This morning Paul Krugman asks: "Why did so many Americans vote for Mr. Trump, whose character flaws should have been obvious long before the election?" He answers: "The truth is that I don’t know."
The answer to his question is not unknowable, however, and Krugman himself offers several, spot-on contributors to the awfulness of Trump's support. There were "catastrophic media failure" (its obsession with Hillary's emails; not indifference to Trump's character flaws)) and F.B.I. malfeasance," he writes. There was also the lurid populist phenomenon of voters "mistaking bombast and belligerence for real toughness." And, finally, in Krugman's rather knowing estimation, there was the "celebrity culture" in play, along with "working-class despair, channeled into a desire for people who spout easy slogans."
Krugman's offerings are more than just plausible. They're indisputable — and much of his analysis, regrettably, has to do with the eternal pitfalls of democracy. From Men in Black I quoted Agent K once before, and I'll quote him again: "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals." K's assessment of mass society was little more than the vernacular version of what America's founders believed: The lure of bombastic demagoguery and easy slogans is democracy's Achilles' heel, which only an informed, cautious, educated populace can defend against. Mass stupidity, panic, and the peril of animalistic instincts conspired in 2016 to elevate to the White House what, also this morning, the director of Columbia University's psychoanalytic studies program calls the "psychopathology" of Trump. (Yesterday, much like Agent K, I framed the WH's occupant in somewhat less psychoanalytically sophisticated language: "Donald J. Trump is nuts.")
What Krugman omits in his thoughtful account of Trump's ascendence is perhaps even more pertinent, and unquestionably painful. Aside from Democrats' nomination of a less than capital retail politician, Democrats (along with many non-partisan middle-of-the-roaders) failed to turn out. There was good reason for the nomination — simply put, Hillary won it — but there was no reasonable excuse for Democratic sloth on November 8th. To be sure, Mrs. Clinton was a non-ideal presidential candidate. Mr. Trump, however, was a clear, present, and blitheringly obvious danger to the republic. He was political debauchery squared and personified, and any conscientious electorate would have sent him packing. Democrats, as well as unaffiliated centrists, possessed the numbers to do just that. There are 72 million registered Dems in the U.S., and 42 million independents, some of whom aren't closet Republicans — millions more than Hillary amassed (less than 66 million). Trump triumphed in large part because so many stayed home.
Nevertheless, Trump's victory was also a black swan phenomenon. He had a one-in-a-million shot at the White House, and he hit the bull's eye. Notwithstanding democracy's known pitfalls, Democrats' infuriating idiosyncrasies and a flawed Democratic candidate, everything leading up to 8 November suggested a '64 Goldwater redux. Election night was an unimagined nightmare. True, there were a few — very few — pundits who foresaw a Trump upset, such as the unlikely pair of Michael Moore and Andrew Sullivan. But their predictions were, at the time, as logically valid as Trump's "America First" policy. Only a perfectly unique shitstorm of mass illogic, penetrating sloth and prodigious bombast carried the Donald's boundless psychopathology to the Oval Office.
And that, paradoxically, is the upside to the national atrocity of a Trump presidency. As Krugman concludes: "We can at least hope that watching Mr. Trump in action will be a learning experience…. [M]aybe, just maybe, we’ll eventually put a responsible adult back in the White House."
I'd go farther than that. We would, already, within a mere two months, eagerly remove Trump from the White House. His stunningly paltry, staggeringly embryonic 37 percent approval rating is unmistakable evidence of an electorate regaining its sanity. However regrettable the past, the future looks promising. Indeed I'd go so far as to predict a kind of American Renaissance of democratic conscientiousness — if not by 2018 proxy, certainly by 2020. Trump, if he politically survives his four chaotic years, will be lucky to win renomination — and even if he does, his black swan will then take flight. American voters are relearning, in the most painful way, that governing is not a Hollywood production — that it's more than celebrity bombast, it's a serious business. It is of course a mighty sorrow that to grasp this manifest truism we had to suffer the psychopathology of Trumpism; that we, as the cliché goes, had to hit rock bottom. Still, the squalid catastrophe of Trump could well portend the recrudescence of American democratic virtue. In sum, our presidential psychotic could just be the conscientious wake-up call we needed.