Great article by Jonathan Kirshner in the LA Review of Books, as we begin the countdown to the end of the post-World War II world. On the question of, How Trump? Kirshner argues that economic inequality and a rigged system weren’t enough on their own to account for Trump’s victory. Not to put too fine a point on it, the United States has never, ever been through anything as bleak as faced by Germany in the 1920s and the 1930s, when they elected Hitler with a measly 33% of the vote: millions dead, starvation, a collapsed economy, a country stripped of its military and means of economic support by vengeful victors:
As a nation we’ve never faced a test of our national character as daunting as that, but we have faced plenty worse than what we’ve got today, and until now had never thrown in our lot with the first demagogue that came along.
Instead, you also have to look to racism (he ignores the rampant misogyny faced by Clinton, a huge oversight in an otherwise insightful article) and a changed media climate — the rise of the Internet:
The internet is exponentially more pernicious: entry is free, accountability is absent, and — here we are more stupid — the ability of people to distinguish between fact and fiction has virtually vanished.
That said, I think people are exactly as smart (and dumb) as we’ve ever been. People have always been prone to believe anything that’s put in front of them; it’s just before news (and misinformation) came from a few sources. We didn’t have to distinguish between fact and fiction because there were only a few news sources. Now “news” comes from all over.
On the damage done: It’s irreversible, and won’t end well:
from now on, and for a very long time, countries around the world will have to calculate their interests, expectations, and behavior with the understanding that this is America, or, at the very least, that this is what the American political system can plausibly produce. And so the election of Trump will come to mark the end of the international order that was built to avoid repeating the catastrophes of the first half the twentieth century, and which did so successfully — horrors that we like to imagine we have outgrown. It will not serve us well.
With the battle, and the war, and the civilization lost, Kirshner is already looking forward to the next great (final?) American crisis:
But we will face a great moment of crisis, after the next major terrorist attack in the U.S. (something no American President could prevent), which will present something like a perfect storm: a thin-skinned, impulsive leader with authoritarian instincts, a frightened public, an environment of permissive racism, and a post-fact information environment. In such a moment basic civil liberties will be at risk: due process will be assailed as “protecting terrorists”; free speech will be challenged as “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.” And that will be the moment when each of us must stand up and be counted, and never forget Tolstoy’s admonition: “There are no conditions to which a man may not become accustomed, particularly if he sees that they are accepted by those about him.” Our portion is to make sure that never comes to pass.