If you like a car crash, you’ve got to love Donald Trump’s campaign. It is now the equivalent of a NASCAR race – where many of his followers get their kicks – with the whole field crashing right after the start and ending up in a mangled heap of metal and rubber. Following his poor performance in the second debate last Sunday, Trump declared war on the Republican Party – Speaker Paul Ryan in particular – and the media minus Fox News. His weeklong meltdown was triggered by a self-solicited flow of allegations from women who had been sexually assaulted by Trump is various ways, and who came forward after he first confessed to such behavior in a leaked ‘Access Hollywood’ tape and then denied ever engaging in it during the debate. Almost overnight, Trump went from huckster and carnival barker to sexual predator and accused rapist. It is common knowledge among political strategists that the candidate who is in the spotlight is losing the race, and the spotlight has been on Trump all week. Anticipating his upcoming demise he has declared the election ‘rigged,’ and stated that his future loss can only be explained by fraud.
It may look as if Trump is not interested in winning this election anymore, but there is a theory that argues otherwise. The idea is that Trump is trying to take the campaign to such lows that large numbers of potential voters will become disgusted with politics and stay home, so that Trump, with his hard core of poorly educated second amendment voters, can still win. The two problems with that theory are that it assumes that Trump’s behavior is rational, which is a stretch, and that it is not supported by the polls. So something else is going on. The real issue is that Trump, who is an extreme case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, cannot really talk about anything but himself, and that the allegations give him a welcome opportunity to do that, no matter how much damage he does to his chances. And yet another consequence of his mental disorder makes his attitude dangerous. Trump cannot imagine himself as anything but a winner, so he is incapable of processing the thought that he might lose the election in a legitimate way. In his mind, calling the elections fraudulent in advance still makes him victorious, because the result doesn’t matter anymore.
Democracy is based on the ability to lose and acknowledge one’s opponent as the winner of a legitimate contest. Someone who cannot lose with dignity is unfit to participate in democratic elections. If that inability reaches a pathological, delusional level it becomes a threat to democracy itself. Scores of Trump’s most rabid followers say they’re ready to challenge the outcome of the election with violent means, and their leader doesn’t admonish them not to.
The accusations of sexual harassment are pushing other areas of vulnerability for Trump, such as fraud at his foundation and his taxes, into the background. For Hillary Clinton, he is the gift that keeps on giving. The ambiguity about Dodd/Frank she expressed in a paid Wall Street speech would have gotten a lot more attention if it had been released when Bernie Sanders asked for it.
The election is twenty-three days away. Until then, the language of the Trump campaign will become more violent as it sinks deeper in the muck. But the real problem awaits us after the election, if some of his followers who have taken him as literally as he himself does act upon it.