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Gerson: Trump descends into ideological psychosis


Given even the lowest expectations, Donald Trump still has the capacity to surprise.

In recent days, Trump has sneered at the looks of a woman who accuses him of sexual assault, denigrated the appearance of Hillary Clinton, proposed to drug test his opponent, promoted what appears to be a Russian covert operation, asserted that Clinton has held secret meetings with international bankers “to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty,” attacked “Saturday Night Live,” promised to jail his opponent and contended that “the whole election is being rigged.”

Which means that Trump is sickeningly cruel, boorish, bonkers, subversive, conspiratorial, obsessive, authoritarian and reckless with the reputation of American democracy.

So what does all of this mean?

1. It means that he is frighteningly unstable under pressure. He is easily baited, highly sensitive to slights, prone to using faulty information from off the internet, hyperbolic and vengeful. Now imagine those characteristics during a confrontation with China.

2. It is an indication of the quality of his closest, non-family advisers. Stephen Bannon and Rudy Giuliani are not attempting to keep him in check. He is completely unmoored from restraining influences, and would be as president.

3. Trump’s closing case is an alt-right rage against a vast, scheming establishment that includes the liberal media, global financiers and a growing list of women making accusations of sexual assault. All this was previewed during Trump’s political rise, which included birtherism, vaccine denialism and insinuations of foul play in the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. GOP leaders can hardly pretend to be surprised.

4. It is a further indication (as if we needed it) that Trump has no commitment to our political system. By pre-emptively questioning the legitimacy of his forthcoming shellacking, Trump is stepping outside the four corners of the constitutional order, on the model of autocratic strongmen he has publicly admired.

5. Trump’s descent into ideological psychosis is tainting the reputation of all who were foolish enough to associate with him. Someday vice presidential candidate Mike Pence (and others) will look back on their shattered standards and ask: For this cause? For this man?

6. Trump’s final appeal is also corrupting a portion of the public and crossing moral lines that won’t be easily uncrossed. He is inviting Americans to drink from a poisoned well. One problem is the risk of physical violence — the possible influence of unhinged rhetoric on an unbalanced mind. The broader result is radical polarization in which citizens question the legitimacy of elections and view some fellow citizens as enemies.

7. Practically, Trump’s downward spiral means that House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus will need to repudiate the nominee before the end — after they have shed the last of their credibility. It is time, and past time, for Republican leaders to do the right thing.

Trump’s crackup complicates American political life in a variety of ways but simplifies one point: This man is temperamentally, ideologically and morally unfit to be president of the United States.


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