Here we thought there was nothing more this campaign could teach us. Thanks to Donald Trump, we discover that “bigly” is a real word, not something made up that you’d use to entertain your 4-year-old.
The dictionary tells us it’s an adverb meaning “loud” or “boastful.” It’s kind of related to Bernie Sanders’ “huuuuuge.” Trump’s darkly conspiratorial view of a badly “rigged” election could be described as a “bigly riggedly,” which explains why, at the final debate the other night, he caused a sensation when he refused to promise to accept the results. “I will look at it at the time,” he said when pressed by moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News. “I will keep you in suspense.”
“That’s horrifying,” Hillary Clinton shot back, jumping all over Trump with both feet. It ruined his good night. Until he self-destructed with that gem, the story was that Donny came across as fairly lucid in the early parts of the debate, as Wallace guided the candidates through some substantive issues. But then it deteriorated into the personal attacking that we’ve come to expect. Once again, Hillary proved that she can handle herself in a verbal knife fight, that she was fully capable of turning Michelle Obama’s canard “When they go low, we go high,” into “When he goes low, I aim for where he’s most vulnerable.”
She accused Trump of “choking” when he met the Mexican president. That’s an attack on any guy’s manhood. And when the angry back-and-forth stopped at Vladimir Putin, and Trump charged that Putin had “no respect” for her, she landed a brutal mocking zinger: “He’d rather have a puppet as president of the United States.” All he could manage was the kind of outraged retort you’d hear on a kiddies playground: “No puppet, no puppet,” Mr. Trump sputtered. “You’re the puppet.”
Of course, the reason her taunt drew such blood is the widespread perception that Trump and Putin are an item, or at the very least that Russia is trying to sway the election Donald’s way with its damaging email hacks, because Vladimir is attracted to his policies and because he’s simply Putin’s type of guy. The Democrats have gotten a lot of mileage portraying Trump as kind of a Moscowian candidate.
That might be a tad conspiratorial, particularly since it’s Trump who usually has the corner on such thinking. His message is that he and his passionate followers are being victimized by the collusion of opposing politicians, the media, international bankers and even election officials. The fix is in, he thunders, laying the groundwork for rejecting the result if he loses. He seems oblivious to the danger that would jeopardize a tradition that helps define the United States of America, the stabilizing history of a peaceful government transition.
It could well be that Trump doesn’t care. In fact, the next day he made a big joke about it, promising, “I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election — if I win.” How’s that for a bigly giggly?
Maybe, though, this is all an act. Maybe, somewhere in that space between inane and insane, his mind is hatching some way to keep the public eye focused on him after he loses. In that way, he’s a reverse vampire: Without the bright light directed at him, he shrivels up. Like a vampire, he’ll be looking at ways to suck the lifeblood out of a country that is already weakened by his monstrous demagoguery. It has incited millions of people to expose their darkest feelings.
That’s bigly, all right. In fairness, let’s point out that Trump insists he meant “big league.” Hillary’s people make the argument that he’s out of his league. With his last gasp at the debate, he called her a “nasty woman.” If he loses the elections, we’ll soon see how nasty he makes it for the country.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.