How democracies panic

The effects of Trump’s presidency on our system of government could well open a path toward the degradation of democracy in time, but that becomes harder, not easier, to see when we insist on comparing Trump to Mussolini. Maybe at some point Trump and his administration will actually move in an autocratic direction, but the best way to weaken the response of our political culture if that happens is to say it is already happening when it isn’t.

This inclination to panic rather than worry is by no means limited to the Trump resistance movement. It is pervasive in our polarized politics now. We seem unable to rouse ourselves to take problems seriously unless we can persuade ourselves that they present immediate and utterly cataclysmic dangers.

We cannot be concerned about the gradual effects of industrialization on the climate unless we convince ourselves that innocents will soon be drowning in the streets of the world’s coastal cities. We cannot worry about the implications of the federal budget deficit for future prosperity without insisting that we are at the very precipice of a Greek-style debt crisis that will make shirtless beggars of our children. And we apparently cannot worry that Donald Trump is unfit for his office in ways that over time could degrade our constitutional system unless that means he is about to destroy our democracy and trample our freedoms under steel-toed boots.