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Story highlights

Former Reagan solicitor general: Clinton was right to call out Trump for his ties to the extreme right

Charles Fried: Trump is a man about whom the best you can say is that he doesn't believe anything he says

Editor’s Note: Charles Fried is the former solicitor general of the United States for President Ronald Reagan. He is currently a professor at Harvard Law School. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author.

(CNN) —  

It was urgent that Hillary Clinton in her Reno speech indict Donald Trump for his regular, unremitting embrace of the slogans, causes and emblems of the far right (not conservative, please!) hate-mongering fringe of our public discourse.

This is not just an accidental association. It is his chosen signature. Remember, he was an enthusiastic birther and has gone on to embrace every sinister paranoid fantasy since.

These are not ghosts you can raise just when it seems convenient or because a particular crowd might thrill to them and then when the time comes to govern you can waive aside and pretend you never summoned them. You lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. And these fleas carry the disease of virulent hatred and discord.

I have a sense for these things. I am not, like Judge Gonzalo Curiel, just the child of immigrants but an immigrant myself. I was four years old when my family and I fled Prague just after the Nazis invaded. I was 13 when I raised my hand and swore an oath of allegiance to the United States and became a citizen. That was a privilege and it was an even greater privilege when Chief Justice Warren Burger administered a very similar oath to me and I was able to serve my country and the Constitution as Ronald Reagan’s solicitor general.

I am a student of the history of the man and the movement who drove me and my family out of a young but prosperous and real democracy. He ranted and gestured and whipped up his people with streams of hatred and invective for those he accused of betraying them, stabbing them in the back, polluting their “race,” and promised that, if the people would follow him, tomorrow would belong to them.

I only met Ronald Reagan, the president I served, once for any length of time. He hosted a lunch at the White House for the justices of the Supreme Court and the members of his administration who worked before that court.

Reagan sat across from Thurgood Marshall and that whole lunch he and Marshall laughed and joked and swapped football stories. My mother, who had revered President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the savior of Europe, loved “Ronnie,” but not his neckties.

I could see why she admired him. He was a firm but good man, who hated no one, who could work with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik to start ridding the world of nuclear weapons, yet tell him to his face with a genial grin “Trust, but verify” in painfully learned Russian, and who could stand before the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and say, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” And he never once told people how smart he was – he was smart and secure enough to think it was to his advantage to let people underestimate him.

Can you imagine him insulting a Gold Star mother, casting obscene aspersions on a woman reporter who had done her job – on Fox, indeed – by tough questioning, pledging to round up and deport 12 million undocumented men, women and children? One of Reagan’s iconic moments had to do with tearing walls down. Trump asks forever to be remembered as the man who will build a “great wall.”

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Trump tells us that we need to rebuild our schools, roads, bridges, airports; so does Hillary Clinton. But he is going to cut everyone’s taxes in order to pay for it. I believe her; I don’t believe him because what he promises is simply unbelievable. And now he tells us Mexicans are great people; that maybe he won’t deport all those people after all; that the insults he hurls about like confetti were not really meant to hurt anyone’s feelings.

This is a man about whom the best you can say is that he doesn’t believe anything he says. After that, it’s downhill all the way. Hillary Clinton will give us a decent, competent, understandable government. That’s plenty good enough for me, and considering the truly dreadful alternative, it’s good enough for increasing numbers of my fellow Republicans.