As the distance between the present moment and Election Day 2016 shrinks, and as key polls tighten, it’s becoming clear that the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency has liberals and progressives in a panic. But if the Democrats lose their minds, it will only level the playing field; Republicans lost theirs months ago. The first signs of Democratic dementia are evident in the recent outrage at Matt Lauer and Jimmy Fallon for failing to treat Trump as one would treat a radioactive isotope.
As early as May, Washington Post political columnist E.J. Dionne was declaring that Trump isn’t “a morally acceptable leader for our country.” In July, Rhode Island Democratic congressman David Cicilline asked President Obama to withhold classified materials from the Trump campaign because the GOP candidate “represents a threat to the republic itself.” Obama has joined the rhetorical race to paint a Trump administration as beyond the pale of acceptability. “The Republican nominee is unfit to serve as president,” he said in August during an event in the East Room of the White House. At a Hillary Clinton campaign rally this month in Philadelphia, the president doubled down: “[He] isn’t fit in any way, shape, or form to represent this country abroad and be its commander-in-chief.” Not surprisingly, the Democratic nominee has similar views. “Donald Trump is unfit to be president,” she tweeted last week. “We just can’t accept this.”
Going forward, anyone who so much as offers the GOP nominee a gezuntheit when he sneezes will be accused of “normalizing” his odious and divisive candidacy.
In one way, it’s not surprising that Democrats are beside themselves at the possibility of a Trump presidency. They’ve spent the last 100 years expanding the scope of executive authority, granting the federal administrative agencies the power of judge, jury, and executioner over their ever-widening dominion. If liberals and progressives didn’t want that awesome, intrusive power to fall into the wrong hands, perhaps they should have heeded the warnings of small-government conservatives, who railed for a century against the bloat, rot, and corruption they saw metastasizing within the District of Columbia. Perhaps they shouldn’t have declared the U.S. Constitution—with its bill of rights and enumerated powers—to be an antiquated relic.
Trump could win. That’s now obvious. Should he, it will prove tricky for those elements of the Left that have been most vocal about the existential threat he poses to our democracy. What will they do? How will they oppose him when the people have spoken? How can Obama justify handing over the nuclear codes to a man he has repeatedly declared unserious, unstable, and unfit?
The rhetoric of the moment seems to imply that a Trump victory puts anything and everything on the table, up to and including Jeffersonian resistance to “tyranny.” Yale history professor Steven Pincus has said that Trump is “more like George III than the American patriots.” Well, we know how that ended. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, James Kirchick floated the possibility of a military coup to remove a President Trump from office: “Trump is not only patently unfit to be president, but a danger to America and the world.” Following the July military coup in Turkey, New York Daily News columnist and Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King tweeted that, “If Donald Trump becomes President, you are fooling yourself if you think we’re far from having a coup our own selves. I’m dead serious.”
Democracy, it is often acknowledged, produces the occasional bad outcome. In the American system, much depends on the losers validating the transfer of power through gracious concession. If November’s loser won’t concede, well, we’ll have ourselves a situation, won’t we?
All the left-wing panic to the contrary, Trump is a normal political candidate, at least in key respects. He ran for—and won—the nomination of the Republican Party. It wasn’t pretty, lots of Republicans opposed him, but he captured the flag. He’s the party’s nominee, an American over the age of 35, with just as much Constitutional right to run for the Oval Office as you or I. When liberals and progressives say he isn’t “normal” or that his ideas are “dangerous,” it means only that they disapprove, which should surprise no one, as they always disapprove of GOP presidential candidates’ ideas.
“This time is different,” they say. Actually, it’s not.
Democrats always paint the Republican presidential candidate as evil. They believed George W. Bush to be an ignorant buffoon, but that wasn’t enough to disqualify him, so they attacked him as a racist who, in Kanye West’s words “doesn’t care about black people.” Anathematizing John McCain was harder, given his long career as the maverick Republican that Democrats could point to and say, “Why can’t they all be like him?” The fact that he was a genuine American hero didn’t stop liberal media pundits and bloggers from implying that he was “dangerous and unstable,” a “divisive, untrustworthy, and even dangerous figure,” and that he suffered from an ongoing case of post-traumatic stress disorder. Mitt Romney was easily caricatured as an out-of-touch businessman, but successfully painting him as a hater of women took effort. They had to bend over backward to declare him even “more extreme” than Bush on so-called women’s issues. They ran ads suggesting that he had caused a woman’s death.
Painting the Republican as Satan in past elections was so hard for Democrats because their hearts weren’t in it—not totally. They knew on some level that they were playing a political game. It was a necessary game, perhaps, but they knew that they were stretching the truth, distorting reality, smearing their opponents. The difference this time is that the Democrats actually believe that the Republican candidate is Satan. How far are they will to go to stop the devil from taking his due?
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