Feeling pretty good about the defeat of Ryancare…or Trumpcare…or the Gut-Health-Care-Coverage-for-24-Million-People Act? Hoping this is the start of a long-term slide for the president?
Such hope is helpful and such a slide would be super. But there’s still a respect in which we should watch what we wish for. As Andrew Sullivan speculates, a Trump slump could lead us into a wag the dog scenario:
A president hobbled domestically by his own party’s divisions and the opposition’s new energy may be tempted — Putin-like — to change the subject in a way that vaults him back to popularity. A foreign altercation from which he will not back down? A trade war? A smidge likelier, I’d say, is an over-the-top response to an inevitable jihadist terror attack in a major American city. A demagogue loses much of his power when he tries to wrestle complicated legislation through various political factions, in the way our gloriously inefficient Constitution requires. He regains it with rank fear, polarization, and a raw show of force. Heaven knows what the Constitution will look like once he’s finished.
My wife and I recently returned from a vacation in India, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Israel. My first memorable step in our convoluted trip was actually a movie I watched on the flight out: Frank Capra’s 1946 fantasy drama, It’s a Wonderful Life, in which an angel shows a kind-hearted but suicidal George Bailey (James Stewart) how bad his friends’ and family’s lives would have been had he never been born.
Bailey also learns that in this alternative reality his wholesome home town of Bedford Falls would have been renamed Pottersville, to honor the venal banker who would have dominated life there but for Bailey’s beneficent influence and call for people to help each other through hard times. Pottersville is a debauched place with no sense of community, where it’s all for none and none for all. Not that I mind some debauchery, but the town resembles what the United States of Trump could become: a small-minded, mean-spirited land that lauds selfishness.
Paul Krugman is no friend of Donald Trump or the Republican Party, to put it mildly. Yet while his January 2 New York Times op-ed is extremely hard-hitting, his argument is incomplete in a way that understates the challenges they might constitute for our democracy.
One challenge he airs is whether America will turn into a Trumpistan, along the lines of the Central Asian states (the names of which all end in “stan”), formerly parts of the USSR, that are controlled by corrupt, crony-capitalism strongmen pushing personality cults. (Pardon my nit-picking, development professional digression, but Krugman gets this wrong when it comes to Kyrgyzstan, the only one of those five states that is a functioning though flawed democracy – not that we’re ones to judge these days. It should not be lumped in with its neighbors.)