An old Sufi tale tells of how, in one episode after another, what seems at first like good news turns out to bring misfortune, and what seems like bad news turns out to be beneficial.
So it might be in America today, with the catastrophe of America having elected Donald Trump president. But, unlike in the Sufi tale, the transformation of catastrophe into good news isn’t something that we can passively wait to happen. It’s something that we need to envision, and then work strategically to achieve.
What we will need to do is to make Donald Trump into the explosive by which something much larger than just him — the whole rotten political party that gave rise to him — gets obliterated.
Part I: Terrible, Yes. But Compared to What?
For many of us, the results of the election of 2016 brought one of the most painful disappointments we’ve ever experienced. And the spectacle of Trump wielding the powers of the presidency has, if anything, been even more appalling than many of us expected.
Trump’s presidency is like a wrecking ball smashing pretty much everything it touches. Even after all these months, I still marvel at the utter consistency with which Trump chooses, in his actions and his words, on every matter he touches upon, a course that makes things worse.
But even if there had been “good news” on that Election Night, we would still have been in deep trouble. We ought not to forget that the alternative outcome — Hillary Clinton’s winning the 2016 election — looked likely to be pretty dark as well.
By that I do not mean that Hillary would have been a “bad” president, the way Trump is. (I expect she would have been both competent and constructive.)
I mean, rather, that she was going to have to deal with a Republican opposition that was already gearing up, as they had already announced, to commence impeachment hearings against her; that was talking about blocking her judicial nominees; and that would likely have tried to obstruct her ability to do her job, just as they had done with Barack Obama for most of his eight years in the presidency.
In other words, with or without a Trump victory, the sick political Party that nominated Trump was a serious, potentially deadly toxin in the American system. Any good future for America has for some time required the defeat and destruction of the GOP in the form it has taken in our times.
And it’s doubtful that the election of Hillary Clinton would have provided a cure for that long-standing political disease afflicting America.
The question I pondered most, as the election approached, and as I waited in expectation of Hillary’s victory, was this: Will Hillary be able, as Barack Obama unfortunately was not, to see to it that Republicans were punished, not rewarded, when they behaved disgracefully and destructively? Would she have been able to compel the Republicans to choose between cleaning up their act, or being driven into oblivion?
There were two reasons to be doubtful:
1) She had a disadvantage that Obama did not: having been demonized for a quarter century, Hillary already faced a substantial portion of the electorate that had made up their minds she was evil, whom she likely could never have reached, no matter how she played her cards.
(Obama did not have that kind of baggage coming in, but as he didn’t bother to contest the Republicans’ demonization of him early in his presidency, within two years Obama had descended into that same position as Hillary already occupied.)
2) Hillary never showed any great gifts in making her opponents pay a price for their bad behavior. To wit: Her opponent was the monstrous Donald Trump, and whatever it would have taken to get Americans generally to see him for what he was, she apparently couldn’t accomplish it.
So, had Hillary won, it seems probable that the Republican Party would have maintained strength enough to inflict serious damage on the nation as far as the eye could yet see.
But here’s the thing: while Hillary’s victory would likely not have solved the deep and chronic problem in the American power system – i.e. a Republican Party that has been hijacked by a destructive force – Trump’s presidency might be handing us the opportunity America needs to sink that destructive force that has been gaining power in America over the past generation.
How that might be accomplished will be the subject of Part II, which will be about “Getting the Rats to Go Down With the Sinking Ship.”