Trump’s indecent presidential campaign: Our view

When a woman at one of Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s campaign rallies in 2008 said she couldn’t trust Barack Obama because he was “an Arab,” McCain stopped her.

“No, ma’am,” McCain said. “He’s a decent family man (and) citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign’s all about.” It was a sign of the senator’s fundamental decency, and one of the finest moments of his campaign.

Now, sadly, there’s Donald Trump, who entered the 2016 Republican presidential race after years of trafficking in falsehoods about Obama’s birthplace. On the campaign trail, Trump has had any number of similar chances to try to rein in the bigots and racists among his supporters. Instead, he has encouraged them with his toxic, inflammatory rhetoric. Whatever entertainment value his campaign might have once had is drowning in a cesspool of ugliness.

Trump recently retweeted statistics, apparently fabricated by a neo-Nazi, purporting to show that blacks commit the vast majority of murders of whites, which is easily refuted by actual FBI crime statistics. Did the billionaire bully apologize for the error? Of course not; apologies are for losers.

When a Black Lives Matter protester interrupted one of his rallies recently, Trump snarled to his supporters, who were kicking and punching the man, to “get him the hell out of here!” Asked about it later, Trump said maybe the man “should have been roughed up.” All presidential candidates get heckled. The test is how they react. Trump sided with the goons.

Trump, who continues to lead in GOP polls, repeatedly says things that show he lacks the temperament to lead the free world. He shamelessly mocked McCain for getting captured in Vietnam, slimed Mexican immigrants as drug traffickers and rapists, and characterized women who got under his skin as ugly or crazed by their hormones.

Most recently, Trump responded to the Paris attacks by suggesting that Muslim Americans be required to register with the government. (When a reporter asked him how that was different from Nazis forcing Jews to identify themselves by wearing yellow stars, he had no answer.) He repeated the thoroughly discredited story that “thousands and thousands” of American Muslims in New Jersey cheered the destruction and death in New York City on 9/11. When a reporter with a physical disability questioned his account, Trump mocked the reporter and lied about whether he remembered him. And, as recently as Sunday, Trump continued to vastly exaggerate the number of Syrian refugees the Obama administration plans to admit into the USA.

All of this fear-mongering comes on top of his preposterous plan to deport the roughly 11 million immigrants in this country illegally, which would be the equivalent of emptying the state of Ohio.

Even minimal thought about the mechanics of doing this should convince most people that it wouldn’t just be inhumane to rip millions of people out of communities where they’ve worked and raised families for years; almost two-thirds have lived in the U.S. for 10 years or more. It would cost the federal government billions of dollars, require the creation of an enormous police state and be hugely destabilizing to the economy.

Pandering to voters’ basest impulses is, of course, a time-honored tradition in American politics. Usually, someone arises with the courage to take on a demagogue. Some of Trump’s Republican rivals — including John Kasich and Carly Fiorina — have stepped up their attacks, but others have been afraid to hit him hard for fear of alienating his supporters.

In 1954, Wisconsin GOP Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s campaign to ferret out supposed communists in America seemed unstoppable until a little known Boston lawyer confronted McCarthy during a televised Senate hearing after McCarthy accused a junior lawyer of communist ties. “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness,” said attorney Joseph Welch. “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”

It’s time that today’s Joseph Welch confronts Donald Trump with the same question.

USA TODAY’s editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.