How don’t we love Donald Trump?
Let us count the ways.
He is arrogant, artful, audacious, autocratic, avaricious, biased, bigoted, blustering, bombastic, bossy, a braggart, calculating, capricious, chauvinistic, coarse, conceited, cocky, crude, cunning, contriving, cynical, dangerous, deceitful, dislikable, duplicitous, dogmatic, dictatorial, dissentious, domineering, egotistical, erratic, evasive, feckless, haughty, high-handed, hypocritical, imperious, inconsistent, inflammatory, insatiable, insidious, insincere, irresponsible, malevolent, malicious, misogynistic, narrow-minded, opportunistic, overbearing, nasty, pompous, prejudiced, presumptuous, pretentious, provocative, pugnacious, repulsive, sarcastic, scheming, self-important, sleazy, small-minded, smug, sneering, strutting, swaggering, tasteless, unaccountable, uncouth, unprincipled, unreliable, unstable, untrustworthy, vain, voracious, and warped.
Thanks to the unmatched richness of the English language, all these words, and many others, fit him.
But there’s one that’s so much more significant than the others that I saved it for last.
He’s living out the dictionary definition of a demagogue as one who “makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power.”
Such a person cannot — should not — be trusted with the leadership of any country.
The nation can tolerate and survive a president who is not nice or honest. Certainly we have had that sort. Richard Nixon comes to mind.
But we cannot afford a demagogue. No nation can.
No president has ever appealed to America’s worst instincts as openly and deliberately as Trump does. Even Nixon and Ronald Reagan cloaked their successful “Southern” strategies in dog whistles. Not even George Wallace ever stooped as low as Trump.
Does he seriously believe that he can erect a Berlin wall along the entire Mexican border? That Mexican immigrants are more disposed to criminality than the rest of us? That he could expel some 11 million undocumented immigrants and their American-born children? That he could compel Mexico to pay for these monstrous schemes? That he could persuade two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the states to repeal the 14th Amendment?
Given how he has shifted positions in the past — as on health care and abortion — it’s reasonably possible that Trump doesn’t actually intend to attempt any of that. He’s shrewd, but he’s not stupid.
He is generating a hurricane of hatred that not even he could control if it gets so far out of hand as to nominate or elect him to the presidency.
Intolerance of foreigners and of racial minorities is the San Andreas Fault of our republic. A “Native American” party better remembered as the “Know Nothings” tried to foment hatred of immigrants in general and Catholics in particular during the 1850s. Chinese immigrants were treated like serfs, forbidden to own property, well into the 20th century, when anti-Semitism accounted for immigration quotas favoring northern over southern and eastern Europe. Frothing bigots like “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman and James Eastland kept the South backward for a century by capitalizing on hatred of blacks to win and hold political power.
Trump is reopening the ugliest wounds in our history and rolling in them like a dog in a dung pile.
His demonizing of Hispanic immigrants comes from the same moral cesspool as his “birther” nonsense against our first black president.
Scapegoating is the demagogue’s tool in trade. It’s a perfect platform — indeed, the only feasible platform — for someone whose proposed public policies are as irrational as Trump’s, and whose claim to the business acumen necessary to run a nation is belied by four corporate bankruptcies.
It’s a mistake to rationalize his surge as simply a symptom of widespread frustration with the current state of politics and the economy. It’s deeper and uglier than that.
If that’s all there were to it, then Bernie Sanders, who gives responsible and dignified voice to the public’s dissatisfaction, should be doing much better than Trump. But it’s Trump who gets the favorable reviews from the neo-Nazi David Duke and an assortment of “white nationalist” websites. It’s Trump, not Sanders, who completely dominates the news.
It bears remembering that there was another racist demagogue who rose to power by promising to make his country great again — and left it in ruins at the end.
His name was Adolf Hitler.
Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives in western North Carolina. Column courtesy of Context Florida.