I’m writing this a week before the election; anything can happen. But I’m assuming anything didn’t happen.
Shortly after this paper hits the stands you’ll know how close a call we had. Right now, I’m confident that Donald Trump will lose and Hillary Clinton will win. By how much? Usually that doesn’t matter.
It matters this time. The American people were asked to choose between a tired old liberal who has been around long enough to display the disfiguring scars of a lifetime in public service, or a visibly ugly, viscerally unpleasant, lowest-common-denominator demagogue who would be poison if he ever got into the oval office.
Hillary is a flawed, mediocre Democratic politician. Donald Trump is the negation of politics and democracy.
America is running a fever. The election results will tell us how sick we really are. If Trump gets crushed there is hope for the patient. If he loses narrowly, or, God forbid, wins, then America’s prognosis is bleak.
Because another election is just around the corner, and a more credible, dangerous demagogue is waiting in the wings. I don’t know his name yet, but if this election is close, he’ll soon show his face. It will be smiling, knowing that he only has five points to make up to take power.
The great conservative Edmund Burke once said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
Now ask yourself, how long has it been since government did anything at all? And how long have ordinary “good” citizens ceased to expect any better, from their politicians, or, more damningly, from themselves? How much longer before evil triumphs? Last Tuesday? Four years from last Tuesday?
Even if Trump lost he seduced some 60 million Americans into voting for a fraud, a trickster, a demagogue, a con man, a mean SOB. Our civic body is so weakened by divisiveness and discouragement that we were easy prey for a diseased demagogue. Luckily, we fought this one off.
But demagogues, like viruses, mutate, and maybe we don’t get lucky next time.
How lucky were we? Very. Donald Trump was a hater and a demagogue, but he was also very stupid. He was running against a woman who only inspired other middle aged white women. He took down the Republican party with ridiculous ease. He was riding a wave of populist anger. If there was ever a time for a demagogue to fool enough people into electing him, it was last Tuesday.
But Donald Trump was an idiot. He picked fights he didn’t need to pick, he alienated millions he didn’t have to alienate, he turned so many groups against him that there weren’t enough innocents left to fool. I doubt he’ll ever admit it, but he lost this election. He blew it. That’s how lucky we were.
Now, imagine a demagogue who is smart enough not to have more than half the electorate return his hate, because he or she is smart enough to limit his or her scapegoats to less than fifty percent of the people.
Somehow we muddled through. This time. But America is not immune. Populist demagogues are winning in all kinds of unexpected places.
Our country has been so stable, for so long, we can’t imagine anyone taking it away from us. Sure, we have differing ideologies, identify with different parties, but deep down we know we are all citizens of the only nation we’ve got. Nobody can take it from us.
But we can give it away and we almost did. The peaceful transfer of power, the concession of the loser to the winner, the idea that we defeat our opponents, we don’t threaten to “lock them up,” all were up for grabs last week. We haven’t had an election this dangerous since 1860, when the losers started the Civil War.
I’m not worried about what Trump will do now. I think he’ll rant and rave, try to turn a profit from his moment in the sun, then slowly fade away. What worries me is a smarter, more dangerous Trump.
And even that wouldn’t worry me, if I hadn’t witnessed the American people’s tantrums, their still-seething anger, their desperation, so deep they’re willing to follow the devil into the promised land.
If this election didn’t scare us straight, we’re doomed. It’s only a matter of time before we elect our Caesar.
If the history of nations teaches us anything, it’s that you only have to lose once. Because you only get to lose once.