It has been a year and a half since Donald Trump stepped into the world spotlight as a mainstream candidate in America. Since then, the country has found itself plunged into some of the darkest domestic moments of its 240-year history. Below, a recollect of the Republican nominee’s campaign that was and why the nation would likely not survive a full presidential term of Trump.
Can you remember life in this country before June 16, 2015?
That was the day Donald J. Trump, Celebrity Apprentice host, known Birther and sometimes building namer (as long as it’s his own name) announced he would run for president as a Republican candidate.
That day started out innocuously enough. He paid actors to come to his first rally and the DNC even issued a tongue-and-cheek statement welcoming him to the race. Ugh.
Things went downhill from there. Fast.
During his campaign kick-off speech, Trump started in right away building a foundation of divisiveness that appealed to a base of xenophobic, nativist, isolationist white supremacists promising he would raise “a great, great wall” on the United States–Mexico border.
That drew applause, or at least a reaction.
“Build the wall” became an immediate cornerstone of his campaign and though he was immediately excoriated for the comments by the media and his party—some calling him out on the racist trope and others calling him out on the inefficacy, expense and lack of in-touchness with reality when it comes to carrying out such a plan—he kept going.
As he would numerous times in the campaign to come, he doubled down on the offensive stances. On July 6, 2015, he released a statement saying the Mexican government is “forcing their most unwanted people into the United States—in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”
In the wake of the Nov. 13, 2015 Paris Attacks, Trump said he would support a database for tracking Muslims in the United States and expanded surveillance of mosques.
Cable news ate it up. Legal experts shook their heads. And longtime Republicans denounced Donald. But he kept going, saying he would do it because he remembered “thousands and thousands of people… cheering” in Jersey City, NJ when the twin towers collapsed on 9/11.
His rallies kept drawing more as he continued to spew the same kind of rhetoric. He intoxicated the masses with images of bigotry, violence and mostly inchoate, non sequitur rants against a political machine he knew nothing about, nor dared bother to learn.
On Nov. 21, 2015, Trump pointed out a protester in a Birmingham, Alabama audience. “Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
On Feb. 1, 2016 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he warned the crowd there might be tomato-throwing protesters and urged his audience to “knock the crap out of ’em” if anyone should try. “I promise you, I will pay the legal fees.”
On Feb. 23, 2016, at a rally in Las Vegas, Trump singled out another protester and said, “I love the old days—you know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks. I’d like to punch him in the face.”
In spite of becoming the scourge of a civil society attempting to hold a free and fair election, on May 3, 2016, Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee for president. He was immediately denounced by the Bush family. Speaker of the house and 2012 vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said he was not ready to endorse Trump.
In spite of this, the train of destructive rhetoric kept on rolling.
During the GOP convention, July 18-21, 2016 Trump’s embattled henchman, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, started a chant to “Lock her up” in reference to a recently closed F.B.I. investigation on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State.
After that, Trump rallies would often break into that chorus and he ran with it, later suggesting that the Russians try to hack those emails. During a July 27, 2016 press conference, he said: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
On July 29, 2016 Trump went to war with the Khans, a Muslim Gold Star family who lost their son, Humayun, a U.S. Army captain, to a car bomb in 2004 while guarding the gates of his base in Iraq. His efforts saved the lives of his fellow soldiers and civilians.
The soldier’s father, Khizr Khan, made a speech at the Democratic National Convention. Khan waved a copy of the Constitution in reference to Trump’s demand to deport Muslims and said the Republican nominee could borrow his. Trump countered by saying Ghazala Khan, the soldier’s mother, had “not been allowed to have anything to say” as she stood by her husband, silent, during his speech.
The truth is, she told the media, she is still so overcome with grief at the loss of her boy, she cannot bring herself to speak in public.
The VFW and a coalition of Gold Star families denounced Trump the next day.
On Aug. 9, 2016 at a Wilmington, North Carolina rally, Trump said Clinton wanted to abolish the Constitutional right to bear arms. He warned that it would be “a horrible day” if she were elected. “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Mr. Trump said, as the crowd began to boo. He quickly added: “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”
Even though he later called it sarcasm, the statement was widely viewed as a threat on Clinton’s life and at the very least the most irresponsible and harmful thing a major party candidate has ever said about his or her opponent during a campaign in this nation’s history.
Beyond the violent and racist and incendiary speech, Trump has been identified by at least 11 women as a sexual predator. In October, “hot” mic audio from 2005 was released revealing Trump’s vulgar braggadocio about forcing women to kiss him as he grabbed them by their privates in an off-camera conversation with NBC host Billy Bush.
Bush was later dismissed from the network. Trump was allowed to keep running for president.
He has, during the last 17 months, appealed directly to the to the alt-right, the Ku Klux Klan, racists, misogynists, anti-gays—sometimes even quoting or retweeting them.
He has failed time and time and time and again to denounce hate groups when given the chance. In doing so, Trump flipped over the rock and exposed hordes of voracious hate mongers of women, refugees, people of different races, religions, lifestyles—even those with disabilities. He has enabled them to surface from the dark fringe of our society and has given them a mainstream platform.
The rest of the world has stood by, shaking its collective head in disbelief as he threatens to tear down our alliances, wage war on the innocent and continue to divide a nation and a globe. As a result, financial experts are currently running doomsday scenarios should he capture the office. No Fortune 100 CEO has come out in support of Trump and on Nov. 1, 2016, the Wall Street Journal published an open letter signed by 370 economists, including eight Nobel laureates, who stated that Trump would be a “dangerous, destructive” choice for president.
He is the only major party candidate of the last nine elections not to release his income tax returns. He is the only major presidential candidate in history not to guarantee that he will accept the results of the election, undermining his democracy’s 240-year history of peaceful transfer of power. His only major newspaper endorsements have come from The National Enquirer, the New York Observer (owned by his son-in-law Jared Kushner) and the Ku Klux Klan’s Crusader.
And on top of all this—he also lies.
He lies, not just once in awhile, but literally all the time. He lies like a child who has not yet been told the difference between what that is and what is real. He lies for sport, for leisure, for personal gain. He lies because he has made a career and built an image on distortion of the truth. He lies to the extent that he no longer knows any truths.
Most recently, he has lied about a re-opening of Clinton’s email investigation by the F.B.I. (it’s not happening and the F.B.I. cleared Clinton, once more, on Sunday). Somehow, in the waning moments of his campaign, he pretended a protester holding a sign at a Reno rally was an attempted assailant. He contorted president Barack Obama’s measured attempt to have a Trump protestor be heard and respected at a Hillary Clinton rally and called it a “disgrace.”
Or maybe that’s simply how he describes a president…acting presidential.
And on Saturday, after a Clark County Nevada polling location stayed open late to accommodate voters, Trump said, “It’s being reported that certain key Democratic polling locations in Clark County were kept open for hours and hours beyond closing time to bus and bring Democratic voters in. Folks, it’s a rigged system.”
It is not a rigged system. People in both parties are allowed to vote in Nevada and in the rest of America. Polling places are allowed to stay open to accommodate voters. But again, this is a man whose reality is as warped as his ideals gasping out one final breath of toxic air before Election Day.
In the meantime, the day-to-day fallout in this country has been massive, if not less formally accounted for. Families have been split, friendships severed, neighbors have been put at odds and faith has been roundly lost in our political system, our media and our ability to be able to go back to treating one another with civility, decency and grace…to talk and to listen and to hear—not on Facebook, not on Twitter—but in person. To be kind to one another: Pay for someone’s coffee. Open a door for an old lady. Let someone else go first at a four-way stop.
To let it go. And to start caring again.
I implore you to cast your vote …and try to remember what life was like on June 15, 2015.
Chances are you felt pretty good about things back then. Yes, there were problems with poverty, with folks getting along, with finding our way into a future, but America was mostly doing pretty OK. The Great Recession was more than a half-decade behind us, the consumer index was up. Job numbers were up. The stock market, which had been volatile because of the Euro and the Greek economic collapse, was stabilizing. And The Good Wife had recently been cancelled after its seventh season.
All good things.
Yes, we had roads to fix and schools to improve, a healthcare system to tweak and—most importantly—an Earth to start to heal. And yes, terrorism did exist and yes racism did exist and yes violence did exist too.
But the dialogue was not near where we are today—not even close. The fear and the hate and the disgust is now front-and-center/24-7/it eats away at our very fabric like a rabid puppy that has been nourished only on scolding and physical abuse.
Think about how you have felt, either side, these last 17 months. Think about the fear, the uncertainty, the anxiety. Think about the nervous feeling you get when you turn on the TV and he’s on it. Think of all the creative ways you have tried to explain to your children what that man is saying, and why. Think of all the things they have been exposed to at school, other kids parroting this kind of speak, that you cannot control.
Maybe we are too far gone already. Or maybe it will simply take much much longer to heal than it did to do the damage—as is always the case.
Over the last year and a half, America and Americans have been strained and drained and tested to their core, their collective nervous system fried by a man who had no official power. We are a nation which, in spite of a history that includes a Civil War, two world wars, a police action, a terrorist act, and seemingly endless counter offensives in the Middle East, has never, ever…not ever had such a threat take over the ranks of a once proud party, the very one that abolished slavery, and completed a mission to turn it into a place of discrimination, fear and obstruction.
We cannot let it continue. We would not survive it. Because this brand of hatred, as we have learned, is all-consuming.