In the past few weeks Strangers in a Strange Land have been quietly trying to wrap our head around the shrieking multi-car interstate pileup that is the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. We’ve written several articles only to delete them without publication after realizing that nothing that we write can possibly capture the enormity of the crisis — make no mistake, it is a crisis — that Trump’s candidacy has created for our nation. Today, after many months watching huge numbers of American voters throw their support behind a cartoonish would-be dictator, there are finally signs that America may be waking up.
It’s not a second too soon.
The two weeks in which the two major U.S. political parties held their quadrennial national nominating conventions can only be described as surreal. The Republican National Convention was a mean-spirited, hateful affair that played out like a Trump campaign rally, complete with frequent crowd chants of “lock her up,” referring to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has seemingly been under investigation by conservatives since she opined in 1998 that she and President Bill Clinton had been targeted by a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”
It was a prescient statement.
Donald Trump’s wife Melania gave a speech with significant portions plagiarized from Michele Obama’s 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention. Plagiarism is bad, and easily preventable with free software, which raises serious questions about the basic competency of the professional speechwriters on the Trump campaign team. It highlighted Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip, half-ass approach to everything he does. And it was especially embarrassing that the speech passages were stolen from Mrs. Obama’s speech, because her husband is the man who has been the object of right-wing hatred since he was sworn into office in 2009.
Scott Baio, who played Chachi on the 1970’s sitcom Happy Days, and Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson gave pro-Trump speeches. Trump lacks support from much of the Republican establishment, which explains why a has-been and a reality TV show star were brought in to fill up airtime. None of the GOP standard bearers bothered to show up for the RNC, much less give a speech praising Trump. And so Baio and Robertson were allowed to take up time on national television as if anyone really gives a damn what they think. Ted Cruz agreed to speak, only to give a speech in which he pointedly avoided endorsing Trump, instead telling his supporters to “vote your conscience.” At the moment he delivered that line Cruz’s face bore that maddening smirk which makes it one of the planet’s most punchable. The crowd booed him off the stage and he fled the convention hall with his wife.
The scariest part of the whole RNC, though, was Trump’s own acceptance speech. Presidential candidates in these acceptance speeches traditionally tell parts of their life story that may tend to humanize them, and lay out, at least in outline form, their plan for governing. Trump eschewed tradition and revealed no details about his qualifications for the office or his specific plans for governing. Instead, he spent much of his speech painting America as a dangerous, scary place, with skyrocketing unemployment, Muslim terrorists on every corner, immigrants committing crimes left and right, and crime rates rising to levels never before seen in history. He then said “only I can fix it,” portraying himself as a messiah riding in to save America. He promised to improve the economy, get rid of crime, and destroy ISIS, but of course without giving the first detail about how he planned to accomplish these goals.
All of it was lies meant to make people afraid, because only fearful people would vote for a bullying demagogue like Trump. Unemployment is at a historic low. American toddlers kill more people with guns than foreign terrorists do. The crime rate among immigrants is lower than among native-born Americans. And Trump’s crime statistics he recited in his speech have been completely debunked; in fact violent crime in America is now much lower than when Ronald Reagan was president. Trump’s promises to single-handedly save the country demonstrated — as if it need to be demonstrated again — that Trump is completely ignorant of the constitutional limitations on the powers of the president, or indeed of how American constitutional government works in any respect.
It was the next week, during the DNC, that Trump made a blunder that, along with all the other batshit crazy things that have come roaring out of his mouth in the past year, may finally spell the beginning of the end for his presidential aspirations. One of the most memorable speeches at the Democratic convention was delivered by Khizr Khan, an American Muslim father of an American Muslim soldier born in the United States and killed in Iraq in 2004. The war hero in question, U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, posthumously received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, the latter honor awarded because Captain Khan saved many lives from the car bomb that claimed his. Khizr Khan, with his wife standing by his side, criticized Trump’s stance on Muslim immigration (Trump says we should halt all Muslim immigration until “we figure out” the “radical Islamic terrorism” problem).
In a stinging rebuke, Mr. Khan stated that Mr. Trump was ignorant of the United States Constitution (he is) and brought out his own personal pamphlet copy of the charter document, offering to let Trump borrow it. Mr. Khan said, “Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”
Well. Mr. Khan said something bad about Trump, so in Trump’s world it was time to lash out and say bad things about this Gold Star family still mourning the loss of their American war hero son. ABC News did a great job summarizing how Trump took Mr. Khan’s speech, which nobody probably would have remembered by November if Trump had kept his mouth shut, and turned it into a public feud that has many people realizing just what a despicable monster Trump is:
Khizr Khan chastised Trump for seeking to bar foreign Muslims from entering the country, saying their son would not have been able to serve under a Trump presidency.
“Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America,” Khizr Khan said, addressing Trump. “You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”
Trump appeared to try to brush the speech aside, saying that Khizr Khan “was, you know, very emotional and probably looked like a nice guy to me.”
Trump also said, “If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.”
This appears to be Trump tipping his hat to some far-right-wing and nationalist Twitter users who have suggested that Ghazala Khan was silent during her husband’s speech because they are Muslim and he prohibits her from speaking.
In an interview with ABC today, Ghazala Khan said she did not speak because she was “in pain.”
“Please. I am very upset when I heard when he said that I didn’t say anything. I was in pain. If you were in pain, you fight or you don’t say anything. I’m not a fighter. I can’t fight. So the best thing I do was quiet,” she said.
Khizr Khan said he asked his wife of 42 years to speak but she declined, knowing she would be too emotional.
“I invited her, ‘Would you like to say something on the stage?’ when the invitation came, and she said, ‘You know how it is with me, how upset I get,'” he said.
Pressed by Stephanopoulos to identify the sacrifices he made for his country, Trump said, “I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.”
Sacrifices? Really? Mr. I got a “small gift” from my father of merely one million dollars to start my real estate career? This man has sacrificed nothing, and the father of a war hero called him out on it, but Trump, ever the thin-skinned reactionary, had to deny it and make a bigoted slur against a grieving mother whose boy was blown to bits in battle in the service of this nation. Further underscoring just how ignorant of the constitution he is, Trump issued a statement saying that Khan had “no right” to say Trump had never read the constitution. First Amendment, anyone?
Finally, Trump’s poll numbers were negatively affected by his disastrous decision to get into a public media war with a Gold Star family, who made the ultimate sacrifice of their own son for America. Nobody thinks that is anything other than disgusting, because even the most die-hard right-wingers believe the families of those who died in battle are due the respect and appreciation of their fellow countrymen, including, and especially, a candidate for the highest office in the land. The latest polls two weeks after the DNC (and now unaffected by the traditional “convention bounce” in the days after a party’s convention) indicate that Trump could very well be trounced in November, giving a landslide victory to Clinton, and among young people Trump’s support is at an abysmal 20%. Trump’s support among Republican women is at an all-time low for a Republican presidential nominee.
Mr. Trump, it appears America is not as gullible as you thought, and there really are limits on what you can say on the national stage without voters turning against you. November 8 is less than three months away, and since Trump clearly cannot be controlled or scripted it appears that he will finally be his own undoing. Unless Trump switches brains with someone else, I cannot conceive of how he can do anything but lose to Hillary Clinton.
It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.