With the GOP race basically over (Trump won Indiana overwhelmingly last night), Andrew Sullivan has emerged from hiding to pen a piece for the New Yorker that sites Plato, Sinclair Lewis and Eric Hoffer to argue that Trump represents the end of our democracy.
For Trump is not just a wacky politician of the far right, or a riveting television spectacle, or a Twitter phenom and bizarre working-class hero. He is not just another candidate to be parsed and analyzed by TV pundits in the same breath as all the others. In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event. It’s long past time we started treating him as such.
No, he’s not.
I’ve said this before and I expect to say it again a lot over the next six months, especially if Trump begins to close in the polls or, Heaven help us, wins. Trump is not Hitler. At worst, he is a low-rent George Wallace. We can survive him. And we will.
Nick Gillespie has a great response:
The most important thing to understand about Trump is that he is not the start of anything new but the culmination of a long degenerative process that has been at work for the entirety of the 21st century. He is a sterile mule in the end, not a jackass who might have hideous offspring. He is the effect, not the cause, of the ways in which the two major parties have destroyed themselves by refusing to take their own rhetoric or govern seriously. The Republican Party said it stood for small government when virtually every major action it has pursued at least since the 9/11 attacks has yielded the opposite result. The Democratic Party, still trying to maintain a disparate collection of special-interest groups that started morphing and changing and expiring by the mid-1960s, lays claim to the mantle of caring about regular Americans even as its last three major presidential candidates (John Kerry, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton) long ago achieved escape velocity from caring about anything resembling everyday reality.
The century was ushered in under the single-most-contested election in U.S. history, with each party suddenly adopting the other’s philosophy in pursuit of victory. The Republicans called it a federal matter while the Dems wholeheartedly embraced state’s rights (this switcheroo would repeat itself in the Terri Schiavo affair). The deep-seated recognition by voters that each party is uncommitted to anything approaching its core values is what’s driving the 2016 election season. While enjoying complete control of the federal government for years under Bush, the Republican Party didn’t just go war-crazy but spending-crazy, regulation-crazy, and entitlement-crazy.
Gillespie argues, not unconvincingly, that Trump was the only GOP candidate who seemed to stand for anything. And I would add that Sanders’ popularity was because he was the only candidate who seemed to stand for anything. Ultimately, the Democratic establishment had more control over their process than the GOP did of theirs (and, as Conor notes, has not invested as much in toxic rhetoric). But you can almost imagine the American voter echoing the dying words of Shepherd Book: “I don’t care what you believe in, just believe in it.”
My take is slightly different. The country isn’t 100% conservative or 100% liberal. Or even 51%. Or even 30%. Issues have be resolved with compromise and deal-making and no one gets everything they want. Reagan, to cite the most obvious example, had strong conservative principles but compromised to get a conservative agenda passed.
But what’s been going on in Washington for the last 15 years has not been compromise between two principled if opposed ideologies; it’s been mindless gamesmanship and selling out. “Wall Street reform” that further empowered big bangs. “Health care reform” that made health insurance more expensive. Budgets that never go through a real budgeting process. Wars started stupidly and managed poorly. A “War on Terror” that mainly eats the privacy and freedom of law-abiding citizens.
Trump is indeed the end stage of that: an uninformed unthinking demagogue who makes ridiculous promises that can’t possibly be fulfilled. Maybe if such a candidate crashes and burns, we’ll see a better saner GOP emerge from the rubble.
Or not. I wouldn’t complete discount the “stockpile food and ammo” approach here. The last few months have been rough. I’ve been blogging less, in part, because I’m simply sick of it. We’ll get a brief respite now as both candidates try to consolidate their parties. And then I’m anticipating unrelenting ugliness from the conventions to the election.
Maybe I’ll just start blogging about cats or something.
Still, despite Sully’s hysterics, I expect the country to soldier on. We are more than our government. It holds us down, it ties our hands, it beats our asses. But we keep trudging along: going to work, raising our kids, doing our best. As long as that stays true, no politician, not even Donald Trump, can be an “extinction-level event”.