Those who argue that Republicans should support Donald Trump despite his personal flaws are largely missing the point. It's not his vulgarity, his shady dealings, or even his alleged sexual assaults, disturbing as those are, that ultimately disqualify him. The problem with Trump runs much deeper. In the two-hundred-twenty-seven years since the first presidential election, we have had many kinds of presidents: conservative and liberal, courageous and cowardly, virtuous and immoral, honest and corrupt. Our republic has weathered them all. But we have never had a president who, like Trump, directly challenges what America stands for as a nation.
The U.S. is unique among nations because, at its core, it is not defined by its territorial boundaries or by any cultural, ethnic, linguistic, or religious identity. Any of those could change over time, and it would still be America. Even the Constitution is only an expression of the people's will, subject to change. At its core, America is an idea. As Abraham Lincoln explained, it is "a new nation, established in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Thus, America is a great, ongoing experiment in human affairs, testing whether "any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure."
Yet in countless ways throughout his campaign, Trump has demonstrated that he rejects that fundamental proposition. His statements regarding Mexicans ("they're rapists"), Muslims ("a temporary ban"), women ("grab them by the p----"), his opponent ("the devil"), peaceful protesters ("punch him in the face"), journalists ("lying, disgusting people"), etc., etc., etc., are well documented and need not be detailed here. They reflect a deep fear of or contempt for those who are different. No one who says such things can honestly claim to believe the self-evident truths "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." And no one who rejects those truths should lead the nation that embodies them.
It is usually around this point in a political discussion that a Trump supporter will try to turn the conversation to Hillary Clinton and her multitude of sins, arguing that whatever drawbacks Trump may have, they're not as bad as hers. For our purposes here, let's just stipulate that every plausible accusation that has been made against Clinton is true--all of it--and that she would be the worst president in U.S. history. Even then, when it comes to the survival of American constitutional democracy, there is no comparison. It's not even apples and oranges; it's apples and the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs. For all of Clinton's misdeeds, real or imagined, no one can seriously argue that she poses a threat to American democracy. Sadly, the same cannot be said of Trump.
In 1860, when leaders in the South realized that a majority of voters in the U.S. actually believed that all people are created equal, including slaves, and that this belief would define the nation, they did what any rational person who disagrees would do--they opted out. The result was two percent of Americans killed, which for today's population would equal more than six million souls. Last week, when Trump refused to promise to accept the results of the election (unless he wins), he too was holding open the possibility of opting out. Thus, by rejecting America's founding principle, Trump represents the greatest threat to American democracy since the Civil War. That is what this election is really about.