by Lenny DeFranco
Donald Trump’s bid for the White House has taken a turn for the hideous.
For much of this campaign, I didn’t fear Trump. I was pacified by his buffoonery and entertained by the spectacle of it all. Sure, he was woefully unfit to be president, but he wasn’t going to be. Actually, I thought he was doing the United States a sort of favor. Not only by exposing every deplorable characteristic of the anti-governance, anti-American right, but by proving that this country’s democracy was still something of an open contest, subject to the whim of its masses.
That was before Trump decided to end his campaign in the most savage fashion imaginable. In recent weeks, as the inexorability of defeat closed in on him, Donald Trump has unleashed the most heinous invective I’ve ever heard from an American politician.
When the Access Hollywood video leaked on October 7, it was, at that point, the second most offensive thing Trump had said that week. Worse, by far, was his instruction to a crowd of gun-crazy rabids to travel to areas with Democratic voters and, essentially, terrorize them:
The rhetoric has only gotten worse since then. He’s made the threat more explicit and more corporeal. Watch this video. It is horrifying.
All of this amounts to Donald Trump issuing a challenge to his supporters to instigate violence in support of his candidacy.
Imagine it: the sight of a black or Latino voter driving to their polling place and watching, terrified, as the crowds of armed white men grow thicker as they approach. Megaphones blaring, cops milling around, squad cars strobing. Voters choosing to play it safe and stay in their cars, continuing on to work, instead of exercising their civic right.
It’s infuriating and terrifying and entirely possible. Arguably, it’s already happening.
If anti-minority demonstrations do indeed happen on November 8, given the seditious fervor Trump’s fanatics are being whipped into and the armament they’ll be carrying, it’s not incomprehensible that something serious could transpire.
In other words, we need to prepare to witness, and process, the specter of American election violence.
Should this happen, it will inarguably be the low point of our modern republic. Unlike a terrorist attack or a mass shooting, there won’t be an obvious capacity for healing if somebody sheds blood at the ballot box. The central divide in American history will remain freshly creased. The enemy will still be ourselves.
The question, then, becomes what we do about it. Civil War II is not realistically going to break out., but we’re unpracticed at this type of violence. We have routines for mass shootings and terrorism, but not domestic terrorism stemming directly from our formal political process. It’s going to be dangerously dissociating.
The way forward lies in a perspective that some other progressives have already started getting their heads around: we need to lean into the skid. There will be opportunity for genuine dialogue, if not rapprochement, in this turmoil. The danger is letting it slide. We need to have a national reckoning about what the fuck happened this election. It’s possible that a galvanizing coming-to-senses moment could smooth the route to accomplishing that.
So here’s how we do it. Starting now, let’s move on from dissecting Donald Trump the man. He is a spawn, not a driver, of the movement that bears his name. Partly this absolves us from having to parse his many internal illogics. (Like the fact that a predatory billionaire is warning about the elite agenda, or the idea that a man who stands as living proof of the openness, and therefore the integrity, of our democratic system, is claiming to expose a fix.) None of this is the real problem anymore.
The problem is that the nominee still has the support of many in the Republican party and the endorsement of homey-townie newspapers stippled across Sarah Palin’s “real” America. He’s still going to get to answer questions at a presidential debate this week. This guy is doing more than any politician in the last century to denigrate the American experiment, and yet a platform of open bigotry and authoritarianism appeals to enough people to have cemented him in front of us, until we can afford to banish him to irrelevance, his own version of hell.
All of this is to say that, this is not OK. We can’t let life just go on after this.
Moving on, of course, is where most of the structural forces in government will default. Hillary has probably already begun her transition to power. The Republican Party will adjust their primary rules to avoid another Trump and set about the work of torpedoing the Clinton administration. The media will begrudgingly transition to the next circus act. Ted Cruz will run in 2020, proud to have been the one who didn’t cave.
No. Fuck that. If we let this whole nightmare go passively by, the United States runs the risk of abdicating our shot at confronting some of the truly important issues of our time.
For years American politics has been dysfunctional. We all know it. And like an addict hits rock bottom, Donald Trump demands that we face those problems: government by an exploitative political class, unequal prosperity, racism more epidemic than a lot of us not dealing with it ever realized.
These aren’t easy to talk about, and they’re harder to solve. But sometimes, events conspire to create a sense of urgency.
Again, this is not advocating any incident. The opposite: I’m forecasting the possibility of it only because the Republican nominee is delivering unprecedentedly dangerous rhetoric that might cause it to happen. And we need to hold ourselves accountable to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
There is precedent for the type of reckoning we need. McCarthyism caricatured, and ultimately diminished, the paranoia of the Red Scare; Vietnam tempered imperial militarism for a generation. Trump demands a similar response. Maybe, in the course of it, we can mend the divisions that have defined Washington for too many years.
The best chance Donald Trump has of not becoming the most hated man in the world is to stop this right now. Start acting a clown again, take the loss, retire to icon status. If he does, retrospectives will focus on his nicknames and high-lariously offensive quippables. Maybe he’ll murder a family member and get to become the white OJ, subject of another years-long media spectacle before he kicks the can. Any of this would be fine with him. So just do it, asshole.
But if he doesn’t stop — if Donald Trump persists with his rabid eschatology on the campaign trail — I’m really afraid we’re going to find out what it looks like to watch a police shootout at a voting site. And if that happens, we’re going to struggle to fit our national pride, and nominal solidarity, into a convenient framework.
So there’s my suggestion: don’t try to fit it in anything. Deal with it. Head on. The maladies in our country that caused Donald Trump deserve to be dealt with on as grand a scale as we have. While I hope this election passes peacefully and we find a way to treat the subject of what the fuck just happened with the appropriate gravity, it doesn’t seem like things are headed that way. If Donald Trump doesn’t abate his dangerous rhetoric, something is going to wipe the smile off all of our faces.
Let’s see the media cover that.