My old friends Dennis Prager, Bill Bennett and Rush Limbaugh, among many others, seem to have made a transition. It's not enough to vote for Trump. No, even reluctant supporters must now talk themselves into believing that conservative "principles" require a vote for Trump. Like John C. Calhoun, who discovered that slavery was not only not wrong, it was a "positive good," some Republicans are urging that a vote for Trump is a moral imperative. To oppose him is, in Bennett's words, to put vanity and a sense of "moral superiority" above the interests of the country. Rush Limbaugh, who travels in a private plane, condemns anti-Trump intellectuals at tiny, poorly funded think tanks for "(wanting) their paychecks."
To justify support for an emotionally stunted, aspiring authoritarian, Prager et al argue that the country "cannot survive" four years of a Hillary Clinton presidency. Limbaugh warns that this is a "Flight 93" election — meaning we either storm the cockpit and risk death, or surely die.
Bad analogy. The passengers on Flight 93 were pretty sure they were going to die. The only question was whether to go down fighting and possibly disrupt the terrorists' plans, or to die passively. Those passengers ought to remind us that a lot remains right with America, because the voices crying doom are particularly piercing just now.
There is much decay in America. Government, best represented by an IRS that targets Americans for their political activism and an FBI that declines to hold high officials to the same standards as ordinary ones, is corrupt. Government is also sclerotic and headed for insolvency — with the approval of both major-party candidates. The courts are making social policy without even a pretense of constitutionality. Race relations are getting worse. The press is dominated by mindless infotainment. Men are dropping out of the labor force. The internet has unleashed the most feral appetites of the human soul — from child porn to anti-Semitism. Manners are fraying.
So, yes, it may be that we cannot pull out of this dive. Many of these ills are not susceptible to repair by a president. In any case, how can people who until the day before yesterday emphasized the crucial importance of ethics, morality, tradition and honor now argue that Trump is not the antithesis of those virtues?
If you're going to have a cult of personality, at least choose someone worthy. Trump has spent a career in the tabloid zone, and it shows. The amazing thing is that a lifelong teetotaler can sound so drunk. At NBC's "Commander in Chief Forum," for example, Trump repeated his favorite barstool bluster that the United States of America should have "taken the oil" before departing Iraq. Leaving aside for a moment the morality of using the U.S. military to pillage another nation, the "how" of this formulation is a bit murky, since Trump is adamantly opposed to "boots on the ground." We could have left a small force, he airily explained to Matt Lauer. And the Iraqi population would have been fine with that? No danger of an insurrection, to say nothing of sabotage?
Trump again repeated the debunked claim that Mexico is "taking all of our jobs or a big percentage of our jobs" and preened about causing the resignation of a mid-level Mexican government official as proof of his toughness. A truly great nation needn't lord it over minor Mexicans. He later purred about his cordiality with Vladimir Putin, and imagined how delightful the world would be if we could have a better relationship with Russia, which "wants to defeat ISIS as badly as we do." Well, not badly enough actually to fire on them, it seems. Russian jets hit Bashar Assad's opponents square on but left ISIS pretty much unscathed.
Trump claims to have taken an interest in international affairs for "many years," but he apparently missed the part when Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton had the same naive hope about Russia. They called it a "reset." Trump would decry it as a "disaster" even as he slides into the exact same rut. Despite his slogan, Trump is quick to slander America. Asked about the attempted coup in Turkey, he sneered that the U.S. lacks the moral authority to criticize other nations. When presented with Putin's record of killing opponents, he was phlegmatic. "Our country does plenty of killing also." He's long admired dictators he describes as "strong leaders."
Trump's comments on foreign policy come at a time when he's been attempting to impersonate a normal candidate, and some observers have developed blinding amnesia. This Trump is bad enough, but the other one — the violence-inciting, promiscuously dishonest, bankruptcy-declaring, NATO-dissing, tax return-withholding, alt-right empowering, threat-issuing, America-disparaging Trump — cannot remain chained for long. That Trump cannot save America. He might do even more damage than she. So spare us the overwrought Flight 93 analogies.