Pick a day. Almost any day in the last three-plus years. Chances are you’d find a day where President Trump and his administration did something or said something (or didn’t do or say something they should have) that would have been unthinkable political suicide for any previous president.
Now, these stories seem to be swept aside by lunchtime, swamped by a flood of craziness, corruption, and dysfunction that is further being roiled with the hurricane-force societal headwinds of a public health and economic emergency.
Take just the last few days. A political operative running the Department of Justice undercutting decades of norms by turning the the rule of law into a strong-arm tactic for the President’s personal self-interest. Accusations by the President himself that his predecessor engaged in a global sinister plot of some sort that he himself can’t explain because it is incoherent. Relentless attacks on the press, including racist insinuations against a CBS News White House reporter. Alleging that a TV news host and former congressman was a murderer. Not to mention horrific and inhumane policies on immigrant detainees, a wall to nowhere, a failed response to the coronavirus, lies about testing capacity, and on, and on, and on.
How does one even begin to make sense, let alone just keep track of it all? The simple answer is, one doesn’t because it’s impossible. Many have noted that chaos serves the president’s strategic interest. The idea is if there is so much outrage, so much corruption, ineptitude, divisiveness, land lies that nothing will stick. And you can make a good case that this has happened.
But I would add some caution to this narrative that President Trump is immune to the normal laws of political gravity. That he has survived as he has is due as much to the cravenness of his enablers and allies. He has bent nearly the entire national Republican Party to his whim. But the way our system of government works is you only get a shot at changing a president at the ballot box every four years. President Trump has only won one election in his life. And now there will be a reckoning. So too, will there be a reckoning for many senators who have allowed his rule to go unchecked.
It is impossible to untangle all that is wrong with this administration. These aren’t questions of policies as much as the norms of democracy and the honesty and empathy we should demand of our leaders. Many historians will make entire careers by focusing on just one aspect of what we are witnessing. But those of us living in the here and now don’t have that luxury. Elections are ultimately about judging the whole. The candidate, the issues, and the direction of the country are all boiled down to a simple choice: which person do you prefer.
People come to that decision from many different vantage points. But in the end, the choice will be simple. Do we want to stay on this train or choose another track?Here the American people will get to pass judgment. And the energy of the voting populace will be fueled by the pressures that have been building up over the recent years. This is not to say that President Trump can’t win. He can and he has energy on his side. But he is not popular. And on election day there will be a transfer of energy from the daily accumulations of anger and outrage among huge swaths of the voting public to the ballot box. Years of yelling in disbelief, nail-biting, and gnashing of teeth will lead to this moment where Americans can say they want a very different path going forward. Or not.