So it's done. The clown prince sits in his throne and delusion now reigns supreme. But this is not an aberration; it's a dark apotheosis, the culmination of trends in America that go back to WWII and then accelerated after Nixon. It's a culmination in the sense that it brings to a reductio ad absurdum the delusional logic of the American Right.
Outside the Deep South where this dark logic has always played a central role, it operated at the fringes of the American Soul--the Know-nothings, the Father Coughlins, the Joe McCarthys. But in the last forty years these dark angels who lived at the fringes l have moved step by step to take control of the center. First with Nixon, then Reagan, then Bush/Cheney, each one worse and more delusional than the one who preceded him, and as they ascended to their thrones, they dragged the feckless Democrats along with them further and further to the right. And so after Bush/Cheney, the only place the Right could go was with someone as vulgar and thug-like as Donald J. Trump.
I've heard people explain away his election as a freakish accident, or that we've been here before, and there's nothing to worry about, and that things will return to normal. To think this way is truly not to understand what's happening to us, but even if true, is the pre-Trump "normal" something to which any sane American wants to return? I hope not. And so with Trump I think we've crossed a line, and his election and inauguration today is the end of the line with regard to this dark forty-year trend. Either we stay here where the Right will consolidate its gains and things rigidify into a kind of suffocating, soft authoritarian or militaristic stasis--or things start moving in the other, saner direction. It is not clear to me whether the Trump presidency is the beginning of years of suffocating stasis or whether it will be the stiff wind that blows the whole delusional structure over. Either way, we're in for a bad time.
President Obama said during his last press conference that he believed in his core that we were going to be all right, but that we have to be vigilant and push back. Maybe. But I don't think any kind of push back can be truly effective if it's only to restore the pre-Trump status quo ante. Clintonism and the Washington Consensus do not provide a vision for an American future that anybody with a lick of sense truly believes is worth fighting for. Clinton won the popular vote because at least a plurality of Americans recognize how truly awful Trump is, but she lost the election because she represents a system that nobody believes in anymore.
The Washington Consensus is horrible with or without relatively decent people like Obama playing leadership roles in it, and it is deeply delusional in its foundational assumptions. It is shot through with hubris, paranoia, and a myopic thinking that serves elite interests but nobody else's. As such it is misaligned with reality, a reality that always asserts itself sooner or later and in doing so bursts the bubble that the deluded inhabit. Any hope of gently deflating this bubble is long gone, and the Trump election, if nothing else, could be be the needle that finally bursts it. It's not implausible to think that the condition of the U.S. system in the early 21st century resembles the condition of the Soviet system in the 1980s. Gorbachev was the needle that burst the Soviet bubble; will Trump be the needle that bursts ours?
And so maybe that's what it's going to take--a Trump presidency that will heighten the contradictions between Beltway delusional normality and historical reality to such a pitch that the whole hubristic, paranoid, grasping American post-World War II system comes tumbling down, and maybe that would not be such a bad thing. Uncomfortable, scary, disruptive, destabilizing, humbling--yes, but maybe that's what is needed if America is to play any role in moving the world forward. But will their be a plan that decent Americans can rally around that will be "shovel ready", so to say?
Inevitably Trumpism will collapse and with that collapse will come the opportunity for the forces of progressive sanity and decency to clean house along with cleaning up the horrific mess he will have left behind. That is the only positive I can imagine coming out of a Trump presidency--that its inevitable, crashing failure might create an opportunity for deeper and far-reaching reforms that force a dismantlement of the American Deep State and its ideological justifications to make room for the emergence of a new prudence and realism to replace the paranoia and hubris, and a new vision of the just society to replace the neoliberalism that now justifies the interests of a predatory elite.
Just saying No to Trump thuggery or to the dystopian Ayn Randian vision for an American Future envisioned by the Neoliberal establishment or to the Deep State entrenched in the military and the Intelligence Community is not going to be enough. You can't repeal the dysfunction unless you have something functional to replace it with, and that's the problem. There is no robust plausible vision for a decent American future around which most sane Americans are eager to unite, at least not one with an articulate, credible spokesperson. It's possible that Elizabeth Warren might emerge to play that role. I don't know, however, whether anyone from America's senatorial class is in the best position to be that person. I think it's going to take someone like MLK. We'll see.
Fear of the Dark Right is not a sustainable motivation for building something new and just. As soon as the dark dissipates, we will slide back into complacency, and the whole cycle repeats itself. Resistance is called for, but it's not sufficient. Pushing back will be futile unless it be in the service of creating the room for something New to occupy the space that has been cleared. We will need shovels to clear away the mess, but also to build something new that the American people can believe in.
For something New is called for, an imagination of an American future that calls upon our best, sanest, most decent instincts, and that is as emotionally robust as the resentment-driven passions than animate the Right.The Left is good at saying No; it's good at pushing its various liberation and rights agendas, but it has yet to present a positive imagination of economic justice for which the broad American public would support with enthusiasm.
Someone, some group, must arise that can provide a plausible, inspiring, and just vision of a possible American future. Until that vision emerges, America's better angels will remain mostly impotent on the fringes, waiting for the moment when the center has cleared to make room for their return. In this I agree with Obama, that in my core I believe we will be OK in the long run. But the path we must take to get back to OK is not now clearly discernible, and things may have to get much, much worse before we can see it.
(slightly revised 1/22)