I always forget this between elections, but it’s true: We really do learn from these unbearable gruel-a-thons who these candidates are at their core, and the results usually reflect our collective conclusions about them. When people are put to this kind of test, their character inevitably explodes to the surface, and voters decide they can or can’t live with it for the next four years.
Hillary Clinton’s character has been known to America for years, and this campaign reinforced the good and the bad. She’s smart and diligent and committed; she’s not corrupt or evil in the ways her attackers insist, but has some shocking lapses in judgment and blind spots. Very little that we learned about her these past 18 months was really capital-N News.
But Donald Trump—totally different story. At least for me. Sixteen months ago, I thought Trump was a crude, boorish, vain man who built garish buildings by skirting rules and bullying bureaucrats. I knew also the discriminatory history of his and his father’s rentals, but that, sad to say, didn’t make him all that different from a lot of New York developers of the time, so I thought his racism was somewhere on the normal scale for a white guy from Queens of his time.
I did not know he was a much-more-than-casual racist; a man who boasts about himself as a revolting sexual predator (and how many women allege he lives up to his words here); a liar not just by habit but by nature; a cheater at everything he does; a man with that much rage and hatred in his heart (even he must have one, down there somewhere); and, compounding it all, such a dainty little narcissist.
There’s been some debate these last few days about whether he really believed the stuff about Mexican rapists or just blurted it out because the crowds loved it. It makes no difference. What matters is he said it, without any apparent urge to reflect on the divisive impact. No, check that—by all appearances he knew it was divisive, and he loved it.
People are who they are. They don’t change. And so Trump, as The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak noted in a piece that went up Sunday night, is going out the way he came in, bashing Latinos. Mak cited the Nevada GOP official who referred to polls being kept open for “a certain group”—which is required by law, by the way; if you show up before poll closing time, they have to let you vote, no matter how long the line. Trump then echoed the guy, saying, with no evidence as usual, that something fishy was going on in “certain key Democratic polling locations in Clark County.”
Turns out the Latinos better take a number, because Trump’s final 48 hours of campaigning are one long hate-a-thon against all kinds of groups. When it was announced last week that he was going to Minnesota, I like everybody else thought what is that about? It’s single-digits in Minnesota, sure, but it’s a huge long shot: Nate Silver has Clinton at 80 percent likelihood of winning there. So why Minnesota?
Turns out the answer is to get in some digs at Somalis! The largest concentration of Somali immigrants to the United States lives in the Twin Cities, and it turns out that in recent years, officials estimate that around 30 young Somali men have gone off to join either ISIS or East Africa’s Al Shabaab terror network. So that’s basically the whole reason Trump went to Minnesota—to work white people into a lather about black people. “Everybody’s reading about the disaster taking place in Minnesota,” he said. “You don’t even have the right to talk about it.”
Latinos, Somalis… but what would a close-out hate-a-thon be without a little whack at the Jews? And so we have Trump’s closing TV ad, which is about replacing “a failed and corrupt political establishment” that has “trillions of dollars at stake in this election.” Right after the words “control the levers of power in Washington,” we see not Barack Obama or Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell, but... George Soros. In addition to Soros we see Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, both Jewish. Yellen’s face pops up over the words “global special interests,” and Blankfein’s image appears over the words “money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations.” Sen. Al Franken was one of many Jews prominent in political life who recognized time-honored (dishonored?) anti-Semitic tropes: “a German Shepherd whistle,” Franken cleverly called it.
Here’s all you need to know: Trump appeared Sunday with Ted Nugent in Michigan, barely a week after Nugent called Trump’s opponent a “devil-bitch.” Clinton appeared the same day in New Hampshire with Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father whose rebuke of Trump at the Democratic convention was the most morally powerful rebuke of the man the entire campaign.
So that’s the hate-a-thon. As for the lie part, Trump told one of his most brazen lies of the whole campaign over the weekend, about how Obama supposedly “spent so much time screaming” at a pro-Trump protester at a Clinton rally. There’s video that shows clearly that Obama did the exact opposite. “We live in a country that respects free speech,” he said; he cited the man’s military service as grounds that he should be respected; and finally noted that he was elderly, and “we gotta respect our elders.”
Then there was the “assassination attempt” nonsense, which his eldest son and other aides tried to push (the “assassin” was “armed” with a Hillary poster, and he got beat up for his trouble). And Sunday we had the final lie about James Comey and the FBI, when Trump alleged, knowing nothing, that the FBI couldn’t possibly have reviewed all the Weiner-Abedin laptop emails in a week.
So he ended it exactly as he began it, because it’s who he is. A more thoroughly repulsive man, we’ve not encountered in our politics, ever. Now it’s just up to a majority of voters to agree.