A builder of tall buildings has proven ascendant, and yet so much appears in free fall. First impressions the morning after:
When the Unthinkable Suddenly Felt Inevitable
Sometimes, when the unthinkable happens, you look back and realize there was a moment when you knew that the unthinkable was inevitable. I had such a moment back in the primary season, on May 3, when Trump won Indiana, and Hillary lost that same day to Bernie Sanders. The news came over the radio, while I was sitting up in bed. Hillary's loss came as a surprise to me, suggesting an unexpected weakness. And then Trump came on with his victory speech, with that smooth voice, so comfortable and confident--a voice I knew then and there people would be tempted to believe and follow. My jaw dropped at the contrast. I felt a chill, recognizing the danger at a visceral level. Then, over the ensuing months, as Trump's flaws became more obvious, and Hillary took the upper hand in the polls and the debates, I forgot that telling moment.
Comedy's Failure As a Force For Change and Enlightenment
One couldn't listen to Jon Stewart and his brilliant offspring--Colbert, Oliver, Samantha Bee--and not believe that humor would save us from cable news' drift into tabloid journalism and propaganda. Humor was the sugar coating that would successfully deliver the medicine of substance and reality to a distracted, escapist nation. Turned out the less urban parts of the country were not amused. When you point out the flaws in people's thinking, they don't change their minds. Being chastened is far less satisfying than getting the last laugh. A column written back in September by Ross Douthat, "Clinton's Samantha Bee Problem", sticks in the mind. Even he underestimated the power of the reactionism he rightly identified.
The Failure of a Nation's Immune System
One important role of the news media is to serve as the nation's immune system. In our bodies, the immune system can fail by not recognizing a real threat, or by attacking a non-threat. Cancer grows because the immune system does not identify it as a threat. Hay fever--that highly distracting annoyance--is the result of one's immune system attacking harmless pollen. During this election, the news media avoided substantive policy issues and the looming catastrophe of climate change, and chose instead to spend its zeal on the highly distracting annoyance of harmless emails.
Women Were Right
At least in my circle of friends and family, though men were disturbed by the Trump candidacy, women tended to show a far deeper distress, sitting for hours glued to cable news, seeking in every new poll some small evidence that disaster would be averted. I was worried, too, but it seemed a bit much, like my wife's double locking of doors at night in a low-crime town. This is Princeton, I'd think. What are the chances of someone breaking in? And, this is the United States. What are the chances that a man so demonstrably unfit to be president could be elected?