We Americans are clearly having a moment. The Trump campaign isn't so much the cause of it, but rather the disclosing of something that has been developing for some time now. If the body politic has ben suffering from a low-grade fever for some time now, the temperature has been climbing steadily since 2008, and the question is whether Trump's candidacy and its impending defeat means the fever will have broken. Or will it rather be an indicator of a disease that at best will go temporarily into remission. Establishment iberals breathed a sigh of relief when Goldwater was defeated in '64, and so were unprepared for the emergence of Reagan a few cycles later. Will Trump's defeat in this cycle lull them into a similar false sense of security leaving them unprepared for something even worse to come?
I don't know. A part of me thinks that the Trump candidacy is the clearest indicator that whatever is left of our democratic traditions and institutions are a hollow shell, a rickety ruin waiting for a strong wind to blow them over for good. Trump is a tempest in a teapot, and he and his candidacy are nothing to be feared. He's a foolish narcissist channeling the frustrations of a naive American public that understandably and rightly feels forgotten, disenfranchised, and powerless. Trumpism is farce, the ridiculous product of a narcissist who has no real understanding of the world as it is in itself, and so it is not to be feared. But I do fear the psychopath, someone far shrewder, more intelligent, and charming than Trump, who even now, like Reagan in '64, is standing in the wings taking notes as Trump implodes on the main stage.
Trump does not frighten me. What frightens me is how many people would have embraced him if he were not such a self-destructive fool. We have a body politic now, a huge swath of whose members have little or no understanding of what's at stake. There are public intellectuals on the Left and the Right who do understand what's at stake, but their concerns are irrelevant for the half of the American public who has found it possible to seriously entertain the idea of Trump presidency. Yes, enough of them in the end have rejected his candidacy, not, however, because they reject what he stands for but because his personal characteristics are so obviously repugnant.
You know the cliche about a person who "if he didn't exist, he would have to be invented"? All it means is that there are certain personalities who emerge--for better or worse--because circumstances demand it. For worse, Reagan emerged in '80, and that started us in this spiral of delusional thinking. And for worse Trump has similarly emerged in '16. We are all grateful that he has proved himself to be such a fool. Maybe there is a scenario in which 'better' is possible to emerge. I thought for a while Bernie might have been such a 'better'. I don't know. Maybe he would have failed had the Democrats nominated him. But it's clear that he gave us a much better shot at finding a way forward than HRC will. Trump would never have defeated him, and he would have provided a constructive outlet for the legitimate pent-up frustrations of so many people who have turned to Trump for lack of an alternative.
There is no way to predict for sure what will happen. Historical discontinuities will surprise us. But if things continue on the track they are on now, it seems very plausble to me that crises related to income and racial inequality, the environment, and global terror will continue to escalate and continue to be ineffectively dealt with by a feckless, ideologically blinkered, gridlocked congress. Does anyone really think that such a polarizing figure as HRC, no matter how well intentioned, can be effective? Her only chance is if by some miracle the House and Senate both get Dem majorities. But has she the imagination to exploit such a miracle if it were given to her?
Circumstances in the next decade or so will otherwise require that someone emerge who will tell us that he or she is the only one who can save us, and the American public, forgetful or ignorant of its democratic traditions. will embrae him or her. This already was Trump's message, and while that message resonated, his claim to be 'the one' was not credible. What happens when someone comes on stage who is credible? That is the storm to be feared.