Give Donald Trump credit: His boasts of egregious behavior in forcing himself on women, and the growing number who say he forced himself on them, is forcing America to confront uncomfortable facts about how women are sexually abused, sexually assaulted and sexually objectified, and not only by men in power.
But as necessary as this conversation is, another pernicious threat related to Trump’s views on power is getting shorter shrift: his alarming willingness to use the presidency to erode the very principles upon which this country was founded.
Consider the election itself. It’s rigged, Trump says incessantly, like so many other things are rigged. He talks of it being “stolen,” mentioning places that just coincidentally have large African American populations, most recently Philadelphia, in warning: “We have to make sure we’re protected.”
A study by a Loyola Law School professor found 31 cases of potential voter fraud out of more than 1 billion votes cast from 2000 to 2014. In other words, this doesn’t happen.
But by invoking a many-tentacled plot by the media, Democratic officials, some states and who knows who else to deliver a victory to Clinton, Trump undermines the legitimacy of that potential win. If you hear an echo of his birther attempt to undermine the legitimacy of President Barack Obama, you’re right.
Where does this baseless casting of shadows lead?
To a Mike Pence rally last week in Iowa, where a woman expressed the refusal of Trump fans to accept a Clinton win. “If Hillary Clinton gets in, I myself, I’m ready for a revolution because we can’t have her in,” she said. Pence knows better, and replied, “Don’t say that.”
That’s scary, and it’s not the way we do things in America, where even Al Gore accepted the controversial outcome in 2000 and turned the page. Trump probably would call Gore weak.
But Trump also is willing to trample on free speech rights.
He longs for the days when protesters were carried out on stretchers, has said he’d like to punch one in the face, and wants to loosen libel laws so he can sue the media for its alleged unfair treatment of him. But these laws largely are state laws and beyond his ability as president to change, exposing again his astonishing lack of knowledge.
Consider one of the high points of every Trump rally: his call to throw Hillary Clinton in jail. He promised in the second presidential debate to do just that if he wins.
Think about that.
Trump is saying he’d use his power as president to investigate a political opponent with a predetermined outcome: send her to prison. This is third-world strongman stuff, and thoroughly undermines our criminal justice system.
Consider also his contention that only he can fix things, only he can protect us, only he can do it right.
It’s demagoguery, and our founding fathers warned of it.
Our government was set up to guard against it. But Trump would bypass that in an authoritarian power grab. Lest you dismiss that as liberal namby-pamby claptrap, remember what Maine Gov. Paul LePage said last week, “Sometimes, I wonder that our Constitution is not only broken, but we need a Donald Trump to show some authoritarian power in our country and bring back the rule of law . . .”
In other words, subvert our government to save it.
Trump’s fans get the message. At a rally Thursday in West Palm Beach, one supporter repeatedly shouted, “Braveheart!” The reference was to the Mel Gibson film about a Scotsman who leads his nation in a war of independence against England.
When you want to undermine freedom of speech, the criminal justice system, the electoral system and government itself, that’s the kind of fight you’re fighting.
“This election will determine whether we remain a free nation or only the illusion of democracy,” Trump said Thursday.
He’s right. Just not in the way he imagines.
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.