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Beginning of the End?

William J. Clinton built a reputation for weathering scandals while maintaining high approval ratings, but Donald J. Trump must be the most thoroughly Teflon-coated president in modern history. This afternoon while I was out running, I was trying to remember how many times I thought his political career was over; I lost count—and heart—around the Access Hollywood tape, and that happened before he was even elected.


But surely his slide into disapproval, even among those constituting his base, is imminent now that, standing alongside Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Trump has sided with Putin over US Intelligence on the question of Russian interference in US elections. From what I can tell, among the most important defining characteristics of the US conservative movement of the twentieth century—dating more or less from Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential run—are belief in an unfettered market and opposition to what was then the Soviet Union in the Cold War. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the United States declared itself, along with its allies, Cold War winners. However, it turns out that not only did the Cold War never end, but also that we’re far from winning (whatever “winning” such a conflict might turn out to be). Putin’s interference in our elections should tell us at least that much.


As I write this, I’m glancing at news feeds indicating that more and more Republicans are struggling to keep Trump from doing further damage, something that I thought would have happened much sooner. Of course, some have taken their stands from the start. John McCain has shown himself to be a man of true principle; and remember that the first judge to block Trump’s travel ban—U. S. District Judge James Robart of Seattle—is a Republican. Now it appears the Grand Old Party is realizing that its members have to oppose Trump if it’s to survive as a party at all. Why I’m moved to write this when I’ve been wrong about the end of the Trump era so many times before may well be beyond me; maybe it’s just wishful thinking.


But while I’m thinking wishfully, I’m also wondering what it’s going to be like, a year or two from now, for those who have been Trump supporters. Of course, there will be some who continue to refuse he ever did anything wrong. On the other hand, there will surely be many who decide his presidency was a terrible mistake. There will be plenty of temptation to cast aspersions on people who voted for Trump, but I don’t think that doing so will do any good. For one thing, the discourse of insult and polemic tends merely to harden people in their positions. For another, very little understanding is likely to come from trading insults, and understanding is something we always need. No doubt, there will be a much needed industry of producing articles, books, and newspaper columns about this moment of our history. We’ll need to do all we can to understand what led us to this moment. But as to the moment itself, we’re moving beyond it now—right?