Donald Trump is probably a horrible person. But to think that one guy can ruin a system that is already so flawed is to give both him and the merits of our system too much credit. Compared to many places that style themselves as democracies, we have some strong traditions and institutions that limit how much damage a single poorly-intentioned person can do. Moreover, it’s already pretty flawed.
It’s true that we’re not some backwards failed state. In fact, we are one of the world’s most resilient and wealthy democracies. Relative to most countries, our institutions work like machines even when defective components are installed. The resiliency of our systems is especially clear to those of us who have lived for a time in a poorer country where governance and civic life is a little rougher around the edges.
Trump is no Jack Kennedy, but neither is he Trujillo, Pinochet, Hoxha, Videla, Hitler, Porfirio Diaz, Papa Doc, Jerry Rawlings, Hussein, Sese Seko, Pol Pot, Khadafi, Teodoro Obiang, Franco, Castro, Lenin, or Reza Shah. He doesn’t even rate a second-class Latin American dictator like Alfredo Stroessner. I know my dictators; I can say Trump doesn’t have the chops to truly win as a tyrant.
The other side of the coin is that no matter which candidate we selected, the US government would remain the same great threat to human dignity at home and abroad that it’s always been. Donald Trump does not have to organize the secret police, since the FBI has been going after political enemies of the state for a lifetime now. He does not have to invent a massive program of oppression against ethnic minorities, since we have the still-ongoing drug war. He doesn’t have to build any gulags since we already incarcerated more people per capita than pretty much any other country in the world, bar none.
Abroad, the reign of many of the tyrants I mentioned above was made possible or has been sustained by US foreign policy. At this very moment, under the executive leadership of the party that just lost the election, the US is an occupying force in several countries. We have currently deployed our forces to armed conflicts in no fewer than five countries.
And all this is what makes America great, kinda-sorta. We are a country that is strong enough to install dictators elsewhere, oppress millions at home, and still get to call ourselves a democracy and a beacon upon a hill. American hypocrisy is the basis for our imperialism everywhere; neither Clinton nor Trump would have changed this.
I know this is a scary time. If it really does come down to deportations of nonnative US people and campaigns of violence against sexual minorities, I will defend you with my life. Hold me to that, please.
But don’t deceive yourself. Donald Trump is not going to change the fundamental workings of the US system at home or abroad, and neither would Hillary. Expect the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. We’ll continue to invade other countries for the sheer hell of it and oil. It’s the same system, just a different day.
Tomorrow, we’ll have record highs way up here, record lows way down here, and record middles somewhere in between. The massive machinery of the US Federal Government will continue to bumble along, sometimes ineptly, sometimes helpfully, and sometimes with precision strikes. And we’ll still be free enough, or at least most of us will be, to push back against any self-important nimwit who tells us that we may not copulate with or mary whom we want, may not object to rape, may not control our reproductive destinies, and should not under any circumstance put taco stands on every corner. We’ll also continue to destroy the planet with our voracious thirst for petroleum, and fail to provide for the basic needs of the poorest among us. Unlike many other countries, we will continue to refrigerate our eggs and our cheese. For all its flaws, this is our American way, and Donald Trump is not going to change it.