Anderson Cooper: You’ve said you want to end Obamacare. You’ve also said you want to make coverage accessible for people with pre-existing conditions. How do you force insurance companies to do that if you’re no longer mandating that every American get insurance?
Donald Trump: We’re going to be able to. You’re going to have plans…
Cooper: What does that mean?
Trump: Well, I’ll tell you what it means. You’re going to have plans that are so good, because we’re going to have so much competition in the insurance industry. Once we break out — once we break out the lines and allow the competition to come…
— Transcript of Second Presidential Debate
I suspect it will take a few days for the full impact of the second presidential debate to truly sink in with American voters. Fresh garbage, after all, takes a few days to ripen and begin to, well, you get the idea.
Two thoughts dominate the day after what was surely the sorriest spectacle in the modern history of presidential campaigns. The first thought relates to the second, but seems more immediate and at least today more sobering: Donald J. Trump has brought a level of coarseness, hate and un-Americanism to politics that will shape the near and long-term trajectory of the country.
And I write that without any further analysis of “the tape.”
You don’t easily, or perhaps even at all, put the vileness of this man’s approach to politics back in the bottle. Trumpism is like a tiny dollop of plutonium – even a small amount contaminates and kills.
Josh Marshall, a writer from the political left, but hardly an apologist for Hillary Clinton, captured the import of all this as well as anyone. “The whole debate, rancid and intense, felt like an ordeal to live through just watching it on TV,” Marshall wrote.
“I don’t think we can discuss this debate as citizens, take stock of it as a country, without noting that this is certainly the first time one candidate has openly threatened to jail the other candidate. Trump said that openly he would instruct the Justice Department to open a new investigation of Clinton and that he’d make sure it ended with her imprisonment. That’s something we expect it kleptocracies and thin democracies where electoral defeat can mean exile, imprisonment or death.”
I share Josh Marshall’s belief that, “None of this is going to disappear after November 8th. These are slashing wounds to the country’s political fabric that will at best leave tremendous scar tissue we’ll still see for decades.”
It is impossible not to conclude that this awful, divisive campaign and the toxicity of Trump will become the new normal in American politics. It is not a future that anyone should eagerly or willingly embrace, but this is where we stand.
We also stand, I think, on the brink of a catastrophic breakdown in two-party politics, which is the other major takeaway from the last few days. Put me down as a traditionalist. I think the American system only works when two real political parties with competing ideas and approaches actually commit to governing the country.
But rather than commit to figuring out a shared future for the country the Trump capture of the GOP amounts to a doubling down on the hyper-partisan, know nothingism that has defined the Republican Party since the end of the George W. Bush administration. The country suffers when one party caters to and is captured by nonsense.
We desperately need two actual political parties that are trying to address national needs. There are roads to build, kids to educate, immigration policy to reform, judges to confirm and an economy to grow. The crying need for a legitimate national debate about so many issues has only become more difficult thanks to Trump.
Republican smart guy Steve Schmidt, a senior advisor to John McCain’s presidential campaign, tore the scab off the GOP’s real Trump problem during an appearance on Meet the Press Sunday:
“This, this candidacy, the magnitude of its disgrace to the country is almost impossible, I think, to articulate. But it has exposed the intellectual rot in the Republican Party. It has exposed at a massive level the hypocrisy, the modern day moneychangers in the temple like Jerry Falwell Jr. And so, this party, to go forward and to represent a conservative vision for America, has great soul searching to do. And what we’ve seen and the danger for all of these candidates is over the course of the last year, these, these candidates who have repeatedly put their party ahead of their country, denying what is so obviously clear to anybody who’s watching about his complete and total manifest unfitness for this office.”
Pick your issue: Syria, Obamacare, tax policy, trade, economic growth and try to find a coherent thought from the Republican candidate. Go ahead, I dare you. The sophistication and detail of Trump’s policy ideas – the real essence of politics – would embarrass a seventh grader running for student council president. Trump’s debate performance will delight his frothing and angry supporters and Sean Hannity will be over the moon. This is the intellectual rot. Never until the second debate had Trump so clearly given voice to the crass, pointless, conspiracy embracing trash that has fueled the Tea Party, made Fox News a money machine and defined a generation of Republicans.
The magnitude of the disgrace to the country is indeed almost impossible to articulate.
To say that the Republican Party has anointed a charlatan would be a disservice to a mere con artist. The party will come stumbling out of this debacle with its overwhelmingly white base further disenchanted and with its hopes to appeal to minority and millennial voters crushed. In making the decision to accept a person manifestly unfit for public office – would you even vote for this guy to run your homeowners association – Republicans have ceased to be a party of ideas and principles and they have followed Trump into a dark, rancid, often racist place.
American voters will, at least I hope they will, reject the manifestly unfit, but then what? Without a responsible Republican Party willing to govern and with the toxicity of Trump hanging over the country the sense of a nation in crisis will only grow.
Since Donald Trump actually mentioned Abraham Lincoln in the recent debate – I admit to being surprised he could make such a reference – I’ll mention Lincoln, too. The 16th president is often misquoted or his words are twisted to make any point, but Lincoln did correctly proclaim that the antidote to undemocratic behavior – he was referencing the murder of a black man by a mob – was simply “reason, cold, calculating unimpassioned reason.”
Trump provides us with a wake up call as to the fragility of democratic institutions and illustrates the cost of abandoning long established political norms. In the wake of the candidacy of this manifestly unfit man and on the eve of the meltdown of one of our great political parties, America needs to embrace the ideas of the first Republican president. It is time for reason: cold, calculating unimpassioned reason.
It is time for America to come to its senses.