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Trump unshackled, unhinged

10/22/2016, 4:24 p.m.
When Donald Trump gloated that “the shackles have been taken off me,” I immediately wondered, how was he shackled? Was ...

Clarence Page

When Donald Trump gloated that “the shackles have been taken off me,” I immediately wondered, how was he shackled?

Was that the shackled Mr. Trump, for example, who obsessively attacked Judge Gonzalo Curiel in May, Khizr Khan and his family in July and Alicia Machado in September?

No, Mr. Trump actually was putting a defiant face on a stunning event in American political history: He, the Republican Party’s nominee for president, was getting a cold shoulder from the party’s highest ranking member in the U.S. House of Representatives, Speaker Paul Ryan.

With less than a month to go until Election Day, Speaker Ryan announced that he was washing his hands of the monumental task of defending Mr. Trump. The break followed the release of an embarrassing 2005 “Access Hollywood’ video. In it, Mr. Trump happily boasts about doing what amounts to sexual assault.

In fact, had there been some restraints on Mr. Trump, his whole campaign might actually give Democrat Hillary Clinton some competition again. Instead, Mr. Trump’s “unshackled” state is looking increasingly unhinged.

Since his break with Speaker Ryan, he has been going deeper in the dark side of politics — and I’m not talking about the African-American vote.

A “scorched-earth” strategy widely reported to have been urged on by Mr. Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon has catered to Mr. Trump’s paranoid side — the side that caused him to question so vigorously President Obama’s birth certificate.

Now Mr. Trump is dangerously pressing buttons with his supporters by claiming the election is “rigged” by a conspiracy vast enough to take in Washington, the media, his Democratic rival Mrs. Clinton and every poll that shows him falling behind, which is almost all of them.

Yet as his fortunes fall farther, he has become more isolated and more heavily influenced by such far right friends as Mr. Bannon, who took Breitbart News site in a farther right direction after founder Andrew Breitbart died.

Mr. Trump’s attacks grew sharper against Mrs. Clinton — he has repeatedly called for her imprisonment — against the Republican establishment and “the media,” whom he also seems to want to imprison.

“This election will determine whether we are a free nation or whether we have only the illusion of democracy but are in fact controlled by a small handful of global special interests rigging the system, and our system is rigged,” Mr. Trump told a rally in West Palm Beach, Fla., last week.

“The establishment and their media enablers will control ... this nation through means that are very well known. Anyone who challenges their control is deemed a sexist, a racist, a xenophobe and morally deformed.”

Nor does it help that Mr. Trump increasingly has called reporters “scum” and “corrupt.”

Worse, he occasionally has shown more respect for overseas oligarchs than for our own press freedoms at home. In one glaring example, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough asked Mr. Trump in December if his admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin was at all tempered by the country’s history of killing critical journalists. Mr. Trump’s response was: “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.”