By Tommy Hough
Those calling Donald Trump the winner in Sunday's debate in St. Louis suffer from such a peculiar form of cognitive dissonance that not even Trump's impending loss in the Nov. 8 presidential election will cure it. If these reality-defying pundits and supporters consider a debate a "win" in which the candidate called his opposite number "evil," claimed there was "hate in her heart," and stalked her around the stage like a bully ready to land a back-turned cheap shot while never offering a single specific on policy, they're not going to care about the myriad of falsehoods that Trump blurts out.
Then there's the "you'd be in jail" remark. Trump has been leading "lock her up" chants before rabid right-wing audiences for months, and is no doubt getting off on the power he wields over hotheads and reactionaries in these ugly, fascistic hockey arena rallies – except there's no reason to "lock up" Hillary or anyone else because there is no indictment, and no evidence of legal wrongdoing as far as Secretary Clinton's personal e-mail server is concerned. Even the FBI said it was a loser case.
So what in the world are Trump's fans talking about? They don't even know, and they don't care. Despite the abundant evidence of competence, ability, experience and success, they just know Hillary is crooked. Being Hillary Clinton has long been a jailable offense for the lunatic far-right. So like birtherism, Trump hasn't just embraced the ugliness, he's fanned the flames of stupid, and has even gone as far as suggesting Hillary might be shot.
I'd like to stop and ask my Republican friends and readers at this point just what kind of country they want to live in. In a nation plagued by mass shootings, a hysterical overabundance of guns and a general mood of crankiness, the Republican presidential candidate suggested this summer – only when he was moderately down in the polls – that someone may just decide to shoot the former Secretary of State out of hand. And not even that was what put his campaign into the inevitable tailspin it is now.
Let's go back to the jailing comment. Imagine for a moment candidate Barack Obama telling John McCain on the debate stage in 2008 "you'd be in jail" if he, Obama, were president – ostensibly for McCain being a political opponent. Sounds outrageous, right? Obama would've lost in a landslide and been deservedly criticized. But since Trump is a creature of a willing media, we're going down the rabbit hole again where reason is meaningless, shame an irritant, journalistic blind spots cloud reality, and Trump gets awat with the most egregiously authoritarian statement I've ever heard in a presidential race. These are statements that, in any other race, any other situation would be career-ending. Imagine Bush saying that to John Kerry. Or Bill Clinton saying that to Bob Dole.
The United States is not a Banana Republic, but under Trump that needle could move. The nation's unresolved and collective crime of Guantanamo aside – where we've held individuals for years without charging them with anything – the U.S. does not jail political adversaries unless they've been convicted of breaking laws. The kind of political retribution Trump suggests is the stuff of authoritarian regimes. The very sort of thing, in fact, that the U.S. broke away from Great Britain to get away from.
Trump's supporters claim to love freedom, but what they really love is the idea of strongman. The fascist. The dear leader. The forced groupthink, so they themselves don't have to think too hard about things and instead "feel" as though a steady hand is guiding them. Sound familiar? The parallels between the U.S. in 2016 and the Weimar Republic in 1932 are chilling, if not entirely matching up, but Trump is the very definition of freedom and liberty for his supporters. So if you want a dictator, Trump is ready and willing for you to obey him – or throw you in jail.
In fact, Trump has already set the stage for post-election brownshirt chaos by claiming the election will be "rigged," something his current enablers from the insane right-wing outlet Breitbart have been urging him to do. Apparently, the election won't be rigged if Trump wins – only if Hillary Clinton wins. Not even Joe McCarthy willingly said something this damaging or destructive to the long-term health of the nation and our institutions – which are only as good as the people we elect to manage them.
Going back to the debate falsehoods, there were some doozies, including Trump's utterly bizarre assertion that Russia and Iran (!) have been the only nations combating ISIS in occupied areas of Iraq and Syria, as though U.S. airpower has been sitting idle on Turkish airfields, Iraqi airfields and on naval battle groups in the Mediterranean Sea for the last two years waiting for something to do. In fact, U.S. and coalition air forces, including France and Saudi Arabia, have launched over 15,000 airstrikes on ISIS-held positions since 2014, with nearly 12,000 of those strikes carried out by the United States. Whether you think those airstrikes are appropriate policy or not, no one can deny the U.S. has been very busy, and frankly, quite lethal.
By contrast, some 17 percent of Russian strikes have been against ISIS. Most have been against rebel forces trying to remove Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Vladimir Putin, from power. That vestige of the five-year old Arab Spring movement has descended into a Syrian civil war bloodbath approaching genocide. That's been the story behind the siege of the ancient Syrian city of Aleppo, in which Russian and Syrian warplanes have waged what can only be described as a holocaust as they try and push rebel defenders out of the eastern end of the city.
But the U.S. position in combating ISIS isn't the only thing Trump was in full-on wishful thinking mode on Sunday night.
So now the chips are down and Republicans are jumping ship. Mike Pence, as phony and clueless a "values voter" as any, is all but denying he even knows Trump in a bit of Biblical brain cleansing. McCain has bailed, Cruz has bailed, embattled New Hampshire senator Kelly Ayotte has bailed and Paul Ryan has bailed – and was booed for having done so by Trump supporters at what was supposed to have been a friendly hometown crowd over the weekend. They're all cowards, and they're in pincers movement between Trump and his fans. Good.
Now, as far as the tape is concerned, that was a problem, eh? Well, apparently there wasn’t a problem when Donald Trump was on TV or before arenas full of racist mobs saying terrible things about Mexicans, Muslims, Black lives Matter demonstrators, Gold Star parents, prisoners of war, the disabled or calling women pigs. That wasn't the problem was it? It was the recording made – by accident – that Republican elites have suddenly decided to become horrified with. Well, welcome to the rest of the world Republicans. What do you think the rest of us have been so concerned about? What do you think we were so flabbergasted about?
If you already believe, as I do, that the nation is in something of a low-intensity civil war aggravated by conspiracy theorists, gun nuts and consumers of right-wing media, then Trump is clearly ginning up his base for a violent response to election results – something he would see as purely the next fold in his ongoing reality show, instead of it being a national tragedy. I'm not sure if people realize how close this man is to pulling the temple down on his head to protect his ego, which has been put in an unwinnable, untenable position that he's beginning to realize he can't bullshit his way out of.
Time to blame someone else and shift attention. Just another fold in the Donald's story. It’s all rigged, you know.
Tommy Hough is a San Diego broadcast personality, wilderness and parks advocate, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He was a candidate for San Diego City Council in the 2018 election cycle.