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The Tragedy of Trump

What will be with Hillary Clinton in the White House, and what might have been if Trump had not been a nut

Ross Douthat had a good and important column yesterday, talking about “the dangers of Hillary Clinton.” Here’s his thesis:

The dangers of a Hillary Clinton presidency are more familiar than Trump’s authoritarian unknowns, because we live with them in our politics already. They’re the dangers of elite groupthink, of Beltway power worship, of a cult of presidential action in the service of dubious ideals. They’re the dangers of a recklessness and radicalism that doesn’t recognize itself as either, because it’s convinced that if an idea is mainstream and commonplace among the great and good then it cannot possibly be folly.

Emphasis mine. Here are examples of what he means:

Almost every crisis that has come upon the West in the last 15 years has its roots in this establishmentarian type of folly. The Iraq War, which liberals prefer to remember as a conflict conjured by a neoconservative cabal, was actually the work of a bipartisan interventionist consensus, pushed hard by George W. Bush but embraced as well by a large slice of center-left opinion that included Tony Blair and more than half of Senate Democrats.

Likewise the financial crisis: Whether you blame financial-services deregulation or happy-go-lucky housing policy (or both), the policies that helped inflate and pop the bubble were embraced by both wings of the political establishment. Likewise with the euro, the European common currency, a terrible idea that only cranks and Little Englanders dared oppose until the Great Recession exposed it as a potentially economy-sinking folly. Likewise with Angela Merkel’s grand and reckless open-borders gesture just last year: She was the heroine of a thousand profiles even as she delivered her continent to polarization and violence.


One can look at Trump himself and see too much danger of still-deeper disaster, too much temperamental risk and moral turpitude, to be an acceptable alternative to this blunder-ridden status quo … while also looking at Hillary Clinton and seeing a woman whose record embodies the tendencies that gave rise to Trumpism in the first place.

Boy, is that ever true. Read the whole thing. Along these lines, there was a quite good Peggy Noonan column in the WSJ last week (now, alas, behind the paywall, but I found the whole thing here), saying that if Trump were not a “nut” — which he clearly is — he would be winning this thing by a landslide, because a lot of folks are sick and tired of the status quo that Hillary represents. Excerpt:

Mr. Trump’s great historical role was to reveal to the Republican Party what half of its own base really thinks about the big issues. The party’s leaders didn’t know! They were shocked, so much that they indulged in sheer denial and made believe it wasn’t happening.

Because she is largely in sympathy with Trump’s political views, she is “particularly sorry” that Trump is a nut (me too! me too!). She wonders what would have happened if we had had a Sane Donald Trump. For one, she says, he “would have won in a landslide.” Excerpts:

Sane Donald Trump, just to start, would look normal and happy, not grim and glowering. He would be able to hear and act on good advice. He would explain his positions with clarity and depth, not with the impatient half-grasping of a notion that marks real Donald Trump’s public persona.

Sane Donald Trump would have looked at a dubious, anxious and therefore standoffish Republican establishment and not insulted them, diminished them, done tweetstorms against them. Instead he would have said, “Come into my tent. It’s a new one, I admit, but it’s yuge and has gold faucets and there’s a place just for you. What do you need? That I be less excitable and dramatic? Done. That I not act, toward women, like a pig? Done, and I accept your critique. That I explain the moral and practical underpinnings of my stand on refugees from terror nations? I’d be happy to. My well-hidden secret is that I love everyone and hear the common rhythm of their beating hearts.”


Sane Donald Trump would not treat the political process of the world’s greatest democracy as if it were, as somebody said, the next-to-last episode of a reality-TV series. That’s the episode that leaves you wondering how the season will end—who will scream, who will leave the drunken party in a huff, who will accuse whom of being a whore. I guess that’s what “I’ll keep you in suspense” as to whether he’ll accept the election result was about. We’re being teed up. The explosive season finale is Nov. 8. Maybe he’ll leave in a huff. Maybe he’ll call everyone whores.

Does he know he’s playing with fire? No. Because he’s a nut.

True, all too true. Read the whole thing.

Ben Stein agrees with Noonan that Trump is a nut, but he’s voting for Trump anyway, because he thinks Trump is less of a nut than Clinton. This is not persuasive, but this is true:

Trump’s a nut. I don’t doubt Peggy Noonan at all. But we have a choice of nuts this year, and that’s the tragedy. It’s a tragedy the greatest nation in history does not deserve.

The only real question for conservatives and Republicans now is what happens to the Right and the GOP, its political vehicle, in the wake of Trump’s loss. #NeverTrumpers will be strongly tempted to indulge in bitter “I told you so!” recriminations. Trumpers, likewise, will be strongly tempted to indulge in bitter “You stabbed him in the back!” polemics. All of this will work to the advantage of President H. Clinton, of course. What is needed is for the GOP establishment to humble itself enough to admit those who, like Noonan, accept the critique of the party and the system that Trump’s candidacy embodies, however, well, nuttily. And the Trump insurgents — including their leader — need to have the sense to realize that it advantages them not at all to drag this fight with Republicans out past the election. Their candidate will have received a thorough, resounding rejection by voters in an election he likely would have won had he not consistently spoken and acted like a nut.

Do I think this (humility on both sides, uniting in the face of Hillaryism) is likely to happen? No, I do not. But I hope I’m wrong. The Trump people, like their candidate, are not known for their ability to think strategically and to restrain themselves for their own good. And the bitterness and spite among Republican regulars is going to blind them to their own role in creating this mess. I overheard a conversation the other day in which some Republican lamented that “we” — meaning the GOP — “have Donald Trump.”

We don’t have Trump,” his interlocutor shot back. “We have Paul Ryan. He’s ours.”

And I thought, “Who’s this we?” The party isn’t yours anymore, mister, though admittedly it’s hard to say who it belongs to or what it stands for. Because Trump did not build any kind of movement, and doesn’t have any obvious heirs in the party leadership, there’s no telling where the GOP is going after November. But we can be sure it’s not going back to the way things were pre-Trump.