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Trump Unmasked

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Trump Unmasked

Trump, masked

Published with permission from The Washington Spectator

On March 24, Donald Trump tweeted that 5,000 ISIS fighters had infiltrated Europe. He concluded, “I alone can fix this problem.” Three days later, he said virtually the same thing: “Another radical Islamic attack, this time in Pakistan, targeting Christian women & children. At least 67 dead, 400 injured. I alone can solve.”

“I alone.”

“I alone can solve.”

At a town hall discussion with Chris Matthews, the MSNBC host asked Trump how he expects cooperation with the Muslim world in fighting ISIS when he has pledged to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

Trump responded, “I have been told by more Muslims who are saying ‘what you are doing is a great thing, not a bad thing.’” He added, “believe it or not, I have a lot of friends who are Muslim, and they call me. In most cases they are very rich Muslims, O.K.?”

Out popped Matthews with what he was sure was a Trump-stopping zinger: “But do they get into the country?” (I mean, what kind of friend bans his friends from the country?) Without missing a beat, Trump responded, “They’ll come in. And you’ll have exceptions.”

Who decides?

I alone decide.

This is what Louis XIV is reported to have said to the Parliament of Paris: L’etat, c’est moi. “I am the state.”

There’s a lot wrong with America’s Constitution. But at the very least, historically, it was a quantum leap forward in a principle that is at the heart of humanity’s long march from barbarism to civilization: the rule of law, not of men. Lex, Rex, as the Scottish jurist Samuel Rutherford put it in 1644—“the law is king.” Instead of, in the heretofore brutish history of humankind, the other way around, that the king is law. Not here. Not in America. That principle, universally understood, was why, back in the 1970s, a lowly African-American security guard named Frank Wills became a national hero: it was Wills who alertly noticed, in the wee hours of June 17, 1972, an errant strip of tape that kept open a door in the Watergate parking garage. That discovery and what came after it would, some 26 months later, bring down a president. The Washington Post then sought Wills out for an interview that ran on the front page on August 8, 1974. It was headlined, “Guard says no position too high.”

With President Trump, no longer. In a recent interview with The Donald, the Post’s Bob Woodward awkwardly inquired as to what lessons he took from America’s experience with Richard Nixon.

“It was just that personality,” Trump answered. “Very severe, very exclusive . . . And people didn’t like him. I mean, people didn’t like him.”

Woodward: “And he broke the law.”

Right, that: “And he broke the law. Yeah. He broke the law. . . . Unfortunately, it was a very sad legacy in the end. It turned out to be a very sad legacy. Such an interesting figure to study.”

Woodward: “Do you take any lessons from that? Because what he did is he converted the presidency to an instrument of personal revenge.”

“No, I don’t. I don’t see that. What I do see is—what I am amazed at is, I’m somebody that gets along with people. . . I have the biggest crowds.”

In the Trumpverse, there are no laws.

In the same interview, Robert Costa of the Post asked Trump about his First Hundred Days as president. After, that is, he finishes renegotiating the trade deals. “What about legislation? What about economic legislation?” Trump responded,

“Before I talk about legislation, because I think frankly this is more important—number one, it’s going to be a very big tax cut.”

Yes, the imminent Republican nominee for the presidency of the United States doesn’t know that it takes legislation to cut taxes. The president just . . . decides it.

Trump, alone. With a crowd of supporters. Who adore him, and in his mind exist to do his bidding.

At bottom, the purpose of a constitution is to provide procedures to coordinate collective action in a way that transcends brute force. A constitution is a machine for governing without guns. (Not for nothing is the only part of the Constitution that affirmatively mentions regulation is the Second Amendment.) This is the reason assassinations are so horrifying: they are the most dramatic possible blot on the ideal of governing beyond the a whims of mere individuals. We also have other ways of accomplishing the same goal, such as norms of polite behavior: “manners.” There is, too, international law. Which is another problem for Trump: “The problem is we have the Geneva Conventions, all sorts of rules and regulations, so the soldiers are afraid to fight,” he said in March, while campaigning in Wisconsin.

Cut Trump to his essence, and these developments, laws, norms, constitutional constraints, taken together, are what he and his supporters seem to find the most objectionable in human history. “Nobody wants to hurt each other any more,” he lamented at one rally. That’s why protesters are able to protest (and not because of, say, the Bill of Rights to the Constitution): “They realize that there are no consequences to protesting any more.”

“Greatness” is equated with unfettered violent action: “I love the old days. You know what they used to do in the old days in an awful place like this. They’d be carried out in a stretcher, folks. a I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.”

You want laws? Here’s the law. Carry out my will, and I will protect you. (“It’s not like I’m worried someone’s actually going to come shoot me down,” Trump nemesis Megyn Kelly told Charlie Rose on CBS, when asked about the death threats she’s been receiving. “But I do worry someone’s gonna try to hurt me in the presence of my children.”) The scholar Zeynep Tufekci revealed the extent to which his followers treat Trump as the sole source of truth and authority—and that “every unpleasant claim about Donald Trump is a fabrication by a cabal that includes the Republican leadership and the mass media.” They know, for example, because Trump told them, that Congress funded ISIS. So why would you trust Congress to write laws? Although, there is one example I can think of where Trump mentioned the necessity of Congress (re)writing laws: after someone, apparently very high in the military firmament, told him that generals will not follow his illegal orders. So he adjusted, slightly. As he put it March 30 in Appleton, Wisconsin: “We can’t waterboard, but they can chop off heads. I think we’ve got to make some changes, some adjustments.”

So what kind of people does a man like this appoint to the Supreme Court? In another recent interview, he became the first presidential candidate to announce as his litmus test for these preeminent protectors of the Constitution their willingness to prioritize his crushing of a political rival: “I’d probably appoint people who would look very seriously at [Hillary Clinton’s] e-mail disaster, because it’s a criminal activity, and I would appoint people who would look very seriously at that to start off with. . . . What she’s getting away with is absolutely murder.”

When I heard that, I thought, again, of Nixon. When Charles Manson was put on trial in 1970, President Nixon offhandedly told a group of reporters in Denver that Manson was “guilty, directly or indirectly, of eight murders without reason.” Given that the Constitution guarantees the accused “the right to speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury,” what was described as Nixon’s “blunder” became an immediate scandal dominating the news for days. The judge considered declaring a mistrial, the president was immediately forced to backtrack, insisting he didn’t intend to speculate about Manson’s guilt or innocence. Trump says such things now, and it’s hardly a blip. Who, after all, can keep count of every one of Trump’s dictatorial bleats?

Trump is a radical personalist. Why don’t women have to worry about his anti-woman statements? “No one respects women more than I do.” Why won’t we need worry about his pledge to exclude Syrian refugees? “I have a bigger heart than anybody in this room.”

I, I, I; me, me, me.

Our wise founders were radical impersonalists. When they wrote arguments for publication in newspapers, they preferred to do so anonymously, using pseudonyms like “Publius”—lest the attachment of a distinguished name distract the reader from the content and quality of the argument. Trump’s personalism, on the other hand, is how he pushes away the protection of constitutional principle with every fiber of his being.

Costa of the Washington Post: “Maybe I’m mishearing you, but I feel like you’re almost comfortable being the Lone Ranger.” “I am. Because I understand life. And I understand how life works. I’m the Lone Ranger.”

As Gabriel Sherman wrote in New York magazine, Trump employs “no pollsters, media coaches, or speechwriters. He buys few ads, and when he does, he likes to write them himself . . . college-newspaper offices have more robust infrastructure than his national campaign headquarters.” Which is a marvelous mode of operation, to govern by fiat. It abets, in fact, a constitutive feature of the fascist appeal: pure, frenetic action. It’s quite the rebuke of the sclerotic nature of our poor, old, beaten-down system of constitutional checks and balances. Which, to use a very old-fashioned phrase, only exist, after all, to safeguard our American liberties. Can checks and balances work with Trump as the officer atop the system?

It’s time for us, together, to start thinking about what happens next.

Rick Perlstein is The Washington Spectator’s national correspondent.



  1. jmprint April 28, 2016

    Egocentric! The ruler of his vision, entwined with fools with no vision.

    1. Sterling Harris April 28, 2016


  2. Sterling Harris April 28, 2016

    Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States. Many people have said it — politicians of both parties, economists, pundits, business leaders — but millions of GOP primary voters don’t seem to be listening. Much of the Republican base has taken leave of its senses, a flight blamed alternately on inchoate anger, disgust with inside-the-Beltway candidates and misplaced affection for a plain-speaking cartoon character who often seems to utter whatever nonsense comes into his head. Regardless of the reason for his popularity, the bombastic billionaire continued his soon-to-be unstoppable march toward the nomination Tuesday, racking up resounding victories in primaries across the American South and in the Northeast.

    The reality is that Trump has no experience whatsoever in government, interacting with the machinery of state only as a supplicant. He has shamefully little knowledge of the issues facing the country and the world, and a temperament utterly unsuited to the job. He is a racist and a bully, a demagogue. He has proposed killing the families of terrorists, a violation of international law so blatant that a former CIA director predicted that U.S. troops would refuse to carry out such an order.

    He mocked a disabled person at a campaign rally. He has vowed to reinstate waterboarding and forms of torture that are “much worse.” He intends to seize and deport 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally. He would bar all Muslims from entering the country until further notice. He would “open up our libel laws” so that news organizations are punished for writing critical “hit” pieces. He wants to build a wall along the entire Mexican border, on the fantastical premise that he could force the Mexican government to pay for it. He has threatened to start trade wars with two of the country’s biggest trading partners, Mexico and China, by slapping on the kind of protectionist tariffs that U.S. leaders have been trying for decades to eliminate worldwide.

    1. dpaano July 14, 2016

      With I could UP vote you a million times….you hit the nail right on the head!!!

  3. latebloomingrandma April 28, 2016

    I work at the election polls. Early Tuesday morning, an older couple came in and only voted for Trump, loudly stating the fact. They ignored the other three pages of the ballot. Incidentally, both reeked of alcohol at 8 AM.
    An elderly gentleman needed some help due to shaky hands and only wanted to vote for “the funny guy”. Of course that was Trump. Lord, help us.

  4. Elliot J. Stamler April 28, 2016

    I have seen this coming for over 30 years. The two leading GOP aspirants are quite simply, fascists. Because the party is now a fascist party. It is opposed to political democracy itself. Hence the voter suppression laws, extreme gerrymandering, campaign contribution excesses by billionaires. With either of these two men, we will lose our democracy and/or enter the second civil war. Who said it can’t happen here?

    1. Bridgetjstockman2 April 29, 2016

      “my room mate Mary Is getting paid on the internet 98$/hr”..,……..!wc492ctwo days ago grey MacLaren P1 I bought after earning 18,512 DoIIars..it was my previous month’s payout..just a little over.17k DoIIars Last month..3-5 hours job a day…with weekly payouts..it’s realy the simplest. job I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months. ago. and now making over. hourly 87 DoIIars…Learn. More right Here !wc492:➽:➽:➽➽➽➽ http://GlobalSuperJobsReportsEmploymentsSportGetPayHourly$98…. .❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦::::::!wc492………

  5. Otto T. Goat April 28, 2016

    According to (((Pearlstain))), Trump commenting on Hillary’s emails is a scandal, but President Obama’s comments on it of no concern.

    1. Sand_Cat April 28, 2016

      For an old Nazi like you, Otto, nothing Trump could say or do would be a scandal except maybe apologizing to someone or taking a moment to consider a question before responding.

      Thank you for validating this article.

      1. Otto T. Goat April 28, 2016

        I’m not old.

        1. iamproteus April 29, 2016

          But you don’t deny being a Nazi, right?

        2. Sand_Cat April 30, 2016


  6. Otto T. Goat April 28, 2016

    For boomer-geezers like Pearlstain it’s still 1973.

  7. july860 April 28, 2016

    This is what scares me; Trump seems to attract those who either can’t or won’t think for themselves.

  8. Budjob April 29, 2016

    Excuse my language,but trump is one semi-literate,ignorant,Fascist,DANGEROUS Son-of -a Bitch! Anyone with 1/2 ounce of brain matter shouldn’t even be contemplating supporting this screwball,let alone voting for him! However,his nutjob supporters maintain,”he tells it like it is.” Meaning,he tells you who he hates,and encourages his corps of nut jobs to do the same! Personally,I hope the Cleveland police mow every fucking one of them down!!

    1. dpaano July 14, 2016

      Gee, tell us how you REALLY feel!!! Love it!!!

  9. dpaano July 14, 2016

    What happens next is scarier than hell, especially if Trump is elected. His problem is that he seems to think he’s being elected “king” in lieu of president. He won’t be able to do all the things he wants to do, thank God, because he’ll have to deal with Congress, etc. It’s going to be a very rude awakening for him, and I’m not sure how he’ll take it!!!


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