I have spent nearly a year and a half critically analyzing and frequently excoriating Donald Trump's confused, inconsistent, reckless, and unconstitutional policy proposals and thoroughgoing lack of temperamental fitness for the presidency. But now I have a confession to make.
A small, irresponsible part of me would be pleased by a Trump victory.
Those less prone to ambivalence might consider this inexplicable. With the country increasingly divided into ideologically warring factions, people seem to find it difficult to understand or relate to anyone outside their often closed circle of political allies — whereas I carry around a little perpetual dissenter inside myself.
I'm basically a centrist neoliberal who broadly approves of the job President Obama has done as president and who would be happiest to vote for a candidate who occupied roughly the same issue space as Bill Clinton in 1996 (with plenty of allowances made for adjustments in light of changed circumstances over the past 20 years). That's why I will be genuinely distressed if Trump manages to prevail on Tuesday.
But not unambiguously distressed.
The part of me that as a young child longed to kick down the tower of blocks my playmate from down the street had so carefully and meticulously constructed would crack a smile at the ominous news. You can call me a nihilist if you want, but please do me the courtesy of acknowledging how well I normally keep that side of myself in check. I've gone after Trump in literally dozens of columns. That's been the responsible, the prudent, thing to do. Because I know that putting the enormous powers of government — especially the nuclear-armed American government — in the hands of someone unfit to wield those powers wisely is incredibly dangerous.
But that doesn't change the fact that some of the consequences of a Trump triumph would be salutary, and I would enjoy seeing them happen.
Here are four of those happy (and hopefully hypothetical) consequences:
1. The establishment would surrender its false sense of knowingness. America's political establishment has become so poll-obsessed that hardly a day goes by during a presidential election without a new survey being published. Poll aggregators then synthesize all of this data, either using straight averages or by assigning relative weights to each result, creating an overall measure of popularity for each candidate nationally and across just about all of the individual states. The most sophisticated aggregators then generate constantly evolving probabilistic estimates of victory and defeat for each candidate. All of it bestows an aura of knowingness, control, and power over events. But what if this is an illusion? I suspect that it is and don't think it would be a bad thing for us to learn that lesson in a shocking, highly memorable way — which is exactly what would happen if Trump confounded so many of the polls to come out on top on Nov. 8.
2. Progressives would learn that "history" is not on their "side." Progressives believe in … progress. It's their ideological faith, held as deeply as any religious creed. “Which side of history are you on?” — that's the rhetorical question progressives are always tempted to pose when some event or trend seems to belie their providential convictions, and that's very much been the case with the rise of Donald Trump. With Barack Obama, they believe, or want to believe, that the arc of history bends toward justice (with justice defined in such a way that it perfectly conforms to progressive assumptions about morality and government). Since I don't believe that history has "sides" — and think that those who do are often led by their faith to make foolish mistakes — I would enjoy seeing the presumption flouted by a Trump victory, much as I enjoyed watching the surprise outcome of the Brexit vote send progressives on both sides of the Atlantic into hysterics.
3. Never Trump conservatives would be forced to sacrifice their smugness. I've been impressed with and moved by how many members of the conservative movement have taken a firm and consistent stand against Trump (even as almost every Republican elected official has embraced him). Yet it's also the case that many of these same people spent years encouraging and contributing to the very right-wing populism that he's ridden all the way to the front gate of the White House. The idea was to pick populist candidates who could (hopefully) be controlled and guided by intellectuals. Trump has refused such guidance, which is one reason why the pundits have rejected him. Their hope, it seems, is that Trump will lose decisively, enabling the writers who kept their hands clean to mount a comeback within the GOP while gloating about how wrong everyone else was to capitulate to the know-nothing insurgent. Part of me would like to see this plan go down in flames. No one who elevated or championed Sarah Palin — whom George Packer has aptly dubbed Trump's John the Baptist — should be able to come out of the mess of this election with his smugness intact.
4. Hubristic Democratic elites would be humiliated. The establishment of the Democratic Party rallied around and nominated a deeply flawed candidate this year — one who is highly likely to preside over an administration continually dogged, and ultimately consumed, by scandal. Imagine the post-1972 Nixon White House for four years (assuming, of course, that Clinton manages to avoid impeachment and/or indictment for that long). It's a sign of how much I detest Trump that I've consistently favored her over him every single day since he won the nomination. But on this one day, in this one column, I will admit that a small part of me would love to see the Democrats go down to a painful, humiliating defeat next Tuesday as comeuppance for their dumbass decision to coronate a Clinton this year instead of fielding a candidate who could have wiped the floor with Trump.
I'm able to safely entertain that outcome because it remains unlikely to happen. Clinton will probably win. Trump will probably lose. And most of me — the better part — will delight in the outcome. I'll be especially thrilled if Trump defies the current polls to lose in the landslide I predicted two months ago and that seemed to be in the offing until Clinton predictably (and with just a little help from James Comey) managed to screw it up.
But even in that case, the thrill will be mixed with just a touch of disappointment.