I was amused by Bret Stephen’s op-ed in the May 13th edition of The New York Times, “How Trump May Save the Republic.” As Stephen’s puts it: “His views are often malevolent, and his conduct might ultimately prove criminal. But we, too, are protected, for a time, by the enormity of his stupidity.” (Yes, this is the same Bret Stephens who spread his anti-climate change nonsense in a previous op-ed.)
Obviously, Trump isn’t an intellectual, but does that make him less dangerous? Trotsky and the intellectuals of the Russian revolution underestimated the mediocre intelligence of Stalin, and paid with their lives. Stalin was brutal and street-smart, two qualities that intellectuals often lack. The mafia kingpin John Gotti was a high school dropout, but street smart enough to have his rival killed and ascend to the top of the Gambino crime family. And that intelligent, Machiavellian Ted Cruz probably still can’t believe he lost the Republican Presidential nomination to the ignorant Donald Trump. In fact I doubt there is a strong connection between education, intelligence and political power—street smarts and ruthlessness probably correlate better. After all, Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale lost to Ronald Reagan, Al Gore and John Kerry to George W. Bush, and Hilary Clinton to Donald Trump.
I will say though that Stephens saved his best insight for last: “Incompetence may protect us—but … only for a while. The blunders may often be self-defeating, but not always. Trump is our president. The enormity of his stupidity, inescapably, is also our own.”
Yet here is another thought—replacing Trump with Pence doesn’t help much, if at all. McConnell and Ryan would push the same no-taxes-on-the-wealthy-no-social-safety-net-theocracy-not-secularism-endless-war-not-diplomacy-force-of-the-law-against-the-unfortunates-legal immunity-for-the plutocrat policies as they do now, but they would look more refined in doing so with Pence in charge. Russia and Saudi Arabia are their models, not the Scandinavian countries.
So even if Trump were impeached or worse, that wouldn’t stop the Republicans from pursuing their current agenda. So we may be better off with Trump as the face of the Republican party. That way he remains the physical manifestation of what has been their somewhat hidden agenda since the early 1980s. Perhaps his threatening tweets, collusion with the Russians, weekly golf course vacations, financial entanglements, nepotism and all the rest will finally put a face on today’s (radical, Confederate) Republican party, which the conservative scholars Mann and Ornstein so aptly described as:
an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
So Trump’s ignorance may save us, but not in the way that Stephen’s imagines. It’s not that he won’t help them lower taxes on the rich, let millions die from lack of health care, deny women birth control, or imprison minorities for failing to pay parking tickets, he will do all that and more, it’s that he’ll make them look so shameless and uncouth in doing so. Perhaps that will finally open people’s minds.
Yet I’m not optimistic that anything can save us from our forthcoming troubles. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, and the non-stop propaganda of fox news, Infowars, and Breitbart might leave the fascists with near total control. And there is a good chance many of us won’t make it out alive. Good night and good luck.