Yet still a third outcome seems strangely most plausible of all. Rather than wrecking the country or weakening movement ideologies, a Trump administration could have the paradoxical effect of strengthening us by inspiring better, more serious opposition from both his left and his right.
Assume that Trump, being at most a mere president, not a king or an emperor, will not, whatever happens, singlehandedly bring us to ruin. The federal government is now too big and too “path dependent,” as the social scientists say, to be shaken apart by one transient occupant of the White House.
As conspiracists love to reflect, when confronted with Jimmy Carter – still the least “establishment” president since Harry Truman – the establishment managed to fill his administration with enough inside hands to ensure some measure of consistent continuity. Critics of this so-called “Deep State” are kidding themselves if they imagine Trump could break its back, even without pursuing a broader agenda.
But – here’s where the paradox comes in – old-line conservatives and liberals, for whom Trump grotesquely unites the worst instincts of demagogic elites in both parties, would likely find new and principled life if he actually rose to power. The Left in Bobby Kennedy’s mold and the Right in Bill Buckley’s, would probably get great traction comparing Trump unfavorably with Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Rather than fighting Trump for the rights to restoring national greatness, America’s principled partisans would likely re-energize and expand their constituencies with more truly inclusive claims to restoring national goodness.