Everyone Needs to Calm Down a Little

A month after the election, I wrote this:

There is no way around it: Trump is really bad. But I refuse to spend the next four years in perpetual disappointment, embarrassment, and outrage over what is likely to be a long series of unfortunate events.

I stand by that assessment. I have several friends telling me they are frightened by Trump, even personally frightened. They are frightened for women and minority groups, and they are frightened about the possible advent of a fascist regime.

The rhetoric driving these fears is out of hand. I firmly believe that some lamentable crisis is likely to take place in the next four years — probably in the foreign policy arena, where the president has his broadest powers — but once we cut through the clutter, the chaotic administration of the flurry of executive orders, and the rhetoric — we are most surely not there yet. The specter of fascism — a somewhat amorphous term that often just is invoked as a synonym for “extreme right-wing” — remains mostly inside progressives’ heads.

Some of my social media commenters have suggested I am failing to appropriately speak out during a critical historical moment. But I have spoken out against Trump as much as anyone — repeatedly, and harshly. I have said that his election represents a turning point for our republic and an indictment of its current claims to greatness, that he has the soul of a tyrant, and that he is uniquely unqualified to be president. And unlike many people now complaining the loudest, I did all that was within my power to support the only person who could actually keep him from becoming president.


I don’t trust Trump in the least. What I trust is our Constitution and the durability of liberal principles. We are not used to real instability and division in contemporary life; our Founders, however, were preeminently concerned with those matters. I trust in our system of separation of powers and checks and balances, I trust that we have good people in our courts and in the Senate — the judiciary will continue to prove its worth as the most reliable defender of individual liberty — and I trust that the voters will do the right thing in the 2018 midterm elections. And I perceive that, even though his presidency is a national disgrace, there is some truth to what my friend Tim Hulsey warned me about last year before the election took place: that it may be the case that the only thing worse than losing the election would be winning the election, given that whoever won was destined to enter office under a haze of illegitimacy and head up an almost-certain-to-fail administration under siege from all directions. Having lost the popular vote by a shockingly wide margin and entering office with historically low approval and favorability ratings, that haze is a thick fog.

The fact that Trump only won 45.9% of the vote — that a clear majority of Americans rejected him — also should be heartening for the long-term. It also may be good for America to “get this out of our system”: if we must endure a moment like this, better it be now, sooner, and with a boorish, impulsive, self-destructive opposition leader, than later, after resentments have festered another 4-12 years, with, say, a young and articulate Pat Buchanan-type rather than a vulgar buffoon representing the right-populist/nationalist viewpoint.

And finally, not everything Trump says is simply wrong. The trajectory of “political correctness,” especially on college campuses, has to be halted, and Trump has caused many progressives to engage in self-criticism on this front for the first time. He has brought attention to how imperiled is the consensus sustaining free trade: those on the left and right who believe in open markets will have to sharpen their rationales and their rhetoric. We talk as much about transgender restroom use as we do about the emptiness of the middle class recovery, and Americans will not stand for that forever. You can’t just dismiss 46% of the country as fascist or ignorant. President Trumps do not come to power when people are not desperate and hurting. Instead of driving oneself insane with fears of fascism, people ought to use this opportunity to conceive of new political possibilities. Nothing else will make it possible to move on from Trump.