Off Main: Is it possible to defend Donald Trump?

  • Donald Trump reaches for a baby during a rally in Fayetteville, N.C., on Wednesday. AP

  • Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Fayetteville, N.C., on Wednesday. AP

For the Monitor
Sunday, March 13, 2016
I want to defend Donald Trump.

The political winds have shifted, now that the nation’s Republican elites have grasped the likelihood of a Trump nomination. They are deploying negative ads, barrages of insults and a peeved Mitt Romney. Anything that can be done to stop The Donald must be done.

As a contrary-minded person, this strikes me as excessive. It reminds me of Godwin’s Law, the snarky truism that any online debate will eventually devolve into accusations of Nazism and comparisons to Hitler.

That’s precisely what we have in this case, especially after Trump started urging supporters at rallies to raise their right hands to pledge and support him earlier this month.

For the record, I don’t think Trump is a Nazi. They committed crimes against humanity. So far, the only crimes Trump has committed on the campaign trail have been against civility, good taste and the English language.

What I really worry about is how these kinds of accusations strike the millions of people who wholeheartedly support Trump. Calling a legitimate candidate in a major presidential party a Nazi is to label his supporters as Nazi sympathizers. And to do that is to discount the votes and opinions of other people who care about the United States.

Important issues

So I want to defend Donald Trump.

He raises issues that are important – immigration, economic growth, protecting entitlements. People are right to be concerned about them, about the country they live in, right to look for different approaches to a shaken social order.

That all makes sense. But Trump can’t articulate rational, workable answers to these challenges, at least not so far. He either proposes big and impossible solutions – deporting 11 million undocumented workers – or promises he’ll work it all out later.

Maybe he will. But it reminds me a bit of Richard Nixon’s hazy 1968 promise to quickly end the Vietnam War, which ended up lasting another seven years. It also reminds me of the starriest-eyed supporters of President Obama, who seemed to believe that electing an African-American president would heal the country’s centuries of self-inflicted racial wounds.

Obama has accomplished much in his eight years of office, but the country has certainly not healed those wounds under his watch.

Reactions and overreactions

I want to defend Donald Trump. He was an underdog for so long.

The press and political pundits unfairly dismissed him at first. It seemed to me, watching his appearance at a Nashua cattle call with other potential GOP candidates last April, that he was functioning at a far higher political level than anyone gave him credit for. He knew what he wanted to do, he knew the rhetoric he wanted to employ, he understood his audience.

But now I wonder if we’re pulling too hard in the other direction. Too much rage, too much fear, too many think pieces about what it all means. What’s the evidence that any of it will actually take Trump down a peg? If experience is any indication, Trump’s supporters will probably see it as more reason to support their man.

He’s not a threat to American democracy, or the reincarnation of Mussolini. We are a resilient country, with tenacious political parties. We can handle one short-fingered vulgarian (in the immortal words of Spy magazine).

If Trump is treated like what he is – a reality TV celebrity with no consistent political record and few workable proposals, there’s little likelihood he wins the presidency. If he does, there’s little likelihood he does much other than deface the interior of the White House.

I want to defend Donald Trump. If you want to attack him, go ahead.

But bear in mind the words of Mike Godwin, the former law student who created the law that bears his name. He wrote in the Washington Post last year that he didn’t actually mind if voters compared Trump to Hitler – but he did want them to do their homework before making glib pronouncements.

In this strangest of election seasons, that’s perhaps the most worthwhile advice of all.

(Clay Wirestone can be reached at, 369-3305 or on Twitter @ClayWires.)

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