35 thinkers on “what Trump showed us about America”

Politico assembled a group that includes Northwestern historian Leslie Harris, First Things writer Mark Bauerlein, public intellectual Francis Fukuyama, American Conservative editor Helen Andrews, The Bulwark editor Charles Sykes, Hoover Institution fellow Larry Diamond, writer and professor Tom Nichols, and UW-Madison political scientist Katherine Cramer.

Here is the introduction to the piece:

The world has spent the past four years obsessing over President Donald Trump: his biography, his ideology, his speech, his tweets, his moods, his health, his hair. But what did the Trump era teach us about ourselves, and the country he was elected to lead?

Trump’s presidency has been a four-year war on many people’s assumptions about what was and wasn’t “American”—what a leader can call people in public, which institutions really matter, whether power lies with elites or masses. And it has forced serious arguments about what information, and what version of our history, we can even agree on.

With four years of Trump nearly behind us, Politico Magazine asked a group of smart political and cultural observers to tell us what big, new insight this era has given them about America—and what that insight means for the country’s future.

Many were alarmed to discover that our political institutions and norms are more fragile than they thought. Others pointed out the blind spots that members of the political and cultural elite have for the deep sense of dislocation and injustice that their fellow citizens feel. Some wrote optimistically about an America that is steadily becoming more diverse and inclusive, or one that has retained a powerful role in the world. Yet, even in the face of a common enemy—a once-in-a-century pandemic—“patriotism became a blunt instrument that Americans wielded against one another,” as one contributor put it.

Others questioned whether the disruptions of the past four years have really shaken us out of old patterns, and whether the political establishment has really been diminished. “The house always wins,” one wrote. And then there was this conclusion from another contributor: “At the end of Trump’s term, what I’ve learned is that I really don’t understand America well at all.”

Read the rest here.

Center-Right Conservatives and the Future of American Democracy


Charlie Sykes of The Bulwark

Nancy LeTourneau of Washington Monthly was one of the first journalists to start using my term “court evangelicals” to describe the evangelical leaders who back Donald Trump.  In yesterday’s column, she brings our attention to center-right conservatives, many of whom are associated with a new publication called “The Bulwark,” and their role in saving American Democracy in the so-called age of Trump.

Here is a taste:

At some point, these center-right conservatives must articulate a policy agenda that is distinct from the ethnonationalism that currently fuels the Republican Party. To do so they will have to acknowledge the problem and come to grips with their own role in creating and exploiting it in the first place, which could be the most difficult step. Once articulated, they would have to find a way to garner support for that agenda that doesn’t simply exploit white grievance.

That’s a tall order and, at this point, I think the odds are stacked against them. But I, for one, would welcome the possibility of settling differences by debate and argument in an atmosphere where the truth actually matters, because that is pretty much the definition of democracy.

Read the entire piece here.

Let’s Not Downplay Trump’s Role in the “Derangement of the American Mind”


I am thankful for clear-headed conservatives like Charlie Sykes.  Here a taste of his recent piece in The Weekly Standard:

But, his critics insist, Donald Trump plays a unique role here. And they are right; presidents are supposed to be a unifying symbol in times of stress, but Trump can barely go through the motions.

Both as a candidate and as president, he has used his extraordinary megaphone to push the envelope of acceptable discourse and behavior, not merely by the crudity of his attacks on his foes, but by his cultivation of a menacing swagger as a sign that “he fights.” He has openly encouraged violence against protesters at his rallies and celebrated the physical assault on a reporter who was body slammed. Perhaps inevitably, his supporters/followers have often modeled their language and behavior on his, especially as he has stoked anger against his critics and embraced conspiracy theories about their malevolent plans to destroy America.

In a nation of more than 300 million, there are more than a handful of unbalanced individuals who might take all of this both literally and seriously.

That is what makes these times so dangerous and Trump’s behavior so reckless. Leadership matters.

Read the entire piece here.