Saturday, March 17, 2018

Why America Is Lucky Donald Trump Was Elected President

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of President Donald Trump.  I think that he is lazy, ignorant, incompetent, and as a result, a danger to our country and our world.  But I think it is entirely possible that we may someday look back upon his election as lucky accident that strengthened the United States of America.

What do I mean?

In a word, Donald Trump is cowpox.

In the late 18th century, smallpox was one of the deadliest plagues that humanity had ever faced.  Smallpox was so deadly that it is estimated that it accounted for 10% of all deaths, and over 20% on cities where it more easily spread.  Even those that survived were often disfigured for life.

Oddly enough, however, one group of people seemed to be immune: milkmaids.

The British physician Edward Jenner hypothesized that the milkmaids were resistant to smallpox because many of them contracted cowpox, a much less virulent and deadly disease, from the cows that they milked.

In 1796, he tested this hypothesis by inoculating his gardener's eight-year-old son, James Phipps, with cowpox pus from a milkmaid named Sarah Nelmes, who had in turn had been infected by a cow called Blossom.  After Phipps developed, then recovered from a mild fever, Jenner exposed him to smallpox and found that he too had become immune to the disease.  To prove the efficacy of his approach, Jenner made 20 different attempts to infect Phipps with smallpox, all fortunately unsuccessful.

Being used as a guinea pig for experiments with the most deadly disease known to man seems like it would be beyond the call of duty for a doctor's gardener, let alone his young son, but Jenner did end up giving James Phipps, then grown, and his wife and children a rent-free lease, so there is that.  When he was 34, Phipps attended Jenner's funeral in Gloucestershire.

Donald Trump is cowpox--a messy but non-fatal infection that may end up inoculating the country against a far greater threat.

Donald Trump is a terrible president, but thanks to his remarkable incompetence, he has inflicted relatively little harm on the country.  Yes, he has encouraged racists and bigots, discriminated against Muslims, wreaked havoc on long-standing bipartisan projects like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, largely because of his complete lack of understanding of and regard for truth and complexity.  He has had a corrosive effect on political discourse, both because he has no regard for traditions and norms, and because the hatred he has engendered in his enemies has caused many of them to become deranged themselves, and to traffic in the sort of hyper-partisan truthiness that ought to inspire disgust in all.

But, at least to this point, he has not caused irreparable harm.  The only actions he has taken which cannot be undone by a future president are to appoint Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court (a fact, which, while maddening to Democrats and constitutional scholars alike, should rightly be attributed to Mitch McConnell) and to sign a tax bill (which should rightly be attributed to Paul Ryan).  And these actions are both actions than any Republican president should be expected to take, and which Trump did not assist, but rather generally hindered.  As for his various executive actions, one might disagree with his chosen appointees (many of whom are incompetent and/or corrupt) or policies (many of which seem to ignore reason), but he is well within his constitutional rights to make these choices.  Our republic works because we should all respect the process, even if we disagree with the results.  Many of those who rage against the imperial presidency as wielded by Trump were conspicuously quieter when Barack Obama made policy via executive order, a tradition which stretches back to the dawn of our nation.

If you want to see a true case of smallpox, turn your eyes to Russia, which is holding its presidential election today.  After the inevitable results come in, Vladimir Putin will have won another six-year term, which means that A) Putin will have ruled Russia for this entire millennium to date, having taken over for Boris Yeltsin on December 31, 1999 and B) he will be in striking distance of Josef Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union from roughly 1927 (when he removed his rival Trotsky from the Central Committee) to his death in 1953.  And while the Russian constitution prohibits Putin from running again, I will happy bet money that when 2024 rolls around, if Putin is still in power, the Russian constitution will be amended to remove that barrier.

In comparison to Donald Trump's cowpox, Vladimir Putin is true smallpox--virulent and deadly.  Trump blasts his enemies on Twitter with impotent threats; Putin has them assassinated with deadly poisons.  Trump's cronies try to enrich themselves with favorable treatment; Putin simply takes what he wants, and if an oligarch defies him, has him arrested and his property confiscated.

The rise of Donald Trump demonstrates that today's electorate is susceptible to the charismatic appeal of a would-be authoritarian "virus," but his election is the very thing that is producing the antibodies to help us fight off future infections.  I would argue that you can trace a direct line from Donald Trump's election to a host of social changes such as #MeToo and #BoycottNRA and the fall of figures such as Harvey Weinstein.

If we had elected an American Putin in 2016, things might very well be very different.  We should remember that America is far less vulnerable to a would-be dictator than Russia in 1999.  Among other things, America is the world's longest-lasting democratic nation, with a centuries-long history of rejecting would-be tyrants like Huey Long and Joseph McCarthy.  In contrast, Russia has experienced roughly eight years of democracy during its entire existence.  But I'd rather not take that chance.

America is lucky that Donald Trump was elected president.  He has exposed the hidden racism, sexism, and authoritarian leanings that have always been there, and the country will be stronger for it long after he has left the Oval Office, thanks to an energized and activist citizenry.

Background Reading:
* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Jenner
* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Putin

5 comments:

Mack Bolan said...

Gorsuch appointment is maddening to Constitutional Scholars? Huh?
Why detract from your post with this tripe?
Scholars recognize the Constitutional power of the Senate to provide advice and consent for Presidential nominations. It is a form of check designed as a competing power to balance the Federal government, ingeniously created by our Founding Fathers. There is zero mandate in the Constitution to consent to a nominee. Hyperpartisans may have wished for a vote for Obama's nominee (which likely would have resulted in rejection of bitter 2A opponent Merrick Garland by majority of Senate), but scholars recognize checks and balances built into the system allow the Senate to make its own rules and decide itself whether to hold votes. Withholding consent is a recognized power of the Senate, it may provoke controversy amongst party loyalists, but the text of the Constitution and traditions of the Senate show your assertion to be out of left field.

Carl Lyons said...

Many appointees are incompetent and/or corrupt?
This throwaway insult hinders conveyance of your central idea. Hyperpartisans spew vitriol at Presidential nominees all the time, questioning the competence of otherwise proven leaders put in charge of massive Federal bureaucracies. It is quite simple to scroll through Cabinet appointments back to the 1940s and discover only a handful of hundreds were regarded by historians as highly effective. The vast majority got tarred by journalists and opposition party leaders as incompetent. You ought to consider the level of the bar over the past 70 years before you try to provide competence criticism of Presidential appointees.
Slandering officials as corrupt is an entirely different attack and should not be made recklessly. Trust in government is already low due to low efficacy of government programs, why endeavor to tear down trust more with unsupported assertions ("many..are...corrupt")? Care to critically examine the past 10 Administrations of both parties? You will find a few appointees in each who were actually charged and convicted for corruption, or formally held in contempt by our elected representatives. State a few, and those with knowledge of history will judge the context and dismiss the criticism as an impossible bar. State many, and you get hyperpartisans fired up. So what are the evidence cases to substantiate your assertion of many are corrupt? If nonexistent, weak, or circumstantial, why include in this otherwise thoughtful piece?

Stephen Willeford (proxy) said...

#BoycottNRA is akin to an antibody against future infections?
Have you read the Federalist Papers? Have you read William Blackstone? Have you read what Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Franklin, et al spoke and wrote about the ultimate protection against an infected central government? Have you read the 2nd Amendment? Have you read the Supreme Court decision in Heller and all of the history included in the written opinion? Have you read the subsequent confirming judgment by the Supreme Court in McDonald? All of these moderately authoritative sources are diametrically opposed to your assertion. Why use such an incongruent example when many others would have bolstered your thoughtful blog?

My Agapic Life said...

That story about cowpox to smallpox in the small child is certainly an interesting one.

You are correct that on a broader sample he has done limited damage and you're right he has done tremendous damage to people who don't look like or have to live like I do as a white dude.

Personally I think the greatest potential benefit of his presidency is the possibility of a president who is far more inspirational than we can imagine and is actually real while also being productive.

RD said...

Well...you make an excellent point there. However, GW Bush was also an incompetent fool but in comparison to Trump the man suddenly sounds reasonable. And yet - he is responsible for tens if not hundreds of thousands of deaths in the Iraq/Syria region due to his invasion. Most Americans (except for soldiers and a few contractors of course) - and may be even American democracy - were not harmed by this but the world at large, American standing in the world, were definitely.

With Bolton and Pompeo on board, the BS that already started in 2017 with Iran and North Korea, we have a good chance that Trump will try at all cost to distract from the various pornstar, centerfold model and other lawsuits brought against him.
Who knows - in 12 months from now we may find that Trump is very much cowpox when first North Korean rockets have detonated in downtown Seoul...