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Donald Trump’s candidacy is the first time American politics has left me truly afraid

Here is what we know about Donald Trump. Here is why he shouldn’t be president.

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GOP Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In Tampa, Florida
Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on October 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Donald Trump has a path to become the next president of the United States on Tuesday.

Donald Trump is not a man who should be president. This is not an ideological judgment. This is not something I would say about Mitt Romney or Marco Rubio. This is not a disagreement over Trump’s tax plan or his climate policies. This is about Trump’s character, his temperament, his impulsiveness, his basic decency.

Back in February, I wrote that Trump is the most dangerous major candidate for president in memory. I said he pairs terrible ideas with an alarming temperament; that he's a racist, a sexist, and a demagogue, but also a narcissist, a bully, and a dilettante. That he lies so constantly and so fluently that it's hard to know if he even realizes he's lying. That he delights in schoolyard taunts and luxuriates in backlash.

He has had plenty of time to prove me, and everyone else, wrong. When Trump accepted the Republican nomination in July, I noted that he had not become more responsible or more sober, more decent or more generous, more considerate or more informed, more careful or more kind. Instead, he had continued to retweet white supremacists, make racist comments, pick unnecessary fights, contradict himself on the stump, show an almost gleeful disinterest in building a real campaign or learning about policy, and invoke a nightmarish American hellscape that doesn't actually exist.

It’s been nearly four months since the Republican convention ended. Since then, we have had more than 100 days of Trump on the campaign trail to envision what the first 100 days of Trump in the White House would look like.

And it looks worse than ever.

Here is what we know — truly know — about Trump. Here is why he should not be president.

Trump is a bigot. Donald Trump kicked off his campaign calling Mexican immigrants murderers and rapists. He responded to Ted Cruz’s surge in Iowa by calling for a ban on Muslim travel. He sought to discredit a US-born judge by saying his rulings were suspect because of his "Mexican heritage." Trump’s campaign is certainly the first time in my memory that a sitting speaker of the House has had to describe something his party’s nominee said as "the textbook definition of a racist comment."

Since the convention, Trump’s bigoted rhetoric and actions have only intensified. He attacked Khizr Khan, the bereaved father of the late Army Captain Humayun Khan, by falsely accusing him of silencing his wife.

Reporters have uncovered more evidence of racism throughout Trump’s career as the campaign has progressed. In August, the New York Times published an extensive accounting of how Trump’s company racially discriminated against African-American tenants in the 1970s and ’80s. (That was on top of claims that Trump criticized a black accountant by lamenting, "Laziness is a trait in blacks"; that he fired black card dealers at his casinos; and that he publicly pitched The Apprentice: White People vs. Black People. Vox’s Dara Lind has an accounting of Trump’s history of bigotry here.)

This week, Trump released an ad condemned by the Anti-Defamation League as invoking anti-Semitic stereotypes and tropes. He has equated “inner cities” with African Americans on the campaign trail. He refused to apologize for calling for the executions of the Central Park Five, a group of black men wrongfully charged with murder and later exonerated by DNA testing.

This is, to put it mildly, not a man who should be put in charge of an increasingly diverse country that needs to find allies in an increasingly diverse world.

Trump is a sexist and alleged sexual predator. Stories of Trump’s casual sexism abound, but during the campaign, it was women who questioned him who felt the full force of his misogyny. The first Republican debate, for instance, was hosted by Fox News and moderated by Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier, and Chris Wallace. Kelly wasn’t obviously tougher on Trump than her colleagues, but she was the antagonist he focused on, retweeting a follower who said she was "a bimbo" and saying she had "blood coming out of her … wherever."

After Carly Fiorina challenged him in a debate, Trump said to Rolling Stone, "Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?" After Hillary Clinton needed to take a bathroom break during a debate, Trump told the crowd, "It's too disgusting. Don't say it, it's disgusting."

All of this, though, was mere prelude.

First, we got the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump boasted that he liked to “grab ’em by the pussy” and claimed that “when you’re a star, they let you do it.” After he denied had ever committed sexual assault at the first presidential debate, a flood of women came out to contradict him.

Two women told the New York Times that Trump had groped them or kissed them against their will. A third woman told the Palm Beach Post that Trump had grabbed her. A writer for People magazine said Trump grabbed her and kissed her while she was interviewing him for a story related to his first year of marriage with his wife, Melania Trump.

Another woman came forward to say Trump kissed her without her permission and later offered her money for sex. Yet another claimed Trump grabbed her breasts the first time they met. (Vox’s Emily Crockett and Libby Nelson have a complete roundup here.)

By the end of the month, 16 different women had accused Trump of sexual assault.

Trump is vindictive. Trump didn’t like the Washington Post’s coverage of his campaign, so he barred its reporters from his rallies and threatened to use the power of the presidency to bring an antitrust suit against the Post's owner, Jeff Bezos.

He was upset that Ohio didn’t vote for him, so he sat its delegation in the cheap seats, even though the state is hosting the convention. He was angry about an interview his ex-ghostwriter gave to the New Yorker, so he sent his lawyers after him. He hates the protesters who interrupt his campaigns, so he said he would look into paying the legal fees of a supporter who sucker-punched one of them.

Trump has since then lashed out at moderators, journalists, and pollsters for perceived sleights. He vowed retribution against the women who have accused him of sexual assault. He berated Paul Ryan and other leading Republicans for their “disloyal” actions.

Most stunningly, in the presidential debate Trump promised to jail Hillary Clinton over her private email server if he is elected president. (“Special prosecutor, here we come, right? If I win, we’re going to appoint a special prosecutor,” he said at a Pittsburgh rally the next day, just to clear up any confusion.) Doing so betrayed a fundamental norm of American democracy, but it also revealed the depths of Trump’s thin-skinned callowness and deep-seated desire to exact revenge.

Imagine Donald Trump with the powers of the presidency. Imagine what he could do — what he has already promised to do — to those who crossed him.

Trump is a liar. Trump boasts constantly that he had the judgment and foresight to oppose the Iraq War. But he didn’t. On September 11, 2002, Trump was asked by Howard Stern whether he supported the invasion of Iraq. "Yeah, I guess so," he replied. Trump has not sought to explain these comments or provide evidence of an alternative judgment he offered elsewhere. He just lies about this, and he does so often.

But that’s true for Trump across many issues. He says his health care plan will insure everyone, when it will do nothing of the kind. He says his tax plan raises taxes on the wealthy when it actually cuts them sharply. Trump has lied about his net worth, his reasons for not releasing his tax returns, and his charitable donations. He lies easily, fluently, shamelessly, constantly.

Trump’s lying is not a relic of the Republican primary. Over 25 days in September, Trump lied on at least 378 occasions, according to Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale, who has turned simply noting Trump’s lying into a daily beat.

Trump’s lies are both big and small. He pretended not to have mocked a disabled Times reporter. He claimed Clinton wants to create an “open border” with the Middle East. He held a press conference in September to claim he had not started the “birther” rumors about President Obama’s birthplace, then preposterously accused Clinton of being behind it.

Trump is a narcissist. His towering self-regard worked for him as a real estate developer. His real business was licensing out his name for buildings, menswear, golf courses, steaks. A bit of narcissism is necessary to become a global brand. But the trait is maladaptive in a presidential candidate.

One dramatic example was the 28 minutes Trump spent talking about himself when he was supposed to be introducing Mike Pence, his vice presidential candidate, for the first time. The most grotesque example was when he responded to the deadliest mass shooting in American history by tweeting, "Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism."

Trump has continued to refract tragedy through the prism of his own life. When NBA star Dwyane Wade mourned the death of a cousin in a Chicago shooting in August, Trump responded on Twitter:

Then there was Trump’s private charity. As the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold has revealed over the past several months, Trump has used money given to charity for some outrageous ends, including paying $20,000 at a charity auction for a portrait of Donald Trump and $12,000 for a football helmet autographed by Tim Tebow.

Trump admires authoritarian dictators for their authoritarianism. When MSNBC's Joe Scarborough asked Trump about his affection for Vladimir Putin, who "kills journalists [and] political opponents, and invades countries," Trump replied, "He's running his country, and at least he's a leader, unlike what we have in this country."

But it’s not just Putin. Trump has praised Saddam Hussein because "he killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn't read them the rights." He said "you've got to give [Kim Jong Un] credit. He goes in, he takes over, and he's the boss. It's incredible."

It’s not just that Trump admires these authoritarians; it’s that the thing he admires about them is their authoritarianism — their ability to dispense with niceties like a free press, due process, and political opposition.

Trump didn’t shy away from his praise of Putin as the general election approached. "If he says great things about me, I'm going to say great things about him," Trump said at a forum in September. "I've already said he is very much of a leader. The man has very strong control over his country.

Trump is a conspiracy theorist. Trump burst onto the scene as a leader of the absurd "birther" movement. He’s said that Bill Ayers is the real author of Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father, explained that the unemployment rate in America is really over 40 percent, suggested that both Antonin Scalia and Vince Foster were murdered, and argued that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in JFK’s assassination.

Trump has unleashed a torrent of anti-Semitism into the wild. I don’t believe Donald Trump bears any animus toward Jews. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is Jewish, and his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism. But his candidacy has empowered anti-Semites, and he has frequently leaned into their tropes.

His final ad features Trump condemning "global special interests" and "those who control the levers of power in Washington" as pictures of Janet Yellen, Lloyd Blankfein, and George Soros — all of them Jewish — flash across the screen. It was condemned by the Anti-Defamation League for trafficking in obviously anti-Semitic stereotypes.

Jewish journalists on Twitter — myself included — have noticed the outpouring of vicious anti-Semitism Trump’s candidacy has engendered. And it’s not just nameless bigots on the internet. Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who backs Trump, said earlier this year that a legal case involving the mogul could help “expose the entire Jewish manipulation of the American media, the American political process, control of politics in America and truly how they are the dominant and dangerous power that exists in the United States.”

Trump could, at any moment, have condemned all of this and taken a strong stand against anti-Semitism. That he hasn’t, and that he hasn’t warned his campaign to stay far from anti-Semitic messages, has spoken volumes. Again, I don’t believe Trump himself is anti-Semitic. But I certainly believe his election would embolden anti-Semites.

Trump is very, very gullible. This is related to his conspiracy theories, but Trump has a habit of believing and retweeting bad information that sounds good to him at the time.

This has led to, among other things, Trump retweeting false crime statistics, Trump retweeting Mussolini quotes from a Twitter account called Il Duce, Trump promoting a fake video claiming a protester who rushed his stage was sent by ISIS, and Trump endorsing a National Enquirer report suggesting Ted Cruz’s dad helped kill JFK. When pressed about these sundry embarrassments, Trump said, "All I know is what’s on the internet."

That’s a reasonable response from your uncle who forwards you weird email chains, but not from a presidential candidate.

Trump doesn’t apologize, and his defensiveness escalates situations. During the Republican convention, it became very clear that Melania Trump’s 2016 convention speech had lifted two paragraphs from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech. The error was an embarrassment, but it could have been dispatched quickly by simply admitting fault and apologizing.

Instead, the Trump campaign turned it into a multi-day story and a character issue by denying anything had happened and blaming Hillary Clinton. This is "an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, how she seeks out to demean her and take her down," said campaign chair Paul Manafort in one of the most genuinely ridiculous comments in recent American history.

The campaign also tried to argue that Michelle Obama doesn’t own the English language, and that similar language was used by Twilight Sparkle, a My Little Pony (I’m serious). Finally, days later, the Trump campaign admitted there was plagiarism and blamed a miscommunication between Melania and her speechwriter.

A similar pattern played out when Trump tweeted an anti-Hillary meme that superimposed a Star of David atop a pile of money and accused Clinton of corruption. The image was obviously anti-Semitic, and the Trump campaign quickly took it down. But Trump himself went on a Twitter rampage, arguing that what was clearly a Star of David was actually just a sheriff’s star, or maybe just a regular old star, and that the campaign shouldn’t have removed the offending meme in the first place.

When the first wave of sexual assault accusers surfaced, Trump’s first impulse was to go on the offensive. In a video address to his supporters, he first rambled about how Bill Clinton had done far worse than he had. Then he held a press conference before the debate with three women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault. His latest declaration, in a speech meant to preview his first 100 days in office and over the objections of advisers, was that he would sue the women who had accused him of assault as soon as the election ended.

As Vox’s Tim Lee writes, this tendency in the Oval Office could lead to tragedy: “[Trump’s] behavior on the campaign trail suggests that he would be unlikely to admit mistakes and defuse tense situations. Instead, his first instinct would be to escalate every conflict in an effort to bully foreign adversaries into giving him his way. That might work in some cases. But in others — especially against powerful countries like China or Russia — the results could be disastrous."

Trump surrounds himself with sycophants. It's tradition for presidential candidates to release a note from their physician testifying to their fitness to fulfill the duties of the presidency. On December 14, Trump submitted his entry to this quadrennial custom.

"If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency," Trump’s doctor, Harold Bornstein, wrote. "His blood pressure, 110/65, and laboratory test results were astonishingly excellent. … His physical strength and stamina are extraordinary."

This is … not how most doctor notes read. "Reached for comment regarding this, a spokesperson at the American Medical Association just giggled," reported the Daily Beast.

There are many positions where one might accept a pliable crony. But "personal physician" should not be one of them. The fact that Trump would entrust his health to a doctor who would sign off on a note like this should terrify his family and friends. But more than that, it should disqualify him from the presidency.

Trump has proven too lazy to learn about policy. Trump didn’t know much about policy when the campaign started, and as far as anyone can tell, he hasn’t made any obvious effort to rectify that.

The latest and most damaging example is his interview with the New York Times, in which he said he would not automatically defend NATO countries against attack from Russia. It’s not obvious Trump meant to say that, or that he even knew what saying that meant, as Manafort immediately began denying Trump had ever said it. (The Times subsequently released a transcript showing that, yes, Trump had said it.)

But this is a pattern for Trump, who doesn’t bother to come up with convincing answers even to obvious questions, and definitely has not put in the time to develop a deep understanding of the issues he might face as president. As Matt Yglesias wrote, this is very much a choice Trump has made. "Trump is now the GOP nominee, and there are hundreds of professional Republican Party politicians and operatives around the country who would gladly help him become a sharper, better-informed candidate. It doesn’t happen because he can’t be bothered."

This was never more obvious than it was during the first, second, and third presidential debates. (Well, as well as the ones during the Republican primary.) Trump got clobbered in all three contests, and they appear to have given Clinton an unprecedented, albeit temporary, boost in the polls. But what was perhaps most revealing was Trump’s refusal to even do due diligence before the high-stakes contests.

“One looks to be hunkering down with homework, research, and rehearsals,” Monica Alba and Ali Vitali reported for NBC News, “while the other seems to be taking an on-the-fly casual approach to what could be the most important 90 minutes of the presidential election.”

Trump has run an incompetent campaign and convention. As brilliant as Trump has been in securing media attention for himself and channeling the anxieties of conservative voters, he hasn’t bothered to build a real campaign organization, and his convention has been a festival of unforced errors.

This is the context of Melania Trump’s plagiarism, of Ted Cruz’s anti-endorsement, of the night of the convention that was supposed to be about jobs and the economy but was actually about Benghazi and jailing Hillary Clinton. In isolation, these are gaffes, mistakes, bad luck. Together, though, they tell a damning story of organizational incompetence.

That story has only gotten longer over the course of the campaign. Trump has effectively abandoned a ground game in a first for a modern presidential campaign. He’s been too lazy to raise money. His tweets have proven so counterproductive that his campaign aides successfully wrestled access to his account away from him.

The most generous interpretation of this is that Trump is capable of running an effective organization, but he’s just not interested in conventions and field operations in the way he is interested in golf courses and condos. Others have certainly testified to the trouble Trump has focusing on tasks that don’t engage him. His former ghostwriter says, "He has no attention span." Unfortunately, the president actually needs to focus on all kinds of dull and unpleasant tasks.

Trump has regularly incited or justified violence among his supporters. At a rally in St. Louis, Trump lamented that "nobody wants to hurt each other anymore."

Yes, lamented.

The topic was protesters, and Trump's frustration was clear. "They're being politically correct the way they take them out," he sighed. "Protesters, they realize there are no consequences to protesting anymore. There used to be consequences. There are none anymore."

Earlier in the campaign, two of Trump’s supporters attacked a homeless Mexican man and told the police, "Donald Trump was right — all these illegals need to be deported." Trump’s response? "I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country, and they want this country to be great again."

The simple fact of it is that Donald Trump should not be president of the United States. That is not because he is too conservative, as some Democrats would have it, or because he is not conservative enough, as many Republicans would have it. It’s because the presidency is a powerful job where mistakes can kill millions, and whoever holds it needs to take that power seriously and wield it responsibly.

Trump has had ample opportunity to demonstrate his sense of seriousness and responsibility. He has failed.

It is said that the benefit of America’s long presidential campaigns is they offer the candidates time to show us who they really are. Trump has shown us who he really is. He is a person who should not be president. That he is being brought this close to the presidency — that he is as close as he is to winning it — should scare us all. It certainly scares me.

Jeff Stein contributed to this piece.


Watch: Trump's success reveals a frightening weakness in American democracy