America is touching the hot stove. It just might work.
Some optimism for liberals.
Villains in fairy tales are always doomed to defeat because they are easy to recognize as being, in fact, villains.
The sinister sneer; the scary mask. They wear their pride and cruelty on their invariably black sleeve.
Threats like this always unify the resistance. Elves and dwarves put aside their longstanding differences, and even Han Solo can be persuaded to risk his self-interest for the rebel cause.
In real life, villains are much more successful — in part because, instead of a black cape and a scowl, they wear nice suits and a nice smile.
Instead of pillaging villages, they preach prosperity gospels and promise rosy ROIs.
In early 2016, I wanted so badly for Trump to get the Republican nomination so that he would continue to make a fool of himself — and, by association, the worldview he supported — on a global stage.
Clearly, I should be more careful what I wish for.
But the bright side is that he is making a fool of himself — and, by association, that worldview — on a global stage.
If, instead of Trump, we had elected Rubio/Cruz/Bush/Kasich/Carson/Fiorina/Pence, they would be so gosh darn nice. They would play ball with the press and they would work well with Congress. They would have an approval rating of 47%.
And that sounds terrifying, because they might actually get things done.
Any of these Presidents would be savvy (well-meaning, even) cookie-cutter Washington insiders who can quietly, invisibly facilitate social and political regression (as defined by liberals, that is).
Instead, we have ourselves a vivid, sneering villain who wears his pride, cruelty, corruption, and greed on his sleeve. Orange is the new black.
Trump’s inability to disguise the extent of his depravity and ineptitude is a blessing in disguise. It’s easier to identify and oppose these kinds of villains. It’s almost kind of nice.
We are currently touching the hot stove.
Trump showed his true face long before election day. We were warned. We did it anyways.
It would be much easier for everyone if we had simply heeded the warning signs and stayed far away. But we didn’t. And now there are consequences.
With Rubio/Cruz/Bush/Kasich/Carson/Pence, the consequences would be discreet and sugar-coated (as would the warning signs). With Trump, the consequences are jolting, visceral, and immediate.
If a nationalist, xenophobic, regressive, reactionary, selfish America is given the opportunity it’s always clamored for, and then promptly fails all over itself… maybe that is a more efficient path toward turning over a new leaf than forever debating whether it would have bad consequences if, hypothetically, we ever tried it.
Certainly not the optimal scenario, of course.
That is, this is not a cost-efficient route. It will likely bring a lot of pain to a lot of people.
But (like touching a hot stove) it might be a very time-efficient route toward learning our lesson.
People pull back from hot stoves very quickly. And they don’t want to touch the stove twice.
The Republican party will need to re-invent itself — probably for the better. I will not be surprised if I, personally, am impressed by many 2018 and 2020 Republican candidates and their platforms.
Again, just trying to find a silver lining here.
I can see three main objections to my attempt at optimism:
Trump is obviously not an obvious villain, because almost half of voters supported him in November, and a hearty third of Americans still “approve.”
Response: Ok, fair point.
But a large portion of the public (on both ends of the political spectrum) would give unrelenting, unconditional approval to any buffoon, crook, or tyrant that claimed to represent their political party. Thus, getting down to 33% approval is pretty close to maximum “obvious villain” for American politics. That means that the middle third of the electorate (aka the group that decides elections) has emphatically turned against Trump.
Plus, if you think about it as relative to the other possible 45s, Trump is by far the most obvious in his villainy.
This is still a very bad situation — one that is much much worse than a victory by the a nominee that champions civil rights and progressive legislation. So why paint it as anything other than it is?
Response: Again, fair point.
But let’s face it, a Hillary Clinton administration (eww, it hurts to even see those words in writing) would be just as disliked as the current Trump administration, and would be unable to advance any substantial policy past the Republican-controlled House and Senate.
Here’s the thing: Given the assumption that neither president would be very successful, then I would rather have the principles I don’t like be associated with a massively unpopular person than have principles that I do like be associated with a massively unpopular person.
The power of association.
This “lots of pain to lots of people” is not worth the time-efficiency.
Response: Sure, of course! But we aren’t talking about which scenario is optimal. And if we were, we wouldn’t choose this one. Rather, the point is that despite all the costs, there will be some significant gains. That’s all.
My dad used to tell a silly dad joke that goes like this:
Q: Ya know what’s worse than finding a worm in your apple?
A: Finding half of a worm.
If we had elected someone else, that middle third of the electorate might eat quite a lot of wormy apple before realizing and regretting their mistake. Or they might eat all 8 years of the apple and never even notice...
With Trump, they are staring at the whole worm after just one bite.
Worms, dark villains, hot stoves. Pick your analogy. My point is that, if nothing else, I am enjoying the moral clarity of 45’s blatant depravity.
And it might be a surprisingly speedy (although costly) route to massive, progressive shifts in public opinion and public policy.
I had a decent joke about Darth Vader promising to build the Death Star and make Mexico pay for it. But I couldn’t find a good space for it.
I didn’t want to… force it.
Abel Gustafson is a PhD candidate at the University of California-Santa Barbara.
His research develops ways to optimize strategic communication in science, tech, and health.
He writes for fun, for money, and occasionally for catharsis.