The Trump within us

Walker County Messenger - - Front Page -

Corker, the re­spected Repub­li­can from Ten­nessee. The White House has be­come “an adult day care cen­ter,” he warned, and this man “could lead us into World War III.”

Many Amer­i­cans have been so stunned by Trump’s elec­tion and by his in­co­her­ence and in­com­pe­tence in lead­er­ship that they have been un­able or un­will­ing to speak out. But now, across the spec­trum of po­lit­i­cal think­ing, com­men­ta­tors in large num­bers are speak­ing about the fu­ture -- a fu­ture with­out Trump. And they are not minc­ing words.

Speak­ing here at the Cos­mos Club early in Oc­to­ber, Nor­man Orn­stein, of the con­ser­va­tive Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, said sadly, but with vis­i­ble in­ner anger, that Amer­ica had be­come a “kak­istoc­racy,” which is an an­cient Greek word mean­ing a so­ci­ety ruled by the “least qual­i­fied and most un­prin­ci­pled cit­i­zens.”

This bril­liant an­a­lyst and two other re­spected schol­ars of mod­er­ate cre­den­tials have put for­ward pre­dictable, but prac­ti­cal, ideas for the fu­ture in their al­ready pop­u­lar new book, “One Na­tion Af­ter Trump: A Guide for the Per­plexed, the Dis­il­lu­sioned, the Des­per­ate and the Not-Yet-De­ported.” Ideas like teach­ing demo­cratic cit­i­zen­ship in the pub­lic schools, manda­tory na­tional ser­vice and de­fenses against fake news.

But, Orn­stein warns, while it is good that con­cerned Amer­i­cans are fi­nally real­iz­ing how far down a dan­ger­ous road we have blithely wan­dered, “we might have let it go on too long be­fore noth­ing could be done.”

Har­vard pro­fes­sor Joseph Nye is one who has gen­er­ally em­braced the ar­gu­ment that the Trumpian pe­riod will pass and Amer­i­can power will re­turn to its norm. “If Trump avoids a ma­jor war and if he is not re­elected,” he ar­gued in a re­cent ar­ti­cle, “fu­ture schol­ars may look back at his pres­i­dency as a cu­ri­ous blip on the curve of Amer­i­can his­tory.” But then he adds, “Those are big ‘ifs.’”

And here is where I take a very deep breath and hold it. For what if the psy­chol­ogy of Don­ald Trump is only a sub­sidiary prob­lem? What if he is not just a bump on the Amer­i­can high­way but a pro­found sea change in Amer­i­can so­ci­ety? What if the real prob­lem is US?

What if all the bad things we’ve al­lowed to hap­pen since World War II -- the “small wars” killing so many for no per­cep­ti­ble rea­son, the vul­gar­iz­ing of our civic cul­ture, the greed and avarice in fi­nan­cial sec­tors -- have led us to the pos­si­bil­ity that Don­ald Trump IS us?

And what if these new, more con­stantly press­ing neg­a­tive cri­tiques drive him, not merely to more nasty, ju­ve­nile tweets, but to ac­tual ac­tion against real en­e­mies like North Korea or Rus­sia, or against those the vague, night­mar­ish en­e­mies he uses 7to feed peo­ple’s fears? It seems we face two fu­tures: -- If Trump is the bump in the road -- the freak­ish re­sult of a se­ries of prob­lems that ac­ci­den­tally came to­gether at this point in our his­tory -- then the “re­new and re­place” model Nor­man Orn­stein and his col­leagues pro­pose could work, if we ap­ply our­selves.

-- But if Trump is the sea change -- if con­se­quen­tial num­bers of Amer­i­cans are truly bro­ken off from our so­ci­ety’s his­tor­i­cal val­ues, and if Trump­ism be­comes a po­lit­i­cal sys­tem be­cause he ac­tu­ally rep­re­sents what we are in­side -- then we face the un­fath­omable danger of be­com­ing no kind of “shin­ing city” on any kind of hill. In­stead, we will be­come an­other of the terrifying “trib­al­iz­ing” so­ci­eties, run by cruel and pa­thetic strong­men, that are pro­lif­er­at­ing across the globe.

Ge­orgie Anne Geyer has been a for­eign cor­re­spon­dent and com­men­ta­tor on in­ter­na­tional af­fairs for more than 40 years. She can be reached at gigi_geyer(at)juno. com.

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