Finally, a leading political figure in the United States, Governor Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for the presidency in 2012, stood up and denounced Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate in 2016, for the extreme positions he has taken and the deep character defects he has manifested in the race for the Republican nomination.
Trump supporters and others have responded, not by rebutting the points Romney has made, but by attacking Romney the man and the positions he holds or has held.
Romney’s criticim of Trump was powerful, if a bit late in the game. Still, it deserves a close reading.
Trump has received a great deal of “horse-race” coverage in the media, which at the same time has generally failed to investigate the significance and likely consequences of his proposals.
A key point to bear in mind is that Trump, in his changing formulations, is signaling to his supporters where his true sentifments lie, while then trimming back his statements so as to appear less extreme.
His statement that he would use waterboarding and much worse (forms of torture) should be taken as such a signal. He tacked back afterwards and said he would have to follow domestic and international law, which prohibit waterboarding and other forms of torture. Then he said, on a following day, that he would act to change the law to allow (waterboarding and other techniques). His followers got the point.
His long hesitation in repudiating the Klu Klux Klan served a similar signaling function. He signaled to his supporters what he really thought, and then walked back his statement so as to appear less extreme. They got the messasge.
The ugly face of America is to be seen in the millions of Trump supporters who either enthusiastically greet these signals that he is a racist and favors torture, or who are willing to look the other way and support him despite these statements and signals.
There is indeed an ugly face to America, which we have seen at Abu Gharib, in the violence in the South during the Civil Rights Movement, and in the lynchings and other acts of violence carried out by the Klu Klux Klan in our history.
The shame of the Republican Party and many Republican officials, including other candidates in the Republican primary who remained silent for so long, is that they did not denounce Trump sooner. At least some of them are trying to save some of the remnants of their honor by denouncing him now.
Trump is a demogogue, a crude and vulgar bully and misogynist, a racist, a xenophobe, an advocate of torture, a candidate who can quote Benito Mussollini without a blush, and a loose canon in foreign policy who should never have gotten this far.
He represents the ugly face of America, which unfortunately exists, and the threat that it represents.
Democrats and others in America would be making a great error if they were to assume Trump will not become the Republican nominee in the race for the presidency.
It would be an even graver mistake if they were to blithely assume he will simply help the Democrats in the November elections, and could never become the President of the United States.
Bernie Sanders might beat him, but Hillary Clinton, with her baggage and both known and unkown liabilities and vulnerabilities, might not, particularly as foreign policy and America’s place in the world move to center stage in the presidential race. Yet she remains the likely Democratic candidate.
UPDATE (March 7, 2016)
Foreign observers have also described Donald Trump as “The Ugly Face of America,” even months before Romney’s speech and when the present article was written. See
Mohamed Chtatou, “Donald Trump: The Ugly Face of America,” Morocco World News,
December 23, 2015 (06:59 h).
The Trenchant Observer