Donald Trump has no sense of decency. Neither, it appears, do his supporters.
At a rally this week for Republican vice presidential aspirant Governor Mike Pence of Indiana, many booed Catherine Byrne, whose son serves in the Air Force. During an audience Q&A, she dared call Trump out for his denigration of America’s military, and of the families that stoically bear the weight of a loved one’s service. Showing more bravery than anyone else in that Nevada arena, Byrne said, “Time and time again, [Donald] Trump has disrespected our nation’s armed forces and veterans.” When Byrne mentioned the Republican presidential nominee’s carping at Khizr Khan, the Pakistani father whose son, a US Army captain, was killed by a car bomb in Iraq in 2004, she was all but drowned out by catcalls.
“Why are you here?” shouted one woman, but Byrne was undeterred. She asked Pence, “You’ve got a son in the military, how do you tolerate this disrespect?”
In less than a week, we’ve witnessed a presidential nominee, the face of a major political party, mocking the bereaved parents of a dead soldier, and the sycophantic supporters of that candidate booing a mother whose son still serves this nation. It is hateful, devoid of even the most basic human compassion.
When Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “You’ll be writing books about this campaign,” he has never been more truthful. These horror stories will make us shriek and wonder how this ever happened. At this point, regardless of what occurs in November, our nation has already been irreparably altered.
Much has been made of Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain denouncing their party’s nominee but continuing to endorse him. No one should be surprised; these are men who often talk out of both sides of their mouths. Also, whether they rescind their Trump endorsement or not will have little impact on his supporters. It’s hard to imagine that people who’ve sided with Trump despite his incessant lies, deranged ideas, and disparaging of Mexicans and Muslims are all that concerned about what Ryan and the GOP establishment think.
(In an act of well-thrown shade, Trump has declined to endorse either McCain or Ryan in their reelection bids.)
Trump seems to want nothing less than anarchy. This week, he made the baseless claim that “I’m afraid the election’s going to be rigged.” This serves no purpose beyond keeping his supporters marinating in rage, and that’s the scariest issue. Trump is one man, albeit a spectacularly horrible one; but his minions number in the millions.
Loud, uninformed, and fueled by prejudice, Trump supporters have spent more than a year treading water in his sewer. Fact-free hyperbole is swallowed as gospel. Validated by Trump, his most venal backers have no intention of disappearing back into the bowels of the Internet. Trump is a salve to their self-perceived victimhood. Emboldened, they are ready to reclaim what they believe is their “true” America, which is not a nation any reasonable person would want to resurrect.
Through Trump, biases have been magnified, and an innate tendency to cluster in like-minded tribes percolates. We have never talked more about racism, bigotry, and sexism, yet we seem even less capable of devising solutions to eradicate them; besides, Trump’s followers see such things as liberal media concoctions anyway. This nation has often charged toward the cliff’s edge; now, millions find salvation in the churning abyss of Trump’s malice and mendacity.
From the beginning, Trump’s campaign has been akin to shouting fire in a crowded movie theatre. When a candidate and, especially, his supporters ridicule even the families of soldiers, we are witnessing a pestilence that will cling to this nation for decades to come.
Renée Graham writes regularly for the Globe. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.