Will the GOP nominee commit to a peaceful transfer of power?
In a horrifying threat to the American democratic process, Republican nominee Donald Trump refused to commit to accepting the results of the presidential election. "I'll keep you in suspense," he declared at the third and final presidential debate at the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Wednesday night.
This is a staggering and unprecedented development. And it comes from a politician who has repeatedly voiced admiration for dictatorships and undemocratic strongmen, a man who has openly encouraged the violence of his supporters, a man whose cult of personality recalls generations of caudillos and fascists, and a man who insisted of America from the stage of the Republican convention: "I alone can fix it."
Facing an incredulous questioner in debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News, Trump said plainly that he will take a "wait and see" approach to allowing a peaceful transfer of power to Hillary Clinton should he lose this election.
Trailing badly in the polls, Trump has recently begun insisting to his supporters – on the basis of zero evidence – that the election is "rigged" and vulnerable to massive voter fraud. Wednesday night, he advanced a more dangerous argument: Clinton is illegitimate as a candidate.
Trump presents himself as a candidate of “law and order"; Wednesday night he appeared to hunger for the power of judge and jury as well. Calling the former secretary of state a criminal and a "nasty woman," Trump snarled that Clinton "is guilty of a very, very serious crime," and therefore, "She should not be allowed to run."
For the record and very clearly: FBI Director James B. Comey, a Republican, appeared before the American public in July after many months of investigation to declare of Clinton's e-mail scandal: "no charges are appropriate in this case." Comey insisted that the federal investigation "was done competently, honestly, and independently," adding that "no outside influence of any kind was brought to bear."
We have a word in English for political leaders who do not accept the independence of the judicial system or respect the outcome of free and fair elections. At the final debate, Trump dropped the mask: He's a would-be dictator. And every American politician of good faith now faces a deep responsibility to denounce him.
The grave affront to America's political process, spoken by the leader of a once proud Republican party, followed on another erratic performance. Variously, Trump sounded like a Putin cheerleader, vowed to end Roe v. Wade, made promises about illegal drugs that his border wall can't keep and lied about his advocacy of nuclear proliferation – even as he called the accusations by multiple women that he sexually groped them "fiction."
Raspy, red-eyed and sniffing yet again, Trump was confronted directly by Clinton about his campaign benefitting from a Russian orchestrated hack, which has led to the latest WikiLeaks dump of internal Clinton campaign emails.
When Clinton called Trump Putin's "puppet," Trump launched a counterattack that made him sound like a surrogate for the Russian leader. He insisted again and again that Putin has "outplayed" and "outsmarted her every step of the way." He later made a similar claim about Putin ally and Syrian leader Bashar Assad.
After two debates in which the issue of immigration came up only tangentially, Chris Wallace put Trump's cornerstone issue in the spotlight. Polls show that the American people hate Trump's plan. According to a Fox News survey released this week, only 18 percent of Americans want to "deport as many [undocumented immigrants] as possible," while 74 percent "favor setting up a system for them to become legal residents."
Vowing once again to build a border wall, Trump insisted it would keep out "bad hombres." Trump also made the claim that a wall would stop the border traffic of heroin, which is "poisoning the blood" of American youth. Trump is no policy savant. But it is critical to point out that when it comes to heroin and the wall, he has no idea what he's talking about. According to recent Senate testimony by Admiral Bill Gortney, head of U.S. Northern Command, "a wall will not solve the immense problems" of narcotraffic.
The deadly drugs on our streets today aren't coming through the desert, he told the Senate. "Heroin and fentanyl are coming through the legal entry-control points across our border" in "very, very small shipments." The drugs, in other words, are coming in from Mexico at places where America has already built a fortified border wall, which he insisted had been "circumvented by a very adaptable enemy."
On the question of abortion, Trump declared that his Supreme Court appointees would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that makes terminating a pregnancy legal in this country: "I will be appointing pro-life judges," Trump declared. "That's what will – it will happen automatically."
Questioned about nuclear weapons, Trump denied that he had ever advocated for nuclear proliferation to other foreign powers. "You're not going find a quote," he insisted.
Donald Trump: "Wouldn't you rather in a certain sense have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons?..."
Anderson Cooper: "So if you said, Japan, yes, it's fine, you get nuclear weapons, South Korea, you as well, and Saudi Arabia says we want them, too?"
Trump: "Can I be honest with you? It's going to happen, anyway. It's going to happen anyway."
Even as he lied openly about encouraging the spread of nuclear weapons, Trump continued to attack the credibility of the many women who have come forward in recent days to accuse Trump of having kissed them or groped them against their will.
After first saying that his accusers had been "largely debunked" and suggesting that they had were seeking fame – or had been put up to making their statements by the "crooked campaign" of Hillary Clinton, Trump was soon insisting that the women's stories were "all lies" and "all fiction."
"I didn't even apologize to my wife," the Republican nominee confessed to America, "because I didn't do anything."
For the sake of our Republic and our national dignity, it can't come soon enough.