If nothing else, Trump affords commentators and critics the opportunity if not necessity for extravagant language. I don't often, if ever, find Andrew Sullivan worth quoting, but his concluding words about Trump (from "America Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny" a recent piece in nymag.com) are blustery enough to stick with me:
He [Trump] is not just another candidate to be parsed and analyzed by TV pundits in the same breath as all the others. In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event. It’s long past time we started treating him as such.
"Extinction-level event?" Enviable turn of phrase, I admit, but is it so? Is Trump the killer asteroid and American democracy, flawed as it is, the massive, slow-moving, out-moded thing awaiting impact?
Based on his histories of American conservatism — e.g. "The Invisible Bridge: the Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan" — I take Rick Perlstein more seriously than I do Sullivan. In a recent piece for The Nation ("Is the American Party System About to Crack Up?"), Perlstein writes of Sanders:
He is running as a “revolutionary.” But governing is a team sport. If, by some miracle, Bernie Sanders entered the White House in January, he would do so naked and alone—in command of a party apparatus less prepared ideologically, institutionally, and legislatively to do great things than at any other time in its history.
This is not exactly what Sandernistas want to hear, of course, though it's inarguably correct.
Perlstein sums up Clinton v. Sanders this way:
"One side promises competence. The other promises the impossible. This is the Democratic Party in 2016."
Moving on to the more charged subject of Trump, Perlstein writes:
If Donald Trump loses the presidency, we’ll still be left with those millions of followers—many of them violent—trained by Trump to believe that their American birthright has been stolen from them once more. The only thing that will stand in their way is the strength of our constitutional system. One must hope it proves very strong indeed. The alternative is a sort of realignment that none of us want.
I beg to differ with Sullivan. I don't think America is as ripe for tyranny as he says. The United States is not suffering anything like the shattering of a Great Depression. Nor have we lost the sort of major war that throws all values into doubt.
Germany lost its Kaiser at the end of World War I, Russia its Romanovs. Japan lost a supposedly divine ruler at the end of the World War II.
I think American democracy, as per the Constitution, less absolute and more flexible than the above regimes and traditions: to put it another way, it's more secular.
Both Sullivan and Perlstein underline new media as one of the reasons traditional political discourse has given way to irruptive forms and figures. Who needs violence in the streets when violence online and in social media suffice?
That's worth coming back to. Suggestions welcome.