MAY 2016 What is it in my nature that makes it so hard for me to avoid being lured into talking about public bad stench if it really stinks? I am not alone in this problem of course. The pundits of pen and media alike are mostly as fascinated by public rottenness as I am. In the 1970s the Watergate scandal was the main topic of public discourse for many months. In the following decade the Iran-Contra hearings produced daily headlines about misfeasance in high places. The ninety five controversies over sexual dalliance in the White House led to impeachment and the trial of a sitting president, events that preoccupied the nation for nearly a year. My fascination for the seamy side of public life has been matched by recurring national fixation for similarly salacious doings in high places. All of the above episodes reflected badly upon men who already occupied the highest office in the United States. But none of them ever really showed the sitting President to be unfit for the job of leading the country unless you believed that the visible scandals revealed that the character of the President was badly flawed in a way which threatened core values of Americans. Our confidence in individuals may have been shaken by previous scandals, but they did not necessarily create reason to doubt the system of government.
The Trump candidacy is shot through with a different quality of corruption than its predecessors. This is corruption which challenges the notion that Americans are incapable of knowingly electing a corrupt person to become their President. Trump is obviously willing to destroy some of the most valued and highly touted qualities of our lives in this country. He brags about his ambition to flout international law and openly institute the torture of suspected national adversaries. He encourages violent treatment of dissenters at his rallies. He shows us a would-be President who admits to dishonestly characterizing an opponent, Ben Carson, with being a pedophile. He publicly taunts his opponent Rubio for the imagined small size of his penis. He brags that he is direct and bluntly honest, while admitting that he is two different people, depending on whether the topic of his speech is politics or something else. He is blatantly a cad and an adulterer while scolding his rival for condoning her husband’s adultery. He refuses to release his personal tax information because he is entitled to keep it secret while he is being investigated for tax evasion and fraud, yet he claims his life is an open book. He gives concrete example by his own policy statements of the kind of indifference to international opinion that earns distrust abroad, yet he asks the American people to believe he will restore respect for this country. He advocates proliferation of nuclear arms in the hands of a country from whom he says we should demand apologies for sneak attacks on us. He advocates shrinking the military expenditures of this country while he advocates dramatic new military adventures. He has been on virtually every side of domestic social issues while claiming to be simple and straightforward. All of this is overt and advertised corruption from a man who asks us to make him the President of the United States.
We are faced with the kind of corruption that threatens much more than the sort of conversations we are likely to have and the preoccupations of our press and media. The willingness to endorse Trump threatens to change the direction of American life from one in which we are occasionally preoccupied with public dishonesty to a direction in which public dishonesty corrupts the quality of our public and private lives. Some day we will look back on these days as a time in which we slid into fascism with our eyes open or we will remember rejecting Trump for what he is–a despicable example of this country at its worst.