American society depends to an extraordinary extent on voluntary compliance with laws, regulations, and social conventions and on the moral compass within most of us. The norms governing how we interact with each other in a broad variety of personal, commercial, and other contexts are internalized. By and large Americans don’t lie, cheat or steal because they believe that to do so is wrong, not out of fear of being caught. The Golden Rule is part of our culture, at least to the extent that it is understood as the proper standard by which the things that we say or do to others is judged. Call it an aspirational goal in terms of behavior.
These social values are the glue that holds us together. Take them away and there are not enough cops, regulators, or tax examiners to make America function. Politicians and others who claim that the social order already has broken down have no idea what they are talking about because they have no concept what true chaos and disorder looks like. For the uninformed world history began about 1956 in the United States.
The reason that Donald Trump strikes fear in the hearts of rational people the world over is that they recognize that he couldn’t care less about shared values and the social order. In his world view rules are made to be broken and other people are there to be exploited for his own benefit. He is a thin-skinned pathological liar and a megalomaniac incapable of empathy. Most people know intuitively how dangerous it would be for this type of person to become president. He is to the social order what a bull is to a china shop.
During the campaign Trump has lived in an alternative universe, reveling in the adulation of his supporters who cheer every outrageous insult, threat and lie that he can come up with. There have been no consequences for his terrible behavior. Trump himself marveled at the phenomenon, once observing that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone without losing any votes.
Trump at his rallies reminds me of the scene in the movie Naked Gun when the detective played by Leslie Nielsen goes undercover as a baseball umpire calling balls and strikes. The crowd eggs on Nielsen as each of his strike calls becomes more outlandish than the last. The difference is that for Trump the emotions egging him on are not good-natured ones; they are anger and hostility, even hate. He feels not one ounce of shame about appealing to the basest instincts of a crowd. He actually enjoys it, which is appalling.
What happens if Trump is elected president and faces the real world, a world consisting of people, democratic institutions and nations unimpressed by his bluster? Somehow he has convinced legions of voters that he will be able to bend friends and foes to his will and solve the problems of the country and the world through little more than the sheer force of his personality. It is utter nonsense, and those voters are in for a rude awakening if Trump becomes president.
There have been good presidents, bad presidents, and mediocre presidents. All, however, have generally accepted the moral, almost sacred obligation of a president to try to unify rather than divide the country and keep us from turning on each other and on our democratic institutions. Does anyone really believe that Trump concerns himself with moral obligations? What are the chances that a President Trump would demonstrate and encourage respect toward the legislative and judicial branches of the federal government if they did something he did not like or, worse yet, embarrassed him?
Trump cannot and will not change. As soon as the setbacks occur and the frustrations mount, a President Trump would revert to form by trying to shift blame to his usual scapegoats – immigrants, feminists, minorities, bureaucrats, Democrats, etc. Print and broadcast media that criticize a President Trump would come under blistering attack. The first judge that overturns one of his executive orders would become a target of his abuse.
With Trump everything is personal and people don’t disagree with him simply because they disagree with him – they disagree with him because there is something wrong with them. In his eyes they are either crooked or stupid, or both. It is almost unimaginable for someone with Trump’s attitude toward dissent to be in the oval office. His response to anything that threatens his massive ego is angry and vindictive, and we’re considering giving him the powers of the presidency to go along with his punitive impulses?
Trump has been the most polarizing presidential candidate in history and he would be the most polarizing president in history. About that there cannot be any doubt. The only question is exactly how ugly and destructive the mood of the country would become. Let’s hope we don’t get a chance to find out.
November 7, 2016