I have said it before. There is no recovering from this:
The United Stated has been many things over the decades and centuries, including evil, mischievous, meddling, and intractable. But in all our history through November 8, 2016, we were never unserious. We were never — not once — what Republicans have made of a once-proud giant: a joke.
Until last November, the United States was serious. It was founded by serious people, guided by serious people, and governed by serious people. There was a time when it might even have been fair to say that we were a serious people. Buffoons like Mussolini and Gaddafi and Idi Amin were for countries very far away and at stages of political evolution many epochs removed from America’s place in space and time.
Structurally (if not morally — think slavery), our founders built us a good ship. It was designed to — and mostly did — withstand rogue waves called war, rebellion, social upheaval, Depression, and every manner of natural disaster. Our institutions were built to survive internecine jealousies, inter-branch rivalries, and intrusions from abroad.
What our system was decidedly not designed to withstand was the fracturing of the body politic sped along by a political movement addicted to rough-hewn power: power for its own sake. Such a movement — such a political party — would, as it historically always has, exploit and manipulate the basest human impulses: fear, tribalism, ignorance, and mindless dogmatism.
If you want to know where the downfall of a nation begins, look to the first dominant political movement to call the other side “elite” and “intellectual.” Look for the first dominant political movement to debase science and law and learning. Look for the first dominant political movement to assault universities and writers and journalists and free, if bureaucratic, institutions. Look for that movement, and you’ll find the beginning of the end of any great nation.
When movements like that take hold, when they get their tentacles around every lever of power, the inevitable result is a leader who embodies the idiocy and banality and seething animus that animates his people. Trump is no accident, and he’s not the problem. He’s the natural manifestation of a systemic sepsis. He’s nothing more than the sore that marks the disease.
And there is no recovering from a disease like this. If not nipped in the bud, it gains a critical mass and becomes terminal. One can apologize for a misdeed; one can repent after indulging some weakness, but one cannot become serious after revealing oneself to be unserious. A punchline is always a punchline.
Sure, the United States will still exist after Trump, and sure, the next president will undertake to reclaim what has already been lost: the mantle of world leadership. Things will go on, but they will never be the same — any more than a marriage, even if it survives, will ever be the same after one spouse has been caught up with a different lover. The world, like the married couple, might commit to regaining what once was, but like the victim of adulterous humiliation, the rest of the free world will never be able to forget what we have done — because we have shown ourselves capable of doing it, and we might just do it again.