Bill Day, Cagle Cartoons

Bill Day, Cagle Cartoons

PHOENIX — Donald Trump is running against democracy itself.

Here, in the land of Barry Goldwater, democracy is fighting back.

Only once since 1948 has Arizona gone Democratic in a presidential election, and that was the Ross Perot-skewed 1996 contest. But Trump’s manifold charms — most recently his threat to ignore the results of the election — have given Hillary Clinton a 5-point lead in this red state, according to a new Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll. Disgust with Trump sent thousands of white, black and brown Arizonans on Thursday afternoon into the Phoenix Convention Center (where Trump weeks ago pledged mass deportation of illegal immigrants) to hear Michelle Obama denounce Trump’s assault on the democratic process.

“We are fortunate to live in a country where the voters decide our elections,” the first lady said. “The voters decide who wins and loses. Period. End of story. And when a presidential candidate threatens to ignore our voices and reject the outcome of this election, he is threatening the very idea of America itself, and we cannot stand for that. We do not keep American democracy ‘in suspense.'”

The crowd roared its approval.

Obama’s speech is part of a push by the Clinton campaign to expand the electoral battleground into reliably Republican states such as Texas, Georgia, Utah, Alaska and, particularly, Arizona, that have been put into play by Trump’s outrages. The Clinton campaign, which already has 32 offices and 160 staffers in Arizona, announced last week that it is spending another $2 million here and dispatched Bernie Sanders, Chelsea Clinton and the first lady to campaign in the state.

As a matter of math, Arizona is irrelevant: If Clinton is doing well enough to win here, she will already have locked up the election elsewhere. But if Trump is to be denied in his bid to subvert democratic institutions by claiming a rigged election, he needs to be defeated resoundingly, removing all doubt. Clinton needs to run up the score.

The need to deal Trump a humiliating defeat has a sociological basis in the “degradation ceremony” in which the perpetrator (Trump) is held by denouncers (officeholders and others in positions of influence) to be morally unacceptable, and witnesses (the public) agree that the perpetrator is no longer held in good standing.

Psychologist Wynn Schwartz, who teaches at Harvard Medical School, explained to me that what’s needed to have a successful degradation of Trump is an epic defeat. “If it is lopsided enough,” he said, “you don’t have critical masses of people who feel disenfranchised” or “who feel justified in saying that it was stolen.”

But if Clinton’s victory is narrow, the degradation ceremony fails, because a large chunk of the population feels swindled and remains loyal to Trump.

Trump’s recent actions suggest that he will attempt to defy the degradation ceremony that a loss typically confers. Hence the importance of a landslide.

Arizona would offer an ideal rebuke. Carolyn Goldwater Ross, granddaughter of the conservative icon, introduced Obama on Thursday by saying, “I come from a long line of Republicans and I’ve stayed independent. … But this time it’s different.” She submitted that Trump violates her grandfather’s “basic values.”

Apparently, many Arizonans agree. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the anti-immigrant icon and Trump backer, is trailing his Democratic opponent by 15 points in polling by the Republic. The newspaper endorsed Clinton, its first embrace of a Democrat for president in its 126-year history. Arizona’s junior Republican Sen. Jeff Flake is an outspoken Trump critic, its senior Republican Sen. John McCain has been attacked by Trump, and former Republican Attorney General Grant Woods has endorsed Clinton.

A growing Latino population has the state trending gradually Democratic, but not enough to put Arizona in play in 2016 in ordinary circumstances. That’s all about Trump.

“Trump accelerated what’s happening anyway,” Moises Mejia, a Mexican-born engineer at Thursday’s rally, told me. Mejia, who took one of his sons out of school to attend the rally, said he comes from a Republican family and agrees “with the Republicans’ principles, but they’ve taken it so far they’ve lost a lot of us in the middle.”

The first lady, in her fiery speech, reached out to Republicans offended by Trump’s disregard for democratic process. “Our democracy is revered around the world, and free elections are the best way on earth to choose our leaders,” she said. “This is how we elected John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, two George Bushes, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.”

That’s right. This isn’t Trump v. Clinton but Trump v. Democracy. And the way to degrade the threat is to defeat Trump, convincingly.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank. (c) 2016, Washington Post Writers Group

Dana Milbank, Washington Post Columnist
  • JSpencer

    The small but affluent town I grew up in has been a hotbed of reactionaries for as long as I remember. Anyone who reads it’s editorial page for more than a minute on any given day will get the picture. I love my hometown but have no illusions about what makes it tick politically. OK, enough prelude. A few days ago the town newspaper endorsed Clinton. I never thought I’d see the day it would back a democrat, but as many have observed, this election is different. I believe it’s important that this election be a mandate, including changing control of the Senate and making inroads on the House. Anything less will enable the dangerously stupid among us, which in the long run will not be a survivable trend, regardless of how “great” a country is or might once have been.

    • Robert P. Coutinho

      “Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.” R. A. Heinlein in the Notebooks of Lazarus Long

      • JSpencer

        I’ve always thought it interesting that people with such disparate philosophies could arrive at so many similar conclusions. Heinlein strikes me as very libertarian, and while his writing seems dated to me now, many of his observations about humanity remain on the mark. That said, many Trump supporters think Clinton supporters are also stupid, so the frustrating lack of common standards is also part of the problem. I’ve referred to it before as psychological projection, and maybe that’s part of it, but certainly not all. Anyway, I’m just a fellow traveler and don’t pretend to any great knowledge. It was all so much easier when I was a starry eyed idealist. ; )

  • dduck

    Tribalism-bad: “Tribalism is pervasive, and it controls a lot of our behavior, readily overriding reason.”
    ” Yet another example is the polarized way we argue about so many issues, and the incredible irony that as we make these arguments we claim to be intelligent (smart, therefore right) yet we ignorantly close our minds to views that conflict with ours.”
    http://bigthink.com/risk-reason-and-reality/how-tribalism-overrules-reason-and-makes-risky-times-more-dangerous

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  • deegee

    If I thought that any of the real changes needed to save our country would happen then there would be hope.As it is,once the election is over it will be the same old same old.
    Most important is an election process for the supreme court.It must be politically blind,deaf & dumb.Any hint of political prejudice by a candidate must be a preclusion !
    There then must be REAL limitations on donations to political parties by all donors,both corporate and private.They must be transparent and all financial interests must be declared.
    Any prominent member of the elected bodies should be excluded from becoming a lobbyist for 2 years.All lobbyists should be audited and all contacts with elected officials should be reported in detail.
    It should be legislated that any prospective presidential candidate must produce his/her tax returns for the last 5 years.
    These are a few of the essentials needed before Democracy can be restored.

    • dduck

      +++ deegee

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