10.25.2020 12:03 PM

Trump is a symptom, not the cause

A friend was recently expressing hope that the political party I work for, the Democrats, will emerge triumphant in November, taking both the White House and the Senate. I said I hoped for the same thing, of course, but I now held out far less hope for America itself.

Why, she asked.

“Because Trump is a symptom, not the cause,” I said. “He’s not the exception. He’s a reflection of what America has become.”

I wish I had remembered Adam Gopnik’s extraordinary essay in the New Yorker four years ago. He foresaw all of it, and said it better than the likes of me ever could.

Here is his full essay, and here is the key part:

“If Trump came to power, there is a decent chance that the American experiment would be over. This is not a hyperbolic prediction; it is not a hysterical prediction; it is simply a candid reading of what history tells us happens in countries with leaders like Trump. Countries don’t really recover from being taken over by unstable authoritarian nationalists of any political bent, left or right—not by Peróns or Castros or Putins or Francos or Lenins or fill in the blanks. The nation may survive, but the wound to hope and order will never fully heal. Ask Argentinians or Chileans or Venezuelans or Russians or Italians—or Germans. The national psyche never gets over learning that its institutions are that fragile and their ability to resist a dictator that weak. If he can rout the Republican Party in a week by having effectively secured the nomination, ask yourself what Trump could do with the American government if he had a mandate.

3 Comments

  1. the real Sean says:

    I’m not so sure. I think its equally likely all the Breitbart / Fox / Q’Anon foolishness will just f&*k off and die a slow death. Sort of like Quebec Separatism 25 years ago. It still exists today but it will never cause the same trouble that it once did.

    When this is over I think normal Republicans will take steps to ensure that this never happens again. The next Republican Presidential Candidate will probably work hard to show that they are nothing like Trump.

    We have to remember that Trump never achieved a majority and a significant fraction of his own party never supported him. Winning in 2016 was a weird fluke / accident / aberration unlikely to ever be repeated. Who will ever again capture the imagination of so many weirdos, cranks and losers? No one.

  2. Miles Lunn says:

    Exactly, this like 470 AD in the Roman Empire (ended in 476) for Americans, 1913 for Ottoman Empire or shortly after World War II for British Empire. Each were at the end of their height of power. There is a reason China and Russia are hoping for Trump to win. Russia wants to get back at US for USSR collapsing while China is anxious to become next superpower and if Trump wins again, he will accelerate the process by at least a decade.

    Even if Trump loses, if its a close race, either he runs again in 2024, or someone very much like him does. By contrast, if he suffers a crushing defeat, party will be forced to radically change. Case in point, you saw yesterday’s election in BC. Yes BC Liberals nothing like GOP and province very different, but close race in 2017 meant minor cosmetic changes. Massive defeat last night means party will likely undergo major changes. Ditto with federal Liberal party. Martin’s strong second place showing in 2006 convinced party they just needed a few cosmetic changes. It was falling to third place in 2011 that finally forced about major changes.

  3. WestGuy says:

    I agree with the cause versus effect notion but I think you’re applying a too narrow view of the cause. It wasn’t just white supremacists and racists that elected Trump, not even close. Much of what gave him the support he needed to win was from an electorate that felt the political establishment was no longer listening to them. Factory workers in the rust belt getting layoff notices while Washington touts a new trade agreement that opened the door to their jobs going elsewhere. By far, it was average Americans who felt like the political establishment wasn’t listening to them was behind them deciding the elect an “outsider” to the office to send a very loud message to the establishment. In this, Trump has been a resounding success.
    And, of course, the income gap. It doesn’t just affect minorities and women, as the percentages prove, it affects the vast majority of a population, including many Trump supporters. This perception of disenfranchisement, of being ignored by the establishment is the “cause” that people should be the most worried about because it, driven by factors that still include income inequity, will still be present after Nov. 3.
    In the last few months, the Democrats have made this election entirely about defeating Trump and it is working, but they’re fighting the effect not the cause. And if Biden wins, all that really does is gives them a chance to address the root cause, if they’re smart. If they’re not, they will act as if the objective was only to defeat Trump and now that normalcy has returned to the White House, the status quo can return. Problem is, the status quo was the problem in the first place.
    This is also the lesson that Canada needs to learn as there as well. The perception of political disconnection can, and does, exist outside the US. It’s here as well, and growing.

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