I hope I can look back on this post a year from now or earlier and be embarrassed to conclude that it was alarmist cant.
"Trump the strongman? Bah!" might be the reaction of commentators to those like me, shrugging their shoulders and, with the Trump threat buried by Hillary Clinton or a nascent Trump administration looking not so bad after all, reminding America that Abraham Lincoln was a nationalist, too, and rather authoritarian, really. I mean, suspending the writ of habeas corpus. Hello?!
And in terms of other nations' complaints about Trump's bellicosity.... Didn't presidents Monroe, McKinley, and Teddy Roosevelt assert American's interests with a naked readiness to use force of arms? Trump, whether as president or defeated candidate, is of our time and rightly so: American pride resurgent, steak-fed, gold-plated, and ready for the ultimate selfie. Or so the argument might go. I.e. Make America great again.
But Adam Gopnik in his piece in The New Yorker, "The Dangerous Acceptance of Donald Trump," argues that in the history of party presidential nominees, Trump is something new under the sun: a threat to the American experiment itself. Frankly, I suspect other presidential candidates of the past have been declared to be such a threat. But, Gopnik:
Trump is a declared enemy of the liberal constitutional order of the United States—the order that has made it, in fact, the great and plural country that it already is. He announces his enmity to America by word and action every day. It is articulated in his insistence on the rightness of torture and the acceptable murder of noncombatants. It is self-evident in the threats he makes daily to destroy his political enemies, made only worse by the frivolity and transience of the tone of those threats. He makes his enmity to American values clear when he suggests that the Presidency holds absolute power, through which he will be able to end opposition
If one accepts the premise above about Trump, one sees why Gopnik cares to point out that the acceptance of Trump that has already occurred is dangerous in and of itself, his campaign like the hangman's dramatic brandishing of the black hood to be thrown over the head of the better angel of our nation's nature. Your time has come and gone, Mr. Angel. Any last words?
One by one, people who had not merely resisted him before but called him by his proper name...a con artist and a pathological liar—are suddenly getting on board. Columnists and magazines that a month ago were saying #NeverTrump are now vibrating with the frisson of his audacity, fawning over him or at least thrilling to his rising poll numbers and telling one another, "We can control him."
No, you can’t.
A friend on Facebook responded aptly:
The Republicans have been laying the groundwork for this for decades. Systematically undermining belief in the government's legitimacy does not ultimately lead to less government and more freedom. When people feel that democracy doesn't, and can't, work they look for other solutions. Because most people, including most Republican voters, want a functional government.
....Yet instead of taking this danger seriously, the same Republicans—who abhor Obama's supposedly imperial and unconstitutional degrees—are now lining up behind a candidate who promises to rule just that way.
Trump's defeat, should we deserve it, will not be enough, Gopnik implies. Damage yet to be fully felt and appreciated has already been done. The body politic is hemorrhaging from a wound, not fatal or even close but sudden for sure, that is the Trump rise—one propelled in part by decades of GOP-backed anti-intellectualism, conspiracy theories, and scapegoating resentment nurtured within nearly every sphere of media (talk radio especially) and thousands of Christian houses of worship—but the body politic is yet to come to terms with it; it's still moving with that rush of adrenaline that precedes the pain and repair. It's yet to even lose its balance; hopefully it never will, being adequately steadied by the checks and balances of our republic's governmental system.
No president of the United States, not even a President Trump, can easily achieve the sort of America many think Trump desires, a quasi-authoritarian one. But whether Trump wants such an America or not, Gopnik's point remains: it's alarming that things have gotten to where they are already, that Trump is seen by so many Republicans who should know better, even if some of the grievances of Trump's rank and file support are valid and of great, grave concern to many Americans who feel they've been ignored by politicians of all types for many years.