Must-Read: "A new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in... testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure..." I have one big disagreement with Jonathan Kirshner. The America of Joe McCarthy, Massive Resistance, William F. Buckley, and George Wallace was the same public sphere as we see now in Facebook—don't blame the Internet for echo chambers and motivated reasoning, for it simply makes what was always going on more visible. Do blame Rupert Murdoch, Robert Bartley, Paul Gigot, and Rush Limbaugh. And blame more the professional Republican establishment that fell in line—behind Donald Trump and behind Roy Moore. But Kirshner is right in saying that henceforth America will always be the nation that elected Donald Trump, and the damage from that cannot be reversed: Jonathan Kirshner (January 15, 2017): America, America: "Consider what it took in Germany to bring about a Hitler...

...two decades of world war, total ruin, national humiliation and widespread misery, the Nazi party was able to claim 33% of the vote in 1932, running on its promises to ferret out and crush enemies within and restore German greatness. As a nation we’ve never faced a test of our national character as daunting as that, but we have faced plenty worse than what we’ve got today, and until now had never thrown in our lot with the first demagogue that came along.

There is more going on here than resentment about tough economic times—especially because Trump’s economic policies, to the extent that they are comprehensible, are almost certain to leave the working class even worse off.... Not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist, but pretty much every racist did, and that mattered.... Scratch at the arguments of a Trump voter, and too often you’ll find white resentment close to the surface....

We are living in a post-fact, post-rationalist, post-deliberative society, in which people believe what they want to believe, as if they were selecting items from different columns of a take-out menu. This is an environment that plays to the strengths of a media-savvy celebrity demagogue, who, even when not purposefully trafficking in Orwellian lies, has shown an utter disregard for the known truth regarding events large and small, from claims of witnessing non-existent crowds of Muslims cheering the collapse of the twin towers to planting golf-course plaques commemorating imaginary civil war battlefields.

There is no happy ending to this story. It is not “just one election.” Yes, in theory, most domestic policy blunders can be reversed at a future date. But best case scenario, brace yourself for a horrifying interregnum. The fantasy that the Republican Congress might serve as a check on Trump’s power is just that—a fantasy. Congress does have considerable authority, but mostly regarding those things that they agree with Trump about: slashing taxes on the wealthy, gutting environmental regulations, pretending climate change doesn’t exist, overturning Obamacare, appointing very conservative judges.

Moreover, the internet culture is not going away, so don’t imagine that there is a silver lining to be gleaned from the looming policy disasters that we will all suffer through. If enough people enjoy watching the reality TV of the Trump Presidency, they will renew it for another four years. Nor should it be assumed that the Democratic Party, flat on its back, is poised for a comeback. The American left has its own deep divisions to tend to—largely along generational lines, as the young and the old articulate very different interpretations of the core principles of liberalism—which will not be easily papered over.

Worse still, even if we manage to endure the next four years and then oust him in the next election, from this point forward we will always be the country that elected Donald Trump as President. And as Albert Finney knew all too well in Under the Volcano, “some things, you just can’t apologize for.” This will be felt most acutely on the world stage. Keep in mind that in those areas where Trump departs from traditional Republican positions, such as those regarding trade and international security, Congressional power is much weaker. Trump can start a trade war or provoke an international crisis just by tweeting executive orders from the White House.

And that damage will prove irreversible.

Because from now on, and for a very long time, countries around the world will have to calculate their interests, expectations, and behavior with the understanding that this is America, or, at the very least, that this is what the American political system can plausibly produce. And so the election of Trump will come to mark the end of the international order that was built to avoid repeating the catastrophes of the first half the twentieth century, and which did so successfully—horrors that we like to imagine we have outgrown.

It will not serve us well.

We have lost, we are lost. Not an election, but a civilization. Where does that leave us? I think the metaphor is one of (political) resistance. They resisted in occupied France, they resisted in Franco’s Spain. Even in the twilight years of the 1930s, times considerably darker than today, regular men and women stood up against much graver dangers and longer odds than those we now face. They did not resist, necessarily, because they thought they would win, they resisted because they simply could not imagine collaborating, even passively. And for us, even now there are oases of hope in our sea of despair—Trump did indeed lose the popular vote by a wide margin, and there are powerful states and municipalities that might protect many of the most vulnerable from the coming federal onslaught. But we will face a great moment of crisis, after the next major terrorist attack in the U.S. (something no American President could prevent), which will present something like a perfect storm: a thin-skinned, impulsive leader with authoritarian instincts, a frightened public, an environment of permissive racism, and a post-fact information environment. In such a moment basic civil liberties will be at risk: due process will be assailed as “protecting terrorists”; free speech will be challenged as “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.” And that will be the moment when each of us must stand up and be counted, and never forget Tolstoy’s admonition: “There are no conditions to which a man may not become accustomed, particularly if he sees that they are accepted by those about him.” Our portion is to make sure that never comes to pass...

Comments