To many Democrats and independents watching the debate, the most shocking part of Sunday’s forum didn’t come during the personal attacks on sexual misconduct. It happened when Donald Trump promised to prosecute and jail Hillary Clinton over her email server if he is elected president.
That sounded exactly like what a dictator would do. Lock up your opposition when you take power. Trump essentially was formalizing into his candidacy the “lock her up!” chants at his rally. It was a chilling, disturbing moment for America, to say the least.
But there’s no way Trump could ever actually make good on that promise, right?
If you even have to ask that question, you clearly have not been paying any attention lately. If there is one thing that 2016 has made crystal clear about America, it is this:
There are no rules.
Not for politics, not for government, not for any societal structure in this country. Everything is made up, a collection of cultural and societal norms that we simply agree to so that we can go about our days. But if some national leader with enough support wanted to totally upend all that, they very easily could.
Words written on some parchment 240 years ago will not save anyone in this country from a president who decides to do whatever he wants. If Trump is elected president, there’s a very strong chance Clinton would end up in a jail cell. He was not joking last night.
Don’t believe it? What from the past eight years makes you think that politics and government is going to return to normal after this election?
We’ve seen it during President Barack Obama’s eight years in office. Simple government functions have ground to a halt under a Republican Congress. Government shutdowns are looming nearly every month. Republicans can obstruct everything and pay no consequences – in fact, they’re rewarded for it with two landslide wave elections in 2010 and 2014. They’re not suddenly going to act responsibly if Clinton – who they and their base utterly despise – becomes president. They are only going to get angrier, obstruct more and likely be rewarded for it.
Because there are no rules.
Neither party’s establishment leaders got that in this cycle. Republicans watched as Trump took over their entire party, trampled on all their core beliefs and morals, denigrated their leaders and then ended up falling in line. John McCain endorsed Trump even after Trump attacked him as a loser for getting captured in Vietnam and spending six years in a POW camp. Ted Cruz backed him eventually even after Trump accused his father of helping in JFK’s assassination, mocked his wife’s looks and threatened to personally attack her.
These are not human reactions. A regular human being would not do such a thing, but they and many others did simply because Trump was the nominee of the party. That’s just what you do, because it’s what we’ve always done. Never mind the very obvious longterm consequences coming.
Republicans like John Kasich and Ben Sasse realized they didn’t have to endorse, and they’ll likely be in a good position during the post-Trump fallout if he totally implodes. They got attacked by the alt-right for being weak, but the real weaklings in the party are those who failed to stand up to Trump. Those who blindly followed along, like Iowa Republican leaders, will pay for it with the voters for years.
Democrats as well seemed to stick too closely to what the supposed rules of a general election was. I still believe the Clinton campaign’s biggest mistake was not reaching out more to younger Sanders supporters during the primaries. I’m sure they looked at historical data and polling that showed the base always comes back around for the nominee. They all haven’t yet, especially young voters, and it’s one of the biggest drags on Clinton’s numbers. Nor did they oust the obviously awful Debbie Wasserman Shultz, who did way more longterm damage to the party among progressives and youth than people want to admit, when they should have. Because you don’t just up and change the DNC chair, because that’s not what we do.
But there are no rules.
I fear we don’t even understand it in our own foreign policy, despite Democrats typically giving President Obama praise for his handling of that. America’s response to the obvious Russian hacking has been pathetic. It took months of analyzing and careful discussions to finally just come out with a statement saying it was the Russians, and that was only after intense pressure from lawmakers to do something about it.
The Russians are actively trying (and succeeding) to influence our elections and Obama just let them keep doing it for months with no response. Important-sounding analysts on TV said naming the Russians is a very big deal, but does anyone seriously believe that’s going to stop Putin? They’re hesitant to enact new sanctions or respond in kind, out of fear it’ll worsen relations. Worsen relations, with a dictator who is undermining our country in some ways more than an actual proxy war could. The Russians are operating by a completely different standard than any democratic country in the world, and nations like America are seemingly helpless to do anything about it.
There are no rules.
Throughout this entire 2016 campaign, along with the eight Obama years, the successful people are the ones who realized you could run roughshod over every American norm and nicety. Those who failed are the ones who think that government and politics operate like a high-minded episode of The West Wing.
That is the real danger of Donald Trump. He understands that there are no rules. There never have been. He has been a disruptive force in every business deal he’s been a part of and has benefited from it his whole life.
Unfortunately, it does not appear he would use that perspective to stop bad actors like Russia or to reform America for the better, but rather he would implement Russian-style authoritarianism on our own country.
Think that’s not possible? Still think that Trump will surround himself with good people once in office, or that the Constitution will keep bad things from happening?
Have you seen what police departments have gotten away with recently? Have you noticed how law enforcement rallies around their own when accused of misdeeds? Have you missed that many police unions have endorsed Trump? Do you not get that many people in positions of authority share Trump’s same world views?
If you don’t think that enough members of law enforcement or enough members of the military would follow Trump and help enact un-Constitutional actions, then you are living in an alternate reality. So too if you don’t think Trump will follow through on his words. Every time he was in trouble during the primaries, he attacked a minority group to get his supporters whipped up. What would he do, with the full powers of the presidency, when his approval numbers fell while in office?
Round up Muslims? It could happen. Put millions on buses and deport them? It could happen. Imprison your political opponent? It could happen.
The nice, friendly, structured world so many well-educated people think we live in does not exist. And until people wake up to that reality, our country will be under constant threat from Trump and the next politicians that emulate him.
You cannot treat these people in the same way you do other political actors. Nor can political parties or government leaders go about acting like the other party doesn’t want to thoroughly destroy them, or that the American people aren’t fed up with the direction of this country and aren’t looking for drastic change.
Trump is not an aberration. He is the new norm of American politics. It’s time for everyone else to realize this, adjust their strategies and take the threat to our democracy seriously.
by Pat Rynard
Photo by Gage Skidmore