Forget the relative normalcy of the first half of the final presidential debate on Wednesday. Disregard the fact that a low-energy Donald Trump managed to tone down his odiousness, keeping mostly to smirks and snide remarks and even a talking point or two. The key moment came near the end, when moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump about his most galling pronouncement in this election—that he isn’t committed to accepting its outcome because it’s “rigged.”
Wallace tried reasoning with Trump. He noted that Trump’s running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, pledged to accept the will of the voters, as have members of Trump’s campaign. Wallace explained how America has a proud tradition of peaceful transitions of power between governments, with the loser conceding to the winner, and asked Trump, incredulously, whether he would really break from that norm. “Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?” he asked.
The Republican nominee, who has spent this entire campaign disregarding American’s best principles, remained noncommittal.
“I will tell you at the time,” he said. “I’ll keep you in suspense.”
As he has in recent days, Trump also raised the specter of voter fraud—“millions of people that are registered to vote that shouldn’t be”—even though it’s never been a widespread problem. He whined about media bias, ignoring the absurdity of believing the press can rig an election. And in the end, he simply couldn’t bring himself to pledge to accept the people’s verdict on November 8.
This, as Hillary Clinton said immediately afterward, is “horrifying.” She accused Trump of “denigrating and talking down our democracy”—and that’s exactly what he did. It’s what he’s been doing throughout his entire campaign.
Over and over, from the moment he announced his candidacy, Trump has shown not just that he’s unfit to lead the nation but that he’s at odds with the country’s fundamental values. He’s hostile to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. He’s a casual racist and a vicious sexist who rejects equality and practices prejudice regularly. And now he’s engaged in a dangerous attempt to delegitimize our electoral system that could well end in violence.
This is why, simply put, Donald Trump doesn’t deserve America.
Over the course of Trump’s campaign, some of his most shocking affronts to our national character have come in his assault on the First Amendment—a beacon of true American exceptionalism if ever there were one. Instead of championing free speech, he seeks to crush it with an authoritarian fist, inciting violence against peaceful protestors and launching frivolous lawsuits to silence his critics. As Amanda Carpenter, a conservative commentator and former Ted Cruz aide, recently wrote, “Trump’s eagerness to use the courts and other agents of government power against his political opposition is not the mark of a leader. It’s a common trait among tyrants.”
Tyrants also commonly likes to silence journalists. Just last week, the Committee to Protect Journalists released an unprecedented statement “recognizing that a Trump presidency represents a threat to press freedom unknown in modern history.” The group catalogued how Trump has vilified and demeaned reporters, expelled Univision anchor Jorge Ramos from his press conference, and refused to credential more than half a dozen major media organizations that cover him critically. He’s also promised to “open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.”
When it comes to America’s original founding freedom, religious liberty, Trump is even worse. One of his signature policy proposals is “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” The plan has been condemned as “not what this country stands for” and an idea that comes “at the expense of our American values”—that was the verdict from House Speaker Paul Ryan. Another Republican, former Vice President Dick Cheney, was slightly firmer, saying the ban “goes against everything we stand for and believe in.”
Which isn’t to say Trump’s proposal was surprising coming from him, given the way he treats other marginalized minority groups. Trump said Gonzalo Curiel, an Indiana-born federal judge, couldn’t do his job impartially because of his Mexican heritage—a violation of the American ideal of equal opportunity. Ryan correctly called this “the textbook definition of a racist comment.” Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Mark Kirk—both Republicans—were more to the point when they called the remark “un-American.”
At the top of the debate, Clinton identified what she sees as the central question of this election: “What kind of country do we want to be?” It’s a good question. Trump certainly knows what kind of country he wants it to be—and it starts by destroying some of America’s most cherished principles. Even when he spoke reverently of “the Constitution the way it was meant to be,” it became clear he meant the explicit appointment of pro-life judges and an even broader interpretation of his favorite amendment, the Second. That’s his plan for how to Make America Great Again: more guns, fewer individual rights, and a founding American document in shreds.