Many of the most worrying tendencies on the left stem from two intellectual mistakes. The first is to focus so tightly on the country’s flaws that its strengths become invisible, and its institutions dispensable. The second is to believe that the right poses such an imminent danger that any form of resistance against it is justifiable, even if it involves violence.
Trump of course disagrees with both of these mistakes. But because he is genuinely dangerous and extraordinarily polarizing, he makes it much harder for establishment institutions, as well as moderate voices on the left, to hold their ground against these fallacies.
The president has, again and again, incited racial tensions in the hopes of making partisan gains. If he wins reelection, the idea that racism not only shaped the country’s past but continues to define its essence in the present will become much more difficult to refute. If, however, a clear majority of Americans turn on Trump, rejecting his racist remarks, those of us who still retain faith in America’s perfectibility and seek to preserve its core institutions can more easily win the argument.
Similarly, a Biden victory would make it easier, not harder, to push back against antifa types who think engaging in violent tactics to resist the Trump administration is justifiable. So long as citizens can contest political injustice at the ballot box, there can be no excuse for burning down government buildings. But Trump’s penchant for cruelty is the best possible recruitment tool for those who want to fight fire with even more fire. When the sense of terror that Trump has understandably instilled in many citizens begins to ebb, so too will the misguided hesitance of many Americans to criticize violent extremists pretending to fight for a noble cause.