On one level, Donald Trump is a stereotype, just the latest in a long line of American demagogues who ride the periodic waves of populism caused by major economic and social dislocations. He is Williams Jennings Bryan if the the Great Commoner talked gibberish, Huey Long with bad hair, George Wallace with a jet.
On another level, however, he is unique. Never before has man who is essentially a fascist come this close to sitting in the Oval Office. There are analogous antecedents — Father Charles Coughlin in the 1930s, Joe McCarthy in the 1950s — but there is no real precedent for Donald Trump and the threats he poses to the nation.
Perhaps the greatest of these threats, the one that will not be extinguished by his probable defeat, is his attack on democracy itself. Democracy, as we frequently say but rarely think about, is dependent on the consent of the governed, and that consent is in turn dependent on our shared belief that the democratic process is fundamentally fair, that the will of the majority is reflected in election results.
Trump, whose monstrous ego will not allow him to accept the possibility that a majority of voters might reject him for good and sufficient reasons, is seeking to undermine that shared belief by claiming that this election is being rigged by a shadowy conspiracy of big banks, big corporations, mainstream media and foreign oligarchs. In doing so, he attacks the very cornerstone of American democracy.
It is imperative that the elected leadership of the Republican Party step forward and aggressively repel this attack in unambiguous terms now, not later after the lie has become perceived reality because it went unchallenged. In this context, this presidential election has been a clinic in pusillanimity taught by most of the elected leaders of my party. Cowed by fear of the party's far right wing in primaries to come and driven by ambition, or at least by the desire to cling to office at all costs, elected Republican officials have, for the most part, been on an extended moral vacation since Trump clinched the nomination.
They did not step forward and defend Mexicans or a Mexican-American federal judge when Trump maligned them. They did not defend Muslims, even American Muslims, when Trump slandered them, including the Gold Star parents of a fallen soldier. And they did not defend women until Trump virtually forced them to do so with his vile, undeniable misogyny. Even then, excepting a few hardy souls, they did so only perfunctorily and briefly before retiring once more from the field.
But surely they will defend democracy, regardless of how they feel about Trump and Hillary Clinton. In every venue they can, at every opportunity they have, they must assure the public that this election is not rigged, that the election results will reflect the will of the majority of voting Americans. And they must debunk Trump's conspiracy theories that feed on paranoia and prejudice. For example, the fact that virtually every newspaper in the country but the National Enquirer, from the most liberal to the most conservative, has repudiated Trump is not evidence of a conspiracy; it is a stunning indictment of his candidacy.
This defense of democracy should not be passive — a mumbled response to a reporter's question. It should be aggressive — speeches devoted specifically to the subject, op-ed articles, television interviews. Trump's ego requires an excuse for defeat, however destructive. The common good requires the truth, however painful politically.
Most elected officials run for public office for the right reasons. They want to make a positive difference. At least in the beginning they hope for that moment when they will have the opportunity to be a hero, to stand for the right against all odds, to charge that metaphorical machine gun nest on behalf of the people, to fling themselves on that political hand grenade in defense of principle. For many that moment never comes. For others it goes unrecognized. For some it is simply ignored as the instinct for self-preservation overpowers principle.
This is such a moment. Any Republican elected officials unwilling to publicly oppose Donald Trump in his selfish attempt to delegitimize this election and undermine American democracy do a great disservice to their country and irreparable damage to their reputations.
J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich is a Republican strategist and Tallahassee lobbyist who served as chief of staff to former Gov. Bob Martinez. He has no official role with any political campaign.