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How Dangerous Is Donald Trump?

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How Dangerous Is Donald Trump?

The remaining Republican U.S. presidential candidates pose before the start of the Republican U.S. presidential candidates debate sponsored by CBS News and the Republican National Committee in Greenville

This post originally appeared with the Roosevelt Institute.

On Sunday, Vox posted a video in which editor-in-chief Ezra Klein makes his case that “Donald Trump is the most dangerous presidential candidate in recent memory.” While I agree that Trump is dangerous and appreciate Ezra as a brilliant and thoughtful journalist, I disagree with his analysis. In short, I fail to see how Trump is substantively more dangerous than any of the other potential Republican presidents, or how he could possibly prove more dangerous than many presidents we have had already.

Klein’s thesis—that Trump’s candidacy represents an unprecedented level of danger in American politics—ignores a rich history of deadly and destructive policy by the leaders of both political parties, to say nothing of the plight of many millions of Americans for whom the worst has already come to pass. I agree with Ezra that the time to take policy and elections seriously has come; I just disagree on when it came.

[Requisite Trump disclaimer:] I am, of course, deeply troubled by Trump’s candidacy and his success with American voters. The broad approval that his brand of paranoid xenophobia has received reveals something truly disturbing about a large portion of American voters.

But, in my mind, the danger Klein speaks of was real long before Trump.

If I am a Black youth in Ferguson, Missouri, or Baltimore, Maryland, how much weight do Donald Trump’s racist diatribes really add to the pre-existing burden of going through life knowing I could be shot dead by a police officer who would face no legal ramifications for my murder?

If I am a single mother living under the poverty line in Flint, Michigan, with scant job prospects and poisonous water flowing out of my kitchen tap, how much of an additional threat does Donald Trump truly pose to my well-being? I am already drowning in a sea of existential threats.

The truth is, American politicians have been playing with live ammunition since the first Congress was convened in 1789. Just ask the relatives and friends of 58,220 American soldiers unnecessarily slain in Vietnam. Ask the victims of Japanese internment. Ask the descendants of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muskogee, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee tribes, forced out of their ancestral land and into a federally mandated death march.

These are dramatic examples, to be sure, but even more mundane-seeming policy questions elucidate the point that, when it comes to dangerous policy, Donald Trump is nothing new.

Republican candidates and presidents (Trump included) have a long history of proposing outrageous, unaffordable, and regressive tax cuts, many of which have become law, to the detriment of the American people and the economy. The carried interest loophole is one example: This provision costs billions every year, exists exclusively to benefit wealthy investment managers, and has been supported by every Republican presidential candidate—except Trump, who has proposed to end it. Overall, Trump’s tax plan—like those of his fellow candidates—is terrible and unrealistic, and this proposed repeal is mere lip service, but it is still more than any other candidate has proposed with regard to closing loopholes for the wealthy.

If it is Trump’s honesty Klein worries about (the man does love a good flip-flop), then again, I must insist the bar is set very low.

President George W. Bush led the American people to believe he possessed incontrovertible evidence of nuclear weapons in Iraq and used that misinformation to drag the country into a 15-year war that cost trillions of tax dollars and 4,486 American lives. Those were my generational brothers and sisters, as are those now living through unprecedented violence and political upheaval throughout the Middle East. So forgive me if I appear unfazed by Trump’s racism, because I already lived through eight years of a president who went to war over prejudice. If anything, Trump’s attitude seems par for the course.

And I in no way mean to be partisan: It was four presidential terms, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, that led to the largest financial crisis the world has ever known and the worst recession since the Great Depression. We watched the perpetrators walk away without a scratch. Some got raises.

Looking at the other candidates, I detect no safe choice. In fact, all but Trump support defunding Planned Parenthood, and every single candidate followed his lead on supporting a ban on refugees from the Syrian civil war. Ditto his Sinophobia. Ditto the wall on the Mexican border. Is Trump dangerous for his beliefs, or is he just offensive for his willingness to state them?

What I suspect Klein is responding to is not the content of Trump’s policies but the disturbingly disrespectful way in which he hocks this ever-shifting platform of xenophobic rabble-rousing and racially charged scapegoating. And I don’t blame Klein for feeling the way he does: It is an ugly, ugly business, and it is revealing an ugly, ugly side of American culture. But to many observers of American politics, it is nothing new.

The Republican Party has been campaigning and leading on a platform of very thinly veiled (and sometimes completely unveiled) xenophobia, homophobia, and disregard for the poor and working class for quite some time. Trump is just saying in plain English what has been the implicit conservative platform for over half a century. Did the mild manners of previous candidates make their stances any less destructive to the American people? Perhaps Klein took solace in the panache of primary politicians gone by, but I do not, and I doubt that those who have suffered the worst ills of American policy do either.

Perhaps it is better that progressives can finally fight this battle out in the open, offering a direct challenge to the ugly underpinnings of right-wing ideology instead of grappling with the coded language and feigned innocence of other candidates.

Klein’s video suggests that, though we’ve lived through decades of unjustified war, top-heavy tax cuts, financial deregulation, and structural discrimination, now is when we are really at risk.

I think that moment came and went some time ago.

Photo: (L-R) Governor John Kasich, former Governor Jeb Bush, Senator Ted Cruz, businessman Donald Trump, Senator Marco Rubio and Dr. Ben Carson pose before the start of the Republican U.S. presidential candidates debate sponsored by CBS News and the Republican National Committee in Greenville, South Carolina February 13, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst. 



  1. @HawaiianTater February 25, 2016

    “How Dangerous Is Donald Trump?”

    No more or less dangerous as Hillary Clinton.

    1. JPHALL February 25, 2016

      And how dangerous is HClinton? Please explain.

      1. jif6360 February 26, 2016

        Anybody that supports the Saudi leadership is dangerous. That means all the candidates are dangerous.

      2. RED February 26, 2016

        I guess it depends on your viewpoint, huh? If it’s not you or one of your kids that gets to die or be maimed in HRC or Trump, or any of the other Con’s war then I guess you don’t find it too dangerous, especially if you’re a sick self centered scumbag who cares for no one but themselves, usually described as Cons.

  2. Otto Greif February 25, 2016

    Who did the police “murder in Ferguson?

  3. Otto Greif February 25, 2016

    Freakouts like Klein’s are partly why people like Trump.

    1. The lucky one February 26, 2016

      I don’t many of Trump’s supporters have the power of attention needed to read an entire article let alone an actual book.

      1. Otto Greif February 26, 2016

        You should read a book about basic grammar.

        1. The lucky one February 27, 2016

          Other than the word I omitted what part did your pea brain have trouble grasping?

  4. oldtack February 26, 2016

    Five entries so far on this forum. Three one liners and two two liners. And all doing the old bullshit of replying to a question with a question.Looks like replies from a kindergarten class – or maybe Pre K.. If you are incapable of engaging in meaningful dialog then do everyone a favor and stay the hell off of the forum.

    1. FireBaron February 26, 2016

      First, you can disregard anything that comes out of Otto. He is just a troll who gets his jollies upsetting everyone else. As for Tater, he is usually more expressive.

      1. oldtack February 26, 2016

        Thanks Fire Baron
        I hadn’t had my full load of morning coffee before I wrote that this morning. I will try and add something more meaningful later today.

  5. latebloomingrandma February 26, 2016

    That was an excellent and truthful analysis. It articulates why I don’t buy into the “American exceptionalism” meme. I do believe that overall we are an exceptional country. But adding an “-ism” to me connotes an aura of hubris and turns a blind eye to all our shortcomings, of which we have many. Also, it seems to translate into the idea that we are so great, that we can’t learn from anyone else. In the history of humanity, we are babies, being around for a few centuries. Other countries and cultures have been here for millennia. Can’t we at least show some respect? If we don’t become more sensible in choosing our leadership, our time of greatness will soon pass. The likes of Herr Trump is not the roadmap to greatness.

    1. Irishgrammy February 26, 2016

      Perfectly articulated latebloomingrandma! Have always had a problem with the Republicans obsession (especially Dick Cheney did it relentlessly) declaring “American Exceptionalism” as a glossy over coat that hides our many failings…..exceptionalism……not by a long shot and our history proves it, that is if one is in touch with our REAL history and not the Republicans re-writing of history to suit their narrative! Our constant and unending issues with racism, xenophobia alone, especially apparent in this election season really brings our shortcomings home to roost!

  6. oldtack February 26, 2016

    I have been observing this Clown Parade since it’s inception and have marveled at how the Moguls of Mass Media have orchestrated this into a great show. The aspirants dance like puppets on a string while the media reaps a fortune. The talking heads reap Millions for their performance while the Moguls reap multiplied Billions for their Networks. Is the News Media remotely interested in the well being and future of this Nation? No – they are only interested in the show and the money it puts into their coffers.

    This was supposed to be a well orchestrated parade of aspirants with the favored Heirs to the Presidency already pre-selected. by the power brokers that own them

    .And then -along came Donald Trump. The media ridiculed him and predicted a quick demise, but that din’t happen. Instead, as time passed, he grew in popularity and now they have an elephant in the room and are unsure of what to do with it. After Houston it appears that the Establishment has taken their chosen duo of Cruz and Rubio to form a coalition to simultaneously attack Trump.

    If this ploy fails then , if he is successful through March 15 the powers will enter the fray and select Cruz or Rubio as the Republican nominee.

    If this happens – look for Trump to emulate H. Ross Perot or do you remember what he did to wreck George H W Bush when Bush lost to Bill Clinton. Trump is not my type of person but he is no dummy by a very long shot.. Look for him to pull out the heavy artillery in these next two months. The conclusion to this party is going to be interesting to say the least.

  7. OlderWiserRetired February 26, 2016

    I believe Mr Klein may be more accurate in his assessment of the danger, not because of the disrespect shown by Mr Trump, but rather the potential scope of damage following his win. By his recount of historical comparisons, Mr Bernstein demonstrates the flexibility of our Democracy, but could the Founders have foreseen what we see today?

    What an amazing thing the framers of our Constitution gave us with this experiment called democracy! I am one among the throngs this year drawn to the spectacle we call a National Election. Has citizen engagement ever been so high? Are we entertained, or alarmed? Unlike simple entertainment, in an election the spectator becomes the director by selecting from a few actors and then one actor becomes the director of the spectators. It requires a lot of trust. And like simple entertainment, in an election anybody can walk upon the stage. This year we have high-intrigue, plenty of drama, newly empowered inanimate actors, and a looming threat to life as we know it. How exciting!

    The new actors:

    Our Supreme Court gave voice-of-the-people status to money, and removed voting rights protections for living citizens.

    The drama:

    In 2016, a literal turning point in the fate of human civilization hangs in the balance as a decision must be made, by each of us, en mass, about the future direction of our inherited democracy, and something more. This fork in the road has not recently been so clear, but has never held such dire consequence. Shall we allow, for a time, our government to represent the voice-of-the-people? Or shall we continue to have our government represent the vote-of-the-people? The voice-of-the-people cries painfully loud for the gross accumulation of money, with little regard to average standard of living or quality of life. The vote-of-the-people clamors for a higher standard of living and quality of life with less concern for the gross accumulation of money.

    The fork:

    To the right is the wealthy camp representing money as the voice-of-the-people. In 2016, that newly minted status buys candidates, elections and possibly a few Justices of the Supreme Court. Money is very well represented.

    To the left is an old servant of the people bearing a faint but glimmering hope that the will of the majority of the voters will be represented by their elected officials, absent the vice of greed. Hope seems to be representing itself well, also.

    On the right fork, the most moderate-conservative is running away with his party’s nomination, while

    On the left fork, the most progressive liberal is barnstorming his way to the other party’s nomination.

    Down either fork, the entrenched political establishment is in serious discomfort because the front-runner is not representing their interests.

    The stakes:

    For the Democracy, a win by the camp on the right would confirm the fundamental change of representative democracy from a tool of human interaction into a tool of personal wealth accumulation. New Supreme Court Justices will cement this change into everyday life.

    For the Democracy, a win by the camp on the left would uphold the standing role of representative democracy as a tool for living persons to lead themselves.

    The stakes:

    For life as we know it on this planet, it appears dire. No presidential candidate has yet stood this close to the abyss. Before the election happens, people around the world are asking how much lower their standard of living or quality of life will get before they must rebel, but fear their rebellion will be misrepresented, their actions will be unprepared and futile. In humans, impotence breeds anger and rebellion. Before the election, we have all been advised that our planet cannot withstand further assault and continue to support our lifeforms for long. In times past, when we allowed industry or finance to operate as they saw fit, the result was worldwide environmental degradation and average individual wealth recession, respectively. If the path we take is to the right, Donald Trump’s candidacy will unleash the wealth of industry and finance to freely pursue accumulation of wealth, all else be damned.

    And so I marvel at the vision of our Founders. The chance every four years for new drama, and this year a chance to play the staring role in saving all life on the planet. A most amazing thing they gave us. At this fork in our road of self-governance, with all this riding on our individually insignificant votes, which path shall we choose?


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