This outcome, accurately described by one columnist as “cataclysmic” and accompanied by incoming Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, held me to an hour’s sleep last night. And judging by the number of pieces published since Hillary Clinton conceded at 2:30am, I wasn’t the only one.
Presidents usually have a remarkably small effect on people’s lives, but this one threatens to be an exception. Thinking about that is what kept me up. Here is what I mean.
First, I’ll get the old expressions out of the way. Be careful what you wish for. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In a democracy, people get the government they deserve. All of these are trite, but are fully appropriate now.
Next, many people have explanations for what shocked offshore sports books as well as pundits and prognosticators – you or I could have quintupled money by betting on this candidate on www.sportsbook.ag as recently as yesterday morning – and I will add only one. Ever since this actor’s escapade with a 16-year-old made his career go up, up, and away, I have invoked, and found other examples of, what I named the “Hugh Grant Rule” – any publicity is good publicity. For at least a year and a half Trump got incredible amounts of coverage, especially about unpleasant statements he had made, and that, sadly but truthfully, helped him more than it hurt.
So where are we now?
We have just elected, as president and presumed nuclear and other best-in-the-world military resources decision-maker, someone who almost every commenting observer considered dispositionally unfit. Trump managed only about a half-dozen major newspaper endorsements – fewer than Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson – nationwide, and precipitated several outlets not normally publishing them saying he was totally inappropriate. Thus, he is scheduled to become the least popular president with the media in any of our memories, and has at times suggested that the free press, and the First Amendment along with it, be stifled. He has made few consistent campaign promises, which, given his enormous number of documented lies, is not so relevant, but except for his opposing immigration and free trade we have little reason to know where he stands on anything. In a field where the most successful practitioners can hardly go to the john without working with others, he, overall, already has an air of considering himself a superior being who need not involve anyone, except various females in certain activities, with anything. If you want more along these lines, find almost any endorsement for anyone else, including mine, which is at http://worksnewage.blogspot.com/2016/09/gary-johnson-for-president.html.
Between Trump and the thinking that brought his victory, the American social fabric has already been badly torn. As another columnist put it, we are putting ourselves in two separate tribes much like Muslim Sunnis and Shiites, divided on ideology. Since his awful behavior did not stop him from winning, we need to wonder if it will become more acceptable in other circles to lie, offend, boast, retaliate in petty ways, and insult people’s sex and ethnicity. And last night on Facebook I saw what I’m afraid is the first of many views that whites in general are responsible not only for his election but by extension for whatever damage he ends up doing. That sort of thing is high on the list of what America does not need.
As for the next several years, since Trump is so unpredictable, we don’t know much at all about what they will be like. We could have a recession or even a depression, whether caused by his actions or not. The chance is certainly higher now, and in fact, as the returns came in last night and this morning, after-hours trading dropped the Dow Jones Industrial Average as much as 800 points. As I have not thought about any presidential candidate since I followed the 1968 campaign in detail, he has a real chance of becoming a dictator. His administration may well extinguish what is left of foreign admiration of America – I heard Rush Limbaugh yesterday claiming and expressing disappointment about our respect abroad deteriorating during Obama’s terms, but foreign reactions to Trump, with the expected exception of Russia’s, have been consistently much more negative. I have already been insulted once by a foreigner accusing me of supporting Trump, and, with my amount of international travel, I expect more. Further statements along the line of those he has made about other countries can only damage our ability to cooperate with them, and, ultimately, hurt or eliminate our standing as perceived leader of the free world. And, even more tragically, his election, showing those in positions of power what can happen if uninformed and uneducated people choose presidents, could actually be the beginning of the end of the 250-year-old American experiment. Overall, while a worst-case scenario for Hillary Clinton might have been being pushed out of office like Richard Nixon, with little permanent damage to the country, that might be one of the best for Trump.
We already know that the domestic political scene has profoundly changed. Since Trump is not a conservative, the Republican Party, which had not won a presidential election since 2004, can no longer be considered to consistently support that philosophy. That leaves conservatives without a political party of their own, which they may remedy over the next few years.
What can we do? Most important is for those in his inner circle to find the courage to contain him enough to stop or forestall at least his worst destructiveness. The rest of us need to watch for signs of totalitarianism. The Soviet and Nazi governments did not reach their worst for years after they were installed, and ours would not either. For that, we must know our constitution, and not only the First and Second Amendments – if you don’t have a copy, it’s at http://www.usconstitution.net/const.pdf and prints out to only 21 pages.
This Donald Trump presidency may not be a disaster after all. He may precipitate enough good things, such as his briefly proposed infrastructure project, to more than offset what could, if we are lucky, add up to no more than the behavior of a jackass. If he does not finish this term, his incoming vice president Mike Pence has proven himself to be a reasonable man who would serve with dignity. (He is too conservative for many, but it’s almost quaint now to worry about those suddenly mild differences.) But as it comes to dealing with totalitarian regimes, we are soft. Except for those who served in the armed forces, were in Holocaust camps, and some others, we know about the worst governments only secondhand. Doing so would be the greatest challenge of most of our lives. We need to stay vigilant – much more than ourselves may depend on that.