During the election of 2016, I confess I sometimes thought things could get so bad under Donald Trump that I’d want to emigrate. The squall-like street violence outside of his planned rally in Chicago was particularly ominous, and made me begin to believe the analogies to 1968: Trump was even encouraging supporters to hit back. The sense of panic was often heightened online, with digital mobs — some real, some half-composed of bots — descending into the fray harassing my peers and colleagues. Given Trump’s odd fascination with nuclear weapons, it seemed like farce could turn into disaster.
And then he won and our politics mostly turned back into their regularly scheduled reality-tv show. The hysteria remained, but now it wasn’t so threatening. It was turning into an opera buffa. Mostly.
The Atlantic has put out a special issue checking in on the health of liberal democracy, and its prognosis is dire. Mostly, it turns out that the problem with democracy is that people who eat $19 burgers are getting outvoted by people who eat $1.99 burgers. Madison was against mob rule, we’re reminded, in an article that implicitly laments the demise of mediating quasi-aristocratic institutions. Mediocre ex-friends are now running the sh**hole countries of Central Europe, we’re told. And my friend David Frum informs us that Trump is playing an important role in the destruction of democracy here at home.