All we need to do is to grit our teeth and bear the next two years. And we best keep quiet about it too — for fear of arousing red-hat lunatics into pointless argument. I hear the same sentiment everywhere — even as recently as a couple days ago in Helsinki from Finns, who are a lot smarter than us but also just want to shut off the lies, the crassness, the recklessness, and the bigotry that emanates ceaselessly from the U.S. president. “It will pass,” said my Finnish host. “We will all be okay.” If your definition of okay is 6 months of darkness every year and a bloody Soviet invasion every sixty, maybe so.
Like many of us, my host thought that in less than two years, America, and the world, will be returned to sanity.
Or so we want to believe.
But soon we will be weighing Trump’s administration not against past presidencies but against an uncertain Democratic alternative. Already it is apparent that what life exists in the party lies in its progressive wing, whether from an aged Socialist, a fiery young Latina, or an eloquent black woman. Democratic energy came from change-seekers the last three times round. But last time the party machinery, the superdelegates and a moderate incumbent gave us instead the only candidate Trump could beat (albeit with considerable Russian and Electoral College help and a lackluster campaign by an unlikeable machine candidate who made the mistake of being a woman.
Now we may get what and who Democrats truly want — a reformist alternative. But ours is a country that wouldn’t elect a woman over a thug and only narrowly elected a black man twice over lackluster candidates. So how is it now ready to elect a minority woman? If there is a lesson to be learned from the Trump victory, it is that the unthinkable can, and does happen in American politics.
So, we may find ourselves looking at six more years of demagoguery not two, a reign of terror and error that may well prove beyond the capacity of the world’s economy, ecology and security to survive.
We comfort ourselves with the notion that a Democratic House has blunted the worst of Trump’s attacks on civility, justice, freedom of the press and much else. We count on the House tying Trump up in knots of investigation and scandal, rendering him the lamest of ducks until 2020. But as we’ve now learned, congressional mandates can be overlooked by a president when he wishes, just as he bypasses congressional input into foreign policy, budgets, and much else.
And what makes us think that the two years’ damage already sustained under Trump can soon be repaired? Two years of Trumpism has reversed what limited progress we’d made against onrushing global climate deterioration. It’s unleashed a wave of bigotry. It’s disrupted long-standing alliances. It’s increased our debt by more than 10 percent and stolen from the poor and our children to give even more to the rich. It’s packed the Supreme Court and many lower courts with justices opposed to much that the majority favors — from abortion rights to gun control. It may be decades, if ever, before these losses can be rectified.
We are Pollyannas if we think democracy will rebound from the Trump years. Trump’s election and his presidency expose the dangerous deterioration of government that long preceded his election. Presidents could, and did, abuse executive privilege before — Trump only takes governance by presidential fiat a dangerous step further. Gerrymandering, corporate bankrolling and media manipulation are all metastasizing. It is only representative government that shrinks in their midst.
We are fortunate, in a grim way, that Trump’s fragile ego and totalitarian sentiments have been fixated on a useless wall. Yes, it inflames racist sentiment, wastes billions and sets a horrible new precedent for presidential abuse of power. But so far the rabble-rousers of the right, from Hannity to Bolton, haven’t turned Trump’s attention to military intervention against Iraq. But Trump knows, and said long ago, that nothing wins popularity like a war. As scandals unfold and the sword of culpability hovers ever nearer his orange neck, can Trump’s mounting rage be controlled? What few grown-ups were still in government have departed.
So who is to stop Trump?
I’ll be damned if I know how. But we had damn well better figure out a way.
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