President Donald Trump’s campaign speeches are a merciless moral X-ray, of himself and of his party. To beat back Democrats, he is waging an explicit race war rooted in blatant lies. Illegal immigrants are voting in droves. Democrats are funding a “caravan” of Hispanic refugees, awash in gang members and Middle Eastern terrorists, to overrun our borders. As he replicates the rhetoric of history’s most vile authoritarians, Republican officeholders grab his soiled coattails.
Try irreversible coma. Trump’s GOP has become a Trojan horse for plutocrats, theocrats, bigots and foreign powers hostile to America’s democracy and core ideals.
This is no time for indifference, the self-indulgence of third-party voting that only aids Republicans, or reflexive loyalty to a principled Republican Party that no longer exists. The GOP’s toxic compound of ethno-nationalism and moral bankruptcy mandates that independents, Democrats and responsible Republicans of all backgrounds and generations unite by voting to deprive this aberrant party of its congressional majority ― and to check an American president transparently in Vladimir Putin’s thrall.
In terms of genuine principal, the GOP has become a squalid void. What pseudo-policies it has serve a few powerful constituencies with their own narrow priorities: a base filled with racial anxiety; evangelicals bent on repealing same-sex marriage and Roe v. Wade; donors hungry for tax cuts and deregulation; a callous gun lobby that helps perpetuate mass slaughter. Nothing else matters, save avoiding the truth about Trump and Russia by whatever means required.
The “party of Lincoln” now breeds xenophobia and racism. Its president falsely accuses blacks and Latinos of electoral fraud, supports laws designed to suppress minority voting, separates nonwhite refugees from their children, shafts Dreamers, and relentlessly stokes white nativism ― all to salvage himself and his party’s craven candidates.
“Who will govern us – the party of white identity, or one that respects our common humanity?”
The party of fiscal responsibility rewards demanding donors with reckless tax cuts that generate trillion-dollar annual deficits. The party that founded the Environmental Protection Agency guts its powers and dismisses the climate change endangering our planet. The party of free trade promotes trade wars and tariffs. The party of human rights supports a president who gives succor to murderous authoritarians around the globe ― from Russia to the Philippines to a megalomaniac in Saudi Arabia who believes, by virtue of Trump’s indulgence, that he can butcher journalists with impunity.
The party that decries judicial activism appoints conservative ideologues committed to enacting the retrograde social agenda of white evangelicals. The party of middle-class America sabotages Obamacare by driving up premiums and gutting protections for those with pre-existing conditions. The party of working-class whites savages unions and attacks regulations protecting workers from injury or exploitation. The party of phony populism promotes plutocracy.
The party formerly indignant at the supposed depredations of the Clinton Foundation now countenances a blatantly profiteering president who conceals his tax returns while his properties attract favor-seeking foreign governments in defiance of the Emoluments Clause; a self-serving daughter and son-in-law leveraging their undeserved positions for commercial gain; and a Cabinet awash in petty corruption and potential criminality.
The party of public safety supports a rhetorical pipe bomber who legitimizes hatred with incendiary accusations, threatens and demonizes political opponents, ignites unreasoning anger against journalists and endangers innocent Americans by praising acts of violence. The party of personal responsibility countenances and reinforces a village bigot who nourishes anti-Semitism by repeating false accusations against prominent Jews.
And the party of national security runs interference while our president kowtows to a foreign adversary that aggressively attacked the integrity of an election that made him president.
We see too well what lies ahead. After November, Trump will go after Robert Mueller and his superiors at the Justice Department, acting as a third-world authoritarian to shield his gross misconduct ― the very reason Devin Nunes told donors that the GOP must retain a House majority.
Much of what Republicans don’t want Americans to know is obvious. Whether Trump conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election in his favor. Whether Trump did this in exchange for a promise of sanctions relief, financial assistance ― or both. Whether Trump obstructed justice to avoid discovery. Whether Trump is a modern-day Manchurian candidate disloyal to his oath of office.
But another motive for concealment is less obvious: the prospect that Trump literally owes his election to Russian interference ― and, therefore, that Russia’s ongoing interference will be similarly helpful to Trump Republicans this November ― and beyond.
Before 2016, this question would evoke a paranoid thriller. But in The Washington Post, Max Boot detailed the scope of Russia’s help for Trump ― not only the strategic and devastating release of hacked emails, but a wave of targeted internet propaganda that reached 120 million Americans. Boot quotes the highly respected former FBI agent Clinton Watts: “Without the Russian interference effort, I believe Trump would not have even been within striking distance of Clinton on Election Day.”
Most recently, after exhaustively studying the impact of Russia’s strategically leaked emails, the esteemed political scientist Catherine Hall Jamieson concluded: “It is therefore very likely without Russian interventions, Donald J Trump not be the US’s 45th president.” Russia continues these blatant efforts in 2018: Late last month, the DOJ indicted a Russian linked to firms close to Putin for investing $10 million in a targeted social media campaign intended “to sow division and discord in US political system” and thereby “influence public sentiment.”
One certainty emerges: Trump’s GOP is bent on burying the subject of Trump’s ongoing indebtedness to Russia. Transparently, Republican officeholders fear only Trump’s base, its donors ― and the truth. If they can conjure tax cuts and right-wing judges, they no longer care by what means, or whose agency, this happened. When it comes to keeping power, the party of fake principles is willing to partner with Trump and Putin in corrupting American democracy.
Trump has already corrupted the democratic sensibility of Republican base voters. Polling shows that many Republicans don’t care that Trump is a congenital liar; more Republicans than not believe Trump should have the power to shut down news outlets. Most remarkably, 40 percent of Republicans are willing to accept Russian interference in our elections if it helps their party win.
What accounts for this rejection of democracy itself? Peter Beinart argues in The Atlantic that Trump has upended the very meaning of corruption. For Trump’s followers, the prospect that he has violated the law, ethical norms or even his oath of office no longer counts. Instead, “corruption” is the imagined degradation of white America by immigrants and minorities who, they believe, are upending the social hierarchy.
Fox News’ Laura Ingraham summed it up: “The America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people … that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t want.” In case anyone missed the point, she added: “This is related to both legal and illegal immigration.”
To protect himself from political defeat and legal accountability, Trump invites his loyalists to revel in lies, cruelty and bigotry ― weaponizing mass inhumanity. Millions of Americans accept ― or welcome ― the separation, perhaps permanent, of children from their parents. They believe Democrats are facilitating a blitzkrieg across our borders by members of MS-13. They imagine that refugees from war and misery in Syria are terrorists bent on killing Americans. They accept Trump’s blatant falsifications of the crime rate among undocumented immigrants. If Democrats win, he told an audience in Ohio, “You’re going to have crime all over the place. You’re going to have people pouring across the border.”
But this racist propaganda serves real policy: Trump and his advisers truly mean to keep America white ― and make it whiter. They are throttling legal immigration from nonwhite countries. They promise to end birthright citizenship without regard to our laws and Constitution. They are proposing to keep legal immigrants from becoming citizens if they use public assistance for themselves ― or their children.
“The stakes in November transcend ideological preferences or partisan differences: They cut to the essence of America itself.”
Desperate to keep power, Trump and his party are backing bogus voter ID laws aimed at restricting minority voting. If they can’t kick legal immigrants out of the country, they will keep them from participating in American democracy. As ever, Fox News spreads Trump’s propaganda. Says Tucker Carlson, “The Latin American countries are changing election outcomes here by forcing demographic change...”
The stakes in November transcend ideological preferences or partisan differences: They cut to the essence of America itself. Who will govern us ― the party of white identity, or one that respects our common humanity? Will we combat, or promote, hatred and violence? Will we broaden opportunity and security for all, or suffocate hope by empowering plutocracy?
Will we preserve the rule of law and America’s constitutional democracy, or further empower an aspiring autocrat to undermine them both? Will we demand accountability for Russia’s malevolent attacks on our elections, or protect the malefactors at home and abroad?
What kind of America awaits millennials and their children: a society that strives to realize its best ideals, or the Hobbesian homeland of Trump and a terminally debased political party which, to preserve itself and its patrons, erodes democracy and metastasizes primordial bigotry?
This is the defining choice facing voters next Tuesday.
Richard North Patterson is the New York Times best-selling author of 22 novels and a member of the Council On Foreign Relations. He is a contributor to the new book Fight For Liberty – Defending Democracy in the Age of Trump.