It’s taken me a while to put my finger on exactly what political label best describes Donald Trump as his presidential campaign snarls and spits to a finish. I think I’ve finally got it: Donald Trump is a “legal alien.”
That’s right, the man who has spent the last year railing against those dastardly “illegal aliens” supposedly wreaking havoc on our country turns out to be a legal alien — someone born in America but whose values are completely alien to all that has made this country great.
Who do you know who has denigrated immigrants, the handicapped, Muslims and Mexicans; trashed all our recent trade agreements; mounted a fraudulent campaign claiming our president was not born in this country; insulted the whole presidential selection process by running for the highest office without doing a shred of homework; boasted of grabbing women by their genitals; disparaged our NATO allies; praised the dictatorial president of Russia and encouraged him to hack Democratic Party emails; vowed to prosecute his campaign rival if he got elected; threatened to curb the freedom of the press; suggested that gun rights advocates might take the law into their own hands if Hillary Clinton won; insulted the parents of a slain Iraq war hero; been accused by 11 women of sexual assault or other unwelcome physical advances; sought to undermine America’s electoral system by claiming, without a shred of evidence, that it is so “rigged” he can’t promise to concede if he loses; and been cited for lying about more things more times in more ways on more days than any presidential aspirant in history?
This cocktail of toxic behaviors and attitudes is utterly alien to anyone who has ever run for president — and for good reason. But that is who Trump is. The big question now is, who are the rest of us?
1) The American people. Who are we? Hopefully, an overwhelming majority will crush Trump at the polls and send the message that he is the one who needs to be morally deported, with a pathway back to the American mainstream only if he changes his ways.
If Trump loses and decides to start a media company — a kind of “Trump Ink” — to keep injecting his conspiratorial venom into the veins of U.S. politics and terrorize moderate Republicans, he will pay dearly. Trump Ink will blacken Trump Inc.
Already there are myriad reports of people avoiding Trump hotels and golf courses, because of his poisonous behavior. The PGA Tour recently moved its longstanding tournament from Trump’s Doral course in Miami to a course in … Mexico!
2) The Republican Party. Whose party is this? Almost all of the G.O.P.’s leaders have chosen to stand with Trump because they love their jobs (and the party that sustains them) more than their country. If Trump loses, will the G.O.P. leadership try to chase that big chunk of its base that went with Trump and become an alt-right party, or will this G.O.P. fracture and the decent conservatives go off and form a new, healthy Republican Party?
The country desperately needs a healthy center-right party that embraces the full rainbow of American society, promotes market-based solutions for climate change, celebrates risk-taking over redistribution, pushes for smaller government, expands trade that benefits the many but takes care of those hurt by it, invests in infrastructure, offers tax and entitlement reforms — and liberates itself from right-wing thought police like Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Grover Norquist, who have prevented the G.O.P. from compromising and being a governing party.
3) The Democratic Party. Whose party is this? In truth, Bernie Sanders’s movement fractured the Democratic Party almost as much as Trump did the G.O.P., but that fissure has been temporarily plastered over by the overriding need to defeat Trump.
If Clinton wins, that fissure will quickly reopen and some basic questions will have to be answered: Do Democrats support any trade expansion? Do Democrats believe in the principled use of force? Do they believe that America’s risk-takers who create jobs are a profit engine to be unleashed or a menace only to be regulated and taxed? Do they believe we need to expand safety nets to catch those being left behind by this age of accelerating change but also control entitlements so they will be sustainable?
How does the Democratic Party process the fact that while Trump is a legal alien, his supporters are not. They are our neighbors. They need to be heard, and where possible they need to be helped. But they also need to be challenged to learn faster and make good choices, because the world is not slowing down for them.
Bottom line: We’re in the middle of a massive technological shift. It’s changing every job, workplace and community. Government can help, but there is no quick fix, and a lot more will depend on what Reid Hoffman, a co-founder of LinkedIn, calls “the start-up of you.” You need a plan to succeed today.
To the extent that the center-left and the center-right can come together on programs to help every American get the most out of this world and cushion the worst, we’ll all be better off. But the more we get tribally divided, the more the American dream will become an alien concept to us all.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on October 26, 2016, on page A31 of the New York edition with the headline: Trump, Alien to All That’s Great.