At a moment when our country is facing the very real possibility of electing Donald Trump, it is time to pause the offensive and, as a nation of individuals, to self-reflect. Trump cannot be credited for his rise because in a democracy monsters do not make themselves; they are made when given power by We the People. On his own, Donald Trump is just a man. It is only as an elected official that the ugly character traits of ignorance, narcissism, prejudice, and imprudence will become the terrifying attributes of a destructive leader.
To Trump's opponents it is perplexing: how can so many Americans be behind a man who stands for things that seem so un-American (banning an entire religious population from entering the country, punishing women who exercise their choice to have an abortion, deeming immigrants rapists and criminals, to name just a few)? In the beginning it was hard to take his candidacy seriously because most people thought he would self-destruct. And yet, when he didn't self-destruct his naysayers continued to assume that if voters could only see what Trump is, they would stop supporting him. Thus, thousands of words and hours of press have been spent revealing the truth about a man who is already an open book. To understand that he is a racist, misogynist, narcissist, and bully all voters have to do is listen to what the man says. The problem is not that people cannot see Donald Trump's flaws, the problem is that people see and identify with them.
Most of us are neither monsters nor saints. We are loving and sometimes intolerant, empathic and sometimes spiteful. We respect truth but do not always seek it out, we crave a better world but often rely on others to build it for us. Every day we are faced with difficult decisions and we don't always make the right ones, but in a democracy, when as citizens we move from the private to the public sphere by casting a vote, we should be better. We have a duty to be our best selves, not our mediocre selves, because we are vesting another person with an extraordinary amount of power.
Right now we are failing in that responsibility, and the world is watching.
The most important and difficult task this election season is not to dissect Donald Trump's character, but to examine our own, because the truth is that Donald Trump will continue to rise until we, voters and citizens, look to each other for accountability. We cannot accept willful blindness - "Trump's not really a racist." He is and it's obvious. Nor can we accept dismissiveness - "I don't support his views on certain things, but he'll make a good leader." No, a person cannot support Trump's candidacy for President of the United States without also supporting his sweeping message of intolerance.
If we really look to each other we will see a dark side of the American - maybe even human - psyche roused from a state of irregular dormancy. On his own, Donald Trump cannot normalize racism or sexism or xenophobia because he really is just one person. Permission is granted by his supporters; each person who joins strengthens the sense of acceptance and normalcy that fellow supporters need in order to sleep soundly at night. The more who join him the easier it is for others to do the same because every person has a threshold for joining the mob. At some point in our lives, each and every one of us will be tempted, but history and humanity have taught us, time and time again, that succumbing to hate will not "make America great again."
Donald Trump will not be defeated by attacking and advertising his character. He will be defeated by holding voters responsible for their decisions, by forcing one another to be honest about our attraction to the simple messages of good guys and bad guys that we know to be wrong, by looking in the mirror. As human beings we will never be perfect, but we like to believe of ourselves that most of the time we will do the right thing. This is never more important than when casting a vote because in a democracy, monsters are elected officials who - like Trump - crave power but do not have the knowledge, rationality, or empathy necessary to wield it without destroying lives.