Altogether fitting and proper, it is, that on the final day of this beastly year in American politics, we should ask if this nation — conceived in liberty but nonetheless dedicated to the proposition that oppressive clusterfucks might always roll around — can long endure, especially with a 6'2", emotionally stunted, intellectually aborted orangutan in Lincoln's White House.
In his excellent, Anno-Domini-of-unAmerican-calamity wrap-up, "For Trump, a Year of Reinventing the Presidency (In ways that were once unimaginable)," the NY Times' Peter Baker lays it on the straightforward line: "If Mr. Trump’s unconventional presidency succeeds, he could set a new paradigm for the presidency. If he fails, it would be a cautionary tale for his successors." Never before, then, with the exception of Andrew Johnson, have we possessed such good reason to pray for a president's failure — and more than that, his utter humiliation and, should we strike justice for all, ultimately his incarceration.
First, a bit of review. By Trump's unconventionality, what is it, pointedly, that Baker means? He means criminality and almost indescribable indecency. Trump is brazenly violating the constitution's emoluments clause; in James Comey's firing, he obstructed justice — and might well obstruct justice again, with Robert Mueller's firing; he has "threatened to use his power against rivals"; he has assailed the Department of Justice, the FBI, the CIA, and America's intelligence community in general; he has attacked the free press — perhaps the founders' greatest, constitutionally protected legacy — as the "enemy of the American people"; and he has "riddled" his presidency "with inaccuracies, distortions and outright lies," all of which have surpassed any historical precedent.
He has also presented psychological projection at its definitional keenest, calling others, in rambling diatribes and demented tweets, "crazy," "psycho," "crooked," "totally inept," "a joke," "dumb as a rock," "disgusting," "weak and out of control," "sleazy," "wacky," "totally unhinged," "incompetent," "lightweight," and "the dumbest man on television." The president of the United States' Twitter feed reads like the comment section of Breitbart.com.
Joining my observation of presidential degeneracy is historian Robert Dallek. "This is a man … who has no compunctions about attacking people in ways that diminish the office of the president." Adds journalist-historian Jon Meachem, with Trump "it’s a war against all. It’s a Beltway bar fight." Meachem then turns from the present and looks ahead. "Will part of the Trump legacy be a permanent state of political and media warfare? I hate to say it — my gut says yeah."
I'm delighted to say — my gut says nah.
"Can you do so much damage to public confidence in [democratic] institutions that that can’t be restored?" asks David Axelrod, who had the honor of serving a true eminence of presidential respectability, which, given Trump's endlessly exhausting depravities, seems like, oh, say, 152 hundred years ago. But even then, after the carnage of a civil war caused by the most insidious damage to public confidence in democratic institutions, we regained our confidence. Although he harbors the absent ethics of demagogic Southern fire-eaters, even Trump can't reignite such literal carnage. For "the good news," says former State Department official Eliot Cohen, is that Trump is "so incompetent."
There is of course the possibility that we could get a far cleverer "Huey Long next time, which would be a lot scarier," continues Cohen. Yet that has always been true, and in a democracy, always remains a potential. "Things go in cycles," observes presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. (If only the inevitable cycles were protracted? After eight years of Bill Clinton's peace and prosperity we got George W.Bush, and after Barack Obama's similar years, we get Trump. Because, squeal voters, after two terms they want "change" — which, when it's change from peace and prosperity, is just about the dumbest democratic desire there is.) "The hope would be that given the American people’s reaction to the way [Trump has] handled the presidency," reasons Goodwin atop hope, "the people running next time will run in the opposite direction."
Goodwin's hopeful reasoning is my expectation. Whether Trump survives politically until 2020 is an irrelevance of sorts; Democratic and possibly even Republican cries for a Hardingesque return to normalcy will blanket the presidential campaign trail — and those cris de coeur, from one side only, are likely to echo in midterm preview, beginning tomorrow. Amidst all my despair, I too am hopeful.