The leaked audiotape of GOP presidential nominee Donald J. Trump openly bragging about his sexual assaults on women should come as no surprise at all to anyone who has been paying attention since he announced his candidacy last year.
Nor should his lack of contrition, or his vitriol against the Clintons, or even against the many Republicans who have finally reached the exit on the Trump train. From the moment of his announcement, Trump has broadcast to the world his ignorance of world affairs and domestic policy, his racist tendencies, his astonishing narcissism, his anti-Muslim bias, and his appalling lack of respect for women. His lack of impulse control is on par with most toddlers, making him utterly unqualified to serve as president of anything, much less the world’s most powerful nation.
What Mr. Trump revealed from the first day is his firm belief that the world revolves around him, and that others are placed on this planet merely to serve his needs, including his basest desires. His sense of total entitlement is writ large in his comments revealed last Friday. Women, in his mind, have no rights to the inviolability of their own bodies, as long as he feels the desire to paw at them.
Society’s rules don’t apply to Donald Trump, at least not in his addled mind. He is a celebrity, so he is entitled. He says as much. Just imagine his sense of entitlement were he sitting in the Oval Office. It’s a prospect that should send a shiver down every American’s spine.
Sadly, too many of his supporters mistake Trump’s brashness and lack of restraint as a sign of leadership, a reflection of a big and powerful man ready to take on the establishment. It’s certainly true that some prominent leaders throughout history had a large appetite for many things, and enforced their will on others, raping and pillaging as they pleased, and killing or jailing political opponents.
But those were dictators and authoritarians, and represented a form of government that America cast off almost 240 years ago. In America, at least in the America most of us grew up in, you don’t threaten to jail your political opponents if you win. “This is what they do in banana republics,” said a clearly shaken Bob Schieffer, a longtime and well-respected newsman from CBS following Sunday’s second debate, during which Trump threatened to jail Hillary Clinton if elected president. “How have we come to this?” asked Schieffer.
We have come to this, unfortunately, because one of this country’s two major parties has ignored the rise of a far-right fringe, fueled by dark conspiracies, extreme fear-mongering, and propaganda spread through the Internet and even on conservative cable news. Far from correcting the record, top political leaders in the GOP have, for eight years, willfully fanned the flames for political advantage. Only now, when the fire threatens to burn down their party, have some of them begun to recognize the horror they have wrought.
Trump isn’t an aberration so much as a reflection of the fever swamp on the right these days. Left to their own devices by party leaders who lacked the courage of their convictions, the conservative movement left the tracks under President Obama and careened into a very dark place. Donald Trump rose out of that darkness, as a demagogue willing to exploit the ignorance and misdirected anger he found there.
While Trump now appears headed for defeat, the legions of his followers will remain and it’s up to Republicans to start undoing the damage. That will take courage and a willingness to re-examine the party’s priorities. It will require that party leaders begin the difficult task of unraveling the web of propaganda and lies that fuels much of the anger within their base. It will be painful work, but without it, someone even scarier than Donald Trump will emerge from the swamp the next time.