The Moral Stain of Donald Trump
An opinion piece on the Republic nominee
Do you, like me, often find yourself trapped in your own head? Do you begin one thought and, before you know it, find yourself above the Earth somewhere, in high-altitude theoretical space?
If you do, you should know that a consistent way to return to reality exists. It is called “grounding.”
To “ground,” you must focus on your immediate surroundings. First, you must sit down. Somewhere comfortable is preferable, but not altogether necessary. You must feel the feet in your socks. You must smell the air and try to discern what you are smelling.
You must breathe in and you must breathe out.
This serves to enmesh you in your present state. If it works, you are no longer stuck in your own inner monologue. You are here. You are sitting. You are in the real world.
Here’s the thing, though: “Grounding” no longer works — at least, not for me. Because every time I sit down and try to feel the feet in my socks, a blinking, red-tinged shriek blossoms forward from the back of my skull:
DONALD TRUMP IS THE REPUBLICAN NOMINEE FOR PRESIDENT.
The words feel like a curse. It suggests that somewhere, a crucial thread that helped govern the fabric of history has disintegrated. The American capacity for anger finally overpowered its capacity for thought, and now we are here. Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president. The sickening, cackling, under-brain that governs our worst instincts has won out and brought Trump into the world.
There is still time left. Those of us who haven’t been captured by his personality-cult and who can see him for who he is are doing our best to stop him from his ascent to the presidency. However, not everybody who sees him understands what he really is. They comfort themselves in their support or silent complicity because they can force themselves to believe a number of things — that Hillary Clinton is equally wretched, or that he wouldn’t be so bad as president if he surrounded himself with the right people.
That, maybe, he can learn.
By the time I find the right activity room in Russell House, it’s already crowded. Dozens of people — overwhelmingly white, more male than not — are attending the first USC College Republican gathering of the fall semester. Every one of the 60 or so chairs is filled. People are scrambling for wall-space to lean on. The style is primarily — though not exclusively — the ubiquitous Easter-egg-colored Greek T-shirts paired with shorts of varying lengths.
I scan the crowd for Trump paraphernalia and come up with nothing.
A voice from the front quiets the crowd: “So, first of all, let me just say, we’re in here like sardines, so I apologize.”
The voice is Nick Pasternak’s, the College Republican’s Chairman from Greenville. His demeanor is one of a generous and thoughtful person. After a few introductions, he tells the crowd that he worked on the Marco Rubio primary campaign.
Remember Rubio? Some months back, that also-generous, also-thoughtful U.S. junior senator from Florida was chewed up and spit out, half-alive and covered in saliva, on a nationally televised debate stage. And, even as he tried to position himself as the future of a party that could win elections, the Republican electorate did not side with him. They sided with the chewer.
Soon enough, and after a few more minutes of introductory speaking, Hope Walker — tonight’s guest speaker and executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party — takes over for a while.
She says the following to a crowd of young, thinking people, who represent the Republican party’s future:
“Obviously Donald Trump wasn’t my first choice,” she says. “But I’m a Republican. I’m a conservative. And anybody’s better than Hillary Clinton. And I think if you’re in this room, we can all agree on that.”
This is the moment. I wait for someone in the room to process the insult they have just been dealt: That because of their shared Republican values, they are obliged to ignore those values in order to hand over the power of a nation to a bag of snakes in human form. I wait for someone to spit, throw salt over one shoulder and walk out cleansed of the implication.
And nothing happens. Walker, uninterrupted, continues talking for a while. There is a short Q&A session afterward. When Trump is mentioned, it is in passing and without dissent or outrage. Half an hour later, the meeting ends, and everyone leaves.
A week later, I asked Pasternak about what position his organization would take on Trump. Other College Republican organizations, like Harvard’s, have taken a public stance against him. What is the College Republicans’ stance?
It is worth quoting him in full: “Our group is diverse in its opinions in every way,” he said. “We have members who are very anti-Trump. We also have guys who love Trump. I’m not going to express my personal opinion either way, because I think my job is to be a fair arbiter of the entire group. But I’m providing a space for everyone on both sides to talk it out on both sides — people who hate him and people who love him. But, like I said, we’re not trying to divide everybody.”
I am sympathetic with this argument and with the sentiment that underlies it. It is similar to the argument that Paul Ryan, one of the most powerful people in the world, makes when he is questioned about his continual silence about his party’s nominee. It is far, far easier to moderate a discussion than to lead a band of different-minded people to even an obvious truth.
It is, however, an argument made with inadequate premises. The party is already divided. The ideological civil war between the Cruz-ites, the Trump-ites and everyone else is being fought as we speak. Not talking serves the side of Trump and those who revere him.
If those Republicans who are able to recognize Trump’s full horror band up to defeat him — or, at least, refuse to vote for him — it wouldn’t even be a contest. Republicans would deal with four years under a Democrat and come back far stronger in 2018 and 2020 with fresh Clinton scandals to use as potent weapons.
But, despite everything, the presidential race continues to be a contest. A recent New York Times/CBS poll had Trump and Clinton in a dead heat at 42 percent when third-party candidates are included. There is no wiggle room. It is the duty of every Republican worth the name to stand up and say that this person does not represent him or her and that voting for him would be a mistake. Until they do, I will continue to make the following case.
It is no use trying to attack Trump’s policy proposals. They are fantasies immune to logic and argument. They mean different things to different people: For some, his wall is real. For others, his wall is a metaphor. Any idea that might disqualify him in their eyes, they chalk up to “Trump being Trump.” Any of his ideas that they endorse become, to them, what Trump actually believes.
So, instead of his ideas, we must examine the man who dreams up these fantasies and seeds them in the minds of millions of people.
The process is easier than expected. Anyone who has seen him speak for a continuous 30 seconds on television knows what Donald Trump is. And it’s not that he’s just a charlatan or a racist or any of the other epithets that he’s been given in the past year. (Although, of course, he is many of those things.)
It is sadder than that: He is what happens when a human being fails.
If a good person is measured by the ability and desire to connect with and help other people, a failed person is someone who has lost the instinct toward goodness. In this sense, Trump’s failure as a human being is total and suffocating. Whatever conscious or capacity for empathy he may have had has been evacuated, shot out of an airlock into the void.
All that’s left is of him is the need for things that have never sated him or anyone else: money and easy love. He is addicted to them and does not have the capacity to break himself free from them. He serves as a warning to the young: If you are not careful, this is who you might become.
Trump may soon become one of the most powerful people in the world and will always be a man in a cage.
But for those Republicans who despise him for what he has done to the party, take heart: Trump is not a Republican. He isn’t anything. He is a nihilist. To be political by any measure, there has to first be an instinct to care about how the world is run outside of yourself. Trump does not care about any part of the world that does not benefit him. If he believed that it would get him the most acclaim from the most people, he would act on his made-up-on-the-spot propositions — that women should be punished for having abortions. That South Korea should be encouraged to develop nuclear weapons. That all Muslims should be treated as sympathetic to terrorism because they “know what’s going on.”
A vote for Donald Trump is not simply a mistake: It is an act of moral disaster. It is a thing which stains forever. There is no reason that presently exists that could justify voting for him. Not Clinton hatred. Not the Supreme Court vacancy. Nothing. There is no excuse.
And, if the worst happens come November, the serious-minded Republicans who could have stopped him will have no excuses to hide behind either.