By Robert Mann
Based on the impassioned rhetoric about him, you might think that Donald Trump is a despot in waiting, a 2016 version of Adolf Hitler. Some prominent members of his Republican Party certainly think so. To them, he’s a psychopath whose candidacy threatens not only their party but the future of the Republic.
Writing in the New York Times last Tuesday, Peter Wehner, a veteran of three Republican administrations, wrote: “Mr. Trump is precisely the kind of man our system of government was designed to avoid, the type of leader our founders feared – a demagogic figure who does not view himself as part of our constitutional system but rather as an alternative to it.”
The conservative syndicated columnist Thomas Sowell worried recently that Trump’s election would mean that the “downward trajectory of America over the past seven years may well continue on into the future, to the point of no return.” Columnist Michael Gerson, once an aide to President George W. Bush, wrote on Feb. 29 that a President Trump “would raise the prospect of serious damage to our democratic system.”
In the Washington Post on March 1, former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers declared flatly, “Trump’s election would threaten our democracy,” adding, “Even the prospect of Trump becoming president is dangerous.”
While I share Summers’ dread, I reject the idea that Trump’s election would threaten American democracy.
It is one thing to worry about the direction a potential president might take the country. (For example, I shudder at the thought of Trump appointing Antonin Scalia’s replacement to the Supreme Court.) It’s another thing, however, to suggest that the election of someone like Trump, no matter how unfit he may be for the White House, could spell an end to our form of government.
This kind of rhetoric is not new. For years, Republicans have warned that President Barack Obama was bent on destroying the nation. “Four more years of Obama will end America, the country we love, as we know it,” conservative radio host Sean Hannity told his listeners in 2012 as Obama campaigned for re-election.
Around the same time, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh declared: “It can now be said, without equivocation — without equivocation — this man [Obama] hates this country. Barack Obama is trying to dismantle, brick by brick, the American dream.”
Then-GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney suggested Obama was not a real American. Obama “doesn’t understand America,” Romney said, alleging that the president’s “agenda will make us a European welfare state.”
At the time, I scoffed at such language. Those words sound even more dishonest and ridiculous today than four years ago. On my blog in July 2012, referring to slurs against Obama’s patriotism and baseless allegations about his alleged Kenyan birth, I decided to play their game:
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