WASHINGTON, February 25, 2016 — America is witness to an unprecedented phenomenon: A presidential candidate is running by tearing America down.
According to Donald Trump, America is no longer great; it needs him to make it “great again.” Trump’s America is in dramatic decline. He blames illegal immigrants and trade agreements negotiated by incompetent U.S. officials for this, not new technologies and a changing global economy.
His remedy is to exclude all Muslim immigrants, get Mexico to pay for a wall along the border, and deport millions of people who are here illegally. We must abandon free trade and begin imposing tariffs.
While the U.S. is the most powerful country in the world, Trump believes we are at the mercy of our adversaries. His formula for success is torture and the murder of the family members of any terrorists we apprehend.
Our country faces many problems, but we remain the richest and most powerful nation in the world. Our citizens enjoy religious freedom, a free press, and a limited, constitutional government. We can disagree with some of the initiatives of the current administration without bemoaning an American fall from “greatness,” however defined.
Trump’s rhetoric has nothing to do with either reality or what the Republican Party has traditionally embraced. He’s come close to accusing former President George W. Bush of knowing in advance about the 9/11 attacks. He has questioned President Obama’s citizenship and that of his Republican opponents, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
Trump has fabricated his own background. He is descended from German immigrants. His grandfather, Friedrich Trump, came to America in 1885 from Kallstadt, a village in Rhineland-Palatinate. When Trump’s father, Fred, was 11, America entered the First World War. It became unpopular to be German, so Fred declared that his parents were from Sweden. In his autobiography, “Trump: The Art of The Deal,” Donald Trump writes that his father was of Swedish descent.
Trump spends a lot of time calling his opponents “liars.” Does he lie about his own family origins?
Trump said of a protester at a rally, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” He has denigrated Muslims, Mexicans and people with disabilities. He has lied about seeing “thousands of Muslims in New Jersey hailing the 9/11 attacks.” He promotes himself as very smart and very rich, someone with extraordinary business sense that he would bring to government.
His business record has not been properly examined, and he has so far refused to release his tax returns. Bank executives in New York cite his previous bankruptcies and his propensity for litigation. Fifteen companies with ties to Trump owe banks in excess of $270 million, according to his Federal Election Commission disclosures.
His actual debt may be higher; top range candidates must only reveal $50 million or above for any given loan.
Trump’s honesty in business has been questioned. According to The New York Times,
“One contractor, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being sued by Mr. Trump, said Mr. Trump underpaid on one large job, at one of his towers, by almost $100,000. The contractor opted not to sue, estimating the litigation would cost more than the losses. The two parties have not done business since.”
Trump rejects nearly the entire Republican agenda. Republicans support free trade; Trump opposes it. Republicans oppose federal funding for Planned Parenthood; Trump says the group provides needed care for women. Until almost yesterday, Trump embraced abortion. Eminent domain—the right of the government to seize private property for public, and even private use—is opposed by Republicans. Trump embraces it and used it to try to demolish an older woman’s home in Atlantic City to build a parking lot; he calls it “wonderful.”
Republicans call for domestic energy development, while Trump has called for colonizing Iraq’s oil reserves through military intervention.
Trump’s embrace of torture is enthusiastic. He said as president he would “immediately” resume waterboarding and other techniques that are “much worse.” He called waterboarding “a minor form of interrogation.”
Trump, who never served in the military and has no experience whatever in government or international affairs, said that in his view, Arizona Sen. John McCain was not a “hero” because he was a prisoner of war after his plane was shot down in Vietnam.
McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner, said that “waterboarding and other inhumane interrogation techniques” did not prevent further attacks on the country and “compromised our values, stained out national honor and did little practical good.”
We never used torture against German and Japanese prisoners during World War II, but Trump is ready to make it a staple of U.S. policy.
It is the height of hypocrisy for Trump, who is intent on tearing America down, to compare himself to Ronald Reagan. Reagan was an optimist, was liked by even those who disagreed with him and embraced conservative values such as lower taxes, smaller government and a strong military.
Reagan knew that political success involves compromise. He ended the Cold War by meeting with his Soviet adversaries, not isolating them or calling them names. Reagan would be repelled by the divisive nativism and pessimism about the nation’s future that characterizes Trump’s campaign. Under Reagan, the Republican Party was forward-looking and inclusive.
Jacob Weisberg, author of the volume on Ronald Reagan in the American Presidents series, notes that if Trump were to succeed,
“The loser could be the party itself. Unless it repudiates the inflammatory rhetoric of the primary, it will lose Reagan’s claim to the center and become more like one of Europe’s chauvinistic right-wing parties. In the 1980s, it was said that the Democrats looked for heretics while the Republicans looked for converts. To watch the spectacle of the 2016 primaries is to see those tendencies reversed.”
The GOP seems ready to embrace Trump’s possible candidacy. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus was asked by ABC’s Grorge Stephanopolous if the party would back Donald Trump should he win the nomination. His answer: “Yes, we will support the nominee. To me it’s a no-brainer. Winning is the antidote to a lot of things.”
Winning, however, will tell us that the Republican Party as we have known it, the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan, is a thing of the past. For a party that traditionally built up America and American values to embrace someone who is tearing them down would be an historic moment, one all of us could do without.