It’s been an incredibly strange political year. While American politics has been imbued by anti-intellectualism for decades, the failure of both our political leaders and the electorate to care about facts, evidence, and truth has reached epic proportions with the rise of Donald Trump. Sure, there’s a long history of politicians lying for their own self-benefit. Bill Clinton lied about his extramarital affairs, George W. Bush duped the country about why we invaded Iraq (as he told the deputy director of the CIA shortly after 9/11, “F*ck diplomacy. We are going to war”), and Barack Obama once promised that he would create a “public option health plan,” which Fox News criticized in 2009 as “too much of a good thing” because it would “provide nearly the same benefits as the other private plans … but at a fraction of the cost.”
But Trump is different. He is an anomaly even within the ignominious culture of pervasive political doublespeak. According to the independent fact-checking organization PolitiFact, exactly 70 percent of all the statements that Trump has made so far are demonstrably false, and Politico found that over the course of a single week, “Trump averaged about one falsehood every three minutes and 15 seconds.” Last year, he won PolitiFact’s “Lie ofthe Year” award for a record-breaking three outright mendacities, including the racist falsehood that most whites are killed by Black people. While many politicians — including Hillary Clinton — are, to an alarming degree, truth-challenged (in Clinton’s case, about 24 percent of her claims are false), Trump’s inability to get even the most basic facts about the world right is unprecedented in modern politics.
A president whose beliefs don’t accurately correspond to reality will be extremely dangerous leading the country. For example, Trump has repeatedly called climate change a hoax “created by” the Chinese. This isn’t just wrong, it’s outrageously wrong. It could also be existentially catastrophic: The very best science today confirms that we have one or two decades before crossing the Rubicon of “severe,” “pervasive” and “irreversible” climate disruptions. This is not a joke; now is the time to act. As one study published in Nature Climate Change notes, the consequences of human-caused climate change will not only be profound, but they “will extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far.”
Trump also lacks basic understanding of economics and international politics. For example, a resounding majority of economists believe that Trump would cause serious economic problems — a claim that’s consistent with historical data showing that recessions are about four times more likely under Republicans than Democrats. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reports that exactly zero “former members of the White House Council of Economic Advisers — spanning eight presidents — openly support Mr. Trump.”
Furthermore, Trump has also said that it wouldn’t be so bad if Japan, South Korea andSaudi Arabia were to develop nuclear weapons — in other words, why not work againstinternational trends and actually promote nuclear proliferation?
As someone who studies global catastrophic risks, I can’t emphasize enough how extraordinarily dangerous such flagrantly reckless remarks are. Right now, the Doomsday Clock — maintained by the venerable Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists — is set to a mere three minutes before doom because of two behemoth global challenges: climate change and nuclear weapons. If Trump were to become president, the Doomsday Clock would leap forward, perhaps surpassing the record of two minutes before doom, which was set back in 1953 after the US and Soviet Union detonated the first hydrogen bombs.
Blowing the minds of reasonable people even more, Trump has repeatedly claimed that Obama is the “founder” of ISIS (also known as Daesh), an idea that fits with widespread conspiracy theories throughout the Middle East that have fueled anti-American sentiment. He also vowed to “bomb the shit out of” ISIS, bring torture back and kill the family members of suspected terrorists.
Bracketing the more nuanced issue of ethics — a topic not even on the radar this electionseason — anyone who knows anything about terrorism knows that the first two would significantly exacerbate the ongoing problem of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism — indeed, it would constitute a catastrophic misstep in the “war on terror.” As for the third claim, this would entail violating the Geneva Conventions, meaning that Trump has explicitly advocated committing war crimes. Trump has flip-flopped on some of these issues, but this doesn’t change the fact that, as a major political figure, he’s made some extraordinarily irresponsible statements — and in some cases, doubled-down on them.
Trump also recently claimed that he would jail his political opponent, borrowing a rhetorical flourish straight from the dictator’s playbook. Along these lines, Trump’s adviser called for Clinton’s execution last July. Trump also once “joked” that Russia should commit espionage against Clinton and he praised the Chinese government for crushing the Tiananmen Square protests. Trump won’t release his tax returns even though he once promised he would, and made some off-color comments about killing journalists. Trump is — scholars agree — an authoritarian candidate with clear fascistic tendencies. This is why Trump has literally been praised by authoritarian leaders like Kim Jung-Unand Vladimir Putin.
Even more, Trump has been endorsed by numerous leading white supremacists, neo-Nazis and war criminals around the world, including Don Black (neo-Nazi), Ilias Panagiotaros (neo-Nazi), August Kreis III (neo-Nazi), Aleksandr Dugin (Russian fascist), Vojislav Seselj (Serbian war criminal) and the KKK. This is unsurprising, given that Trump’s current CEO is Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart, which is largely responsible for the rise of the alt-right movement. As Milo Yiannopoulos, a leading alt-right figure who claims that rape culture is a “myth” and “feminism is cancer,” writes in a Breitbart article, the alt-right consists of neo-Nazis, skinheads, neo-reactionaries (anti-democracy ideologues), and other hate-driven extremists who prefer terms like “race realists” to “racists” and “white nationalists” to “white supremacists.” As the conservative National Review puts it, the ideological heart of this movement is “racist moral rot.”
Because of Trump, this movement has evolved from a small fringe demographic to a mainstream culture that could become the new establishment if Trump wins. Whether he knew better or not, Trump has retweeted multiple neo-Nazis, and his son Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a photo with the white supremacist meme “Pepe” the frog in a picture proudly referring to Trump’s support base as “deplorables.”
This is a frightening situation for anyone who cares about the sort of “moral progress” outlined by Steven Pinker and Michael Shermer in their respective tomes. Trump started his campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists” and “criminals,” unaware of the fact that“illegal immigration and the crime rate are as low as they’ve been in decades,” and that more Mexicans are migrating south of the border than north. Trump then claimed that an American judge born in Indiana but of Mexican descent was incapable of being fair, a comment that Paul Ryan described as “sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.”
As of now, Trump is polling at about 32 percent among Latinos and 4 percent among Black Americans. Imagine for a moment if the situation were inverted and a candidate, who could become the next president were polling at 4 percent among whites? Surely, white Americans would rebel as if the apocalypse were imminent. Yet this is precisely thesituation that people of color find themselves in with one of the most divisive candidates in modern US history one step away from the White House.
As for women, there are now 12 individuals who’ve come forth claiming that Trump sexually assaulted them, although the list of serious allegations is much longer. What’s not even in the mainstream news is Trump’s first wife, Ivana, accused Trump of rape in a divorce deposition. She later clarified, saying that “Mr. Trump and I had marital relations in which he behaved very differently toward me than he had during our marriage. As a woman, I felt violated,” yet she added that the incident should not be interpreted as rape”in a literal or criminal sense.” As the special counsel of The Trump Organization, Michael Cohen stated in defense of Trump: “You cannot rape your spouse.” (Note that as of 1984, New York law states that a husband can rape his wife, and the aforementioned incident occurred in 1989. Unsurprisingly, Cohen gets the facts wrong.)
The recent spate of women claiming that Trump assaulted them followed a now-famous tape was released in which Trump admits to sexually assaulting women. He says that when you’re famous, you can “grab them by the pussy” without any consequences. (Note here that one of Trump’s top advisers, Roger Ailes, recently stepped down from his job because of sexual harassment allegations.) In response to huge public outcry, Trump decided to exploit women even more by using the victims of Bill Clinton’s own horrendous acts as props to make a “guilt by association” argument against Hillary.
The fact that Hillary, rather than Bill, is running for president doesn’t seem to matter to Trump’s core support base of uneducated white people. That’s right, the most ardent advocates of a Trump presidency are people without a college degree. This is, incidentally, consistent with Alexa stats showing that Breitbart’s audience consists largely of people with either no college education or “some college” education, as well as with a total of seven studies to date that show Fox News viewers to be (by far) the most misinformed demographic in the country.
The fact that roughly 42 percent of the country is prepared to vote for a man whose comments about people of color, women and his political rivals wouldn’t be tolerated on a middle school playground is astounding.
Whether Trump gets elected this November 8 — or, if you believe Trump, November 28 — here’s what his schedule looks like between Election Day and January: shortly after thepresidential election, Trump will face fraud charges in court over Trump University. Then, in December, he’ll face child rape charges involving a 13-year-old girl. Fraud and childrape. That’s what Trump’s next two months look like.
Finally, Trump has not only violated every rule of decency and professionality since he announced his bid for president, but he’s launched an inexplicable campaign to undermine the very foundations of democracy. He’s repeatedly said that he would expand libel laws so that Big Government — with him in charge — can sue the free press for articles that he finds “purposely negative” and “horrible,” whatever those words happen to mean depending on Trump’s mood. Along these lines, he recently extemporized during a rally that we should cancel the election and simply appoint him leader. This is, once again, the sort of rhetoric — whether facetious or not — that you find among dictators, not candidates running for office in a democracy.
Trump has also repeatedly claimed that the election is rigged, which is false — although there has been at least one report of a Trump supporter voting twice this year. In fact, only 31 cases of voter fraud have been confirmed out of roughly 1 billion ballots cast. That’s it. When Trump is in the lead, he boasts about the polls; when he’s behind, he attempts to delegitimize them. This is a dangerous tactic because it vitiates trust in our democratic institutions, leading the gun-toting conservatives who wrongly believe that Trump is far in the lead to talk about things like a “revolution” if Trump loses.
Claiming that the election is rigged could also backfire against Trump. For example, if he wins, then should we think that he’s an illegitimate president? He’s most definitely giving those of us on the political left some ammunition — pun intended — to question whether we should accept him as president. Which is, again, playing with fire.
It’s unclear how Trump will react to losing the election. In authoritarian fashion, he recently joked that he would accept the election results only if he wins.
Because if Trump does get into office, the great experiment called the United States could end up like Trump Airlines, Trump beverages, Trump: The Game, Trump Taj Mahal, Trump magazine, Trump Vodka, Trump University, Trump Tower Tampa, Trump’s travel site, Trump Mortgage and Trump Steaks.