There were countless moments during the presidential campaign when Donald Trump would say something either in an interview or at a rally and I would think: “There it is, that has got to be disqualifying.” To my amazement it wasn’t.
Mexicans were criminals, pouring across our southern border; Mexico would pay for a wall; McCain was not a war hero; women should be punished if they had an abortion; nukes are not off the table; he could grab women by their genitals with impunity; Putin, his new BFF, was a better leader than Obama; all Muslims must be banned until “we find out what the hell is going on”; the Russians were asked to find Hillary’s missing emails; and so on. He even said he could shoot someone in downtown Manhattan and it wouldn’t matter.
I watched and listened, sometimes stunned, often in disbelief. And yet, at the rallies there was a sea of red hats and “Women for Trump” signs were ubiquitous. But I took comfort in the assumption that the voters would never elect this man, no matter how they felt about Hillary. Using a personal server instead of the State Department’s network was perhaps an error in judgment, but never the equivalent of the litany of egregious statements and past dealings of Trump.
Hillary would win. Landslide was mentioned.
And then came the election. Trump won the Electoral College vote, defying every poll and pollster. It proved a breathtaking moment. Florida, et al., chose Trump. It was later reported that 29 percent of Latinos voted for Trump. Ditto those referred to as white rural folks in the heartland and white college educated voters in the ‘burbs. Women voted for Donald. And in that one night, as it became clear that Trump had been elected, any fallback belief that there was simply no way was obliterated.
And so began the transition toward the inauguration, which, even to this day, seems surreal, requiring a suspension of disbelief.
But the most chilling moments have occurred since Trump was sworn in and began assembling his advisors and cabinet. His first 50-some days have defined chaos and the president’s early morning tweets have escalated.
Gradually, the thought that perhaps the electorate, in all its wisdom, in a pique, wanting to send Washington a message, had elected an individual who was unhinged. The voters had played fast and loose with our democracy and here we are, many beginning to wonder how to correct what now seems a calamitous mistake.
There is, of course, the unfolding story about the Russians and their role in our presidential election that asks the question whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian intelligence and has been angrily characterized by Trump as a “ruse,” embraced by the “lying” media.
But there’s also the reality that the president of the United States is a conspiracist, beginning some five years ago with his oft-repeated theory that President Obama was born in Kenya, thereby delegitimizing his presidency.
Recently Trump has insisted that he believes in voter fraud and points to the 3 million more votes cast for Hillary by illegal voters who were bused to polling stations. He was convinced that his inauguration crowd was one of the biggest in recent memory and accused the “dishonest” media of conspiring to diminish the turnout using fake news photos. He likened our intelligence organizations to the Nazis and has questioned the information offered up during his daily briefings.
Which brings us to the last two weeks, which are perhaps the most disturbing. During the early hours of Saturday, March 5, Trump launched a series of tweets asserting that President Obama had ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower. Actually, this charge originated with a right-wing talk show host, Mark Levin, on the previous Thursday who said Obama had used “the instrumentalities of the federal government to wiretap Trump and company.” By Friday, this claim was reported by Breitbart News, an outlet that traffics in conspiracies and nationalist-nativist propaganda and was once home to Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, both now ensconced in the White House as political strategists.
— Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.