we might politely call Trumps psychological profile someone as disinhibited, as willing to disregard social norms is perilously difficult to confront. But there might just be a way.
For why was it that not just the liberal usual suspects, but almost all his fellow Republican denounced Trump for attacking Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Gold Star parents of Capt Humayun Khan, the Muslim-American killed while fighting for his country in 2004? The answer is the same one that explains the bipartisan outrage that greeted Trumps suggestion that Judge Gonzalo Curiel could not be objective in deciding a instance involving Trump because of his Mexican heritage even though Curiel was born in Indiana.
What Trump had done was violate a core American ideal: the notion not always honoured, admittedly that no matter where your family came from, if you were born in the US or had come there and subscribed to its founding principles, then you were as American as a direct descendant of those who landed on Plymouth Rock. This was what defined the US apart, the faith that national identity did not reside in blood or soil, but in loyalty to the nations constitution and its bill of rights.
Or consider Trumps proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US; it was again assaulted by Republicans as well as Democrats because it contradicts Americas founding purpose, to be a haven from religious persecution, a purpose encapsulated in the constitutions first amendment guaranteeing the free exercise of religion. Or reflect on Trumps little joke this week, suggesting the way to deal with Clinton might be a bullet at odds with Americas professed determination to resolve its changes through a constitution, the law and elections.
The common thread is that all these moves by Trump are not just reactionary or bigoted or dangerous. They contradict the ideals that all Americans are meant to regard as sacred. Perhaps this is the way to attack Trump: as truly un-American. He says he wants to attain America great again. The truth is, he would stop America being America.
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