In the past 48 hours, as the press focused on Comeygate and the renewed discussion of Hillary Clinton’s emails, Donald Trump reiterated one of the most consistent and abhorrent policy proposals in his policy-phobic campaign: to bring back waterboarding, the Bush-era torture technique that is both morally indefensible and scientifically proven to be ineffective and counterproductive in the fight against terrorism.
Rallying Sunday in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Trump lamented the Obama administration’s opposition to using this now-infamous “enhanced interrogation” method as part of combating ISIS. “We want peace through strength,” he said. “We don’t want to be in wars, but these savages are chopping off heads, drowning people in steel cages, burying people in the sand. This is medieval times. This is medieval times. And then we can’t do waterboarding, it’s far too tough, you know.”
He added, “We have to be tough and we have to be smart and we have to be, in some cases, pretty vicious.”
Trump has been arguing for reviving torture for at least a year now. Last November, The Guardian reported from a Columbus, Ohio rally, where he said, “Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would. In a heartbeat. I would approve more than that. It works.” He then added, “If it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway for what they do to us,” presumably referring to terrorism suspects—people who haven’t even been convicted.
This is the politics of “violence as policy,” to borrow a phrase from MSNBC reporter Benjy Sarlin’s comprehensive analysis of Trump’s vengeance published Monday. It’s what we’ve come to expect from a candidate who said of a protester, “I’d like to punch him the face,” and calls on supporters to “knock the crap out of” hecklers. This is the man who, when asked to cite his favorite Bible verse, chose “an eye for an eye”—which, as The Washington Times notes, “Jesus specifically repudiated.”
Trump may offer few specifics on most policy issues—many of his policy staffers quit in August after he declined to pay them—but the details he does describe, the ideas on which he’s been consistent in the campaign, are horrific. Some of them are illegal. Many would result in violence. And they, not Clinton’s emails or even Trump’s, should be the focus of voters’ attention in the last week of this race.
As The Washington Post noted last week, “Trump often makes contradictory statements or speaks in vague terms that leave room for interpretation.” Still, some of his policy stances, like his position on waterboarding, are crystal clear.
In a policy speech on immigration two months ago, Trump announced a plan that would, according to the Post, “target at least 5 million and as many as 6.5 million undocumented immigrants for swift removal, or about half of the 11 million estimated to be living in the United States. And he left open the possibility that he would seek to deport many more as well.” Trump made clear in his speech that it might not end there: “Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation.”
Trump has given himself some leeway on a few of the most egregious policies he has pitched. His proposed Muslim ban—“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”—is now a plan for “extreme vetting” of people coming into the country from certain countries. After saying that “with the terrorists, you have to take out their families”—which would be a war crime—Trump later insisted, “I didn’t say kill. We have to go after them.” An exhaustive list by NBC News reporter Jane Timm shows that Trump similarly has backed away from other outrageous ideas like supporting “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions.
Even so, Americans are faced with a candidate who endorsed these ideas earlier this year and continues to promote policies that are downright dangerous. It’s not exactly clear, for instance, where Trump stands on nuclear weapons. Would he use them against ISIS? In Europe? Does he really not care if more countries develop nukes? It’s clear he wants to be “unpredictable” and “never take cards off the table”—that’s scary enough.
Several recent studies confirmed the sorry state of issue-oriented news coverage in this campaign—that the media prioritizes polls over policy and sensationalism over substance. It’s a shame, not just in its failure to convey Clinton as much more knowledgable but because Trump’s policies are every bit as damning as his behavior.
“They say Donald does not have any policies,” Clinton said in her comedy routine at the Al Smith dinner. “I would like to defend him on this. Donald has issues, serious issues. Really, really serious issues.”
She was joking about his temperament. But Trump does have several really, really serious policy issues, and they’re the most horrifying aspect of his candidacy.