The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Every crisis America faces has been made worse by Trump

As Catholic priests gather for a protest at the perimeter of Lafayette Square on Saturday, security personnel watch from the roof of the White House. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

The forces of chaos, disintegration and hatred are ascendant in America.

The streets are on fire. Historical injustice and present provocation are reagents that have combined in an explosive manner. People questioning the fundamental fairness of our country have been left without adequate answers. And people who organize to spread anarchy, and people who push for a race war, and people who engage in opportunistic looting, and people who spread disinformation and conspiracy theories, are not allowing a crisis to go to waste.

The country is sick and getting sicker. America has somehow managed to experience the severe economic and social consequences of a national lockdown while remaining the hottest spot of a global covid-19 pandemic. All pretense of social distancing seems to be breaking down, and a further, cruel culling of our elderly population seems to be an acceptable outcome for many politicians.

This rendition of the poem ‘Black 101’ memorializes the innocent lives poet Frank X Walker says are terrorized by white rage, including jogger Ahmaud Arbery. (Video: Frank X Walker, Joy Yi, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

The economy is experiencing a swift-onset great depression. Massive unemployment is feeding a sense of social desperation. And the United States will be at a lasting disadvantage against economic competitors who responded to covid-19 more promptly and effectively.

Full coverage of the George Floyd protests

President Trump is not responsible for these problems in all their aspects. But America is getting a very costly civics lesson. As many warned, presidents invariably face crises. It is the nature of the job and the world. Such a time of testing was delayed for Trump until the last year of his term. But the reckoning has arrived. Suddenly, electing a television entertainer — with no knowledge of history or experience of the world — seems less amusing. Suddenly, the desire to apply a wrecking ball to American politics seems less responsible and appealing amid the ruins. Suddenly, as the culture war edges toward violence, the election of a “fighter” seems less than helpful.

Every crisis the United States now faces has been made worse by Trump’s limits as a leader and a man. We needed a president who could imagine what the American experiment looks like from the perspective of those who find its promises fraudulent. We got someone incapable of empathy. We needed a president who would be data driven in matters of public health policy. We got someone driven by irrational enthusiasms and the advice of cronies. We needed a president who could calm destructive passions. We got someone who now urges the militarization of his fight against the left. We needed a president capable of speaking across differences. We got someone whose only authentic public communications are expressions of rancor.

This is the main (and rather obvious) lesson of Civics 101: If you elect a politician who is professionally incompetent and emotionally unwell, you will pay a price.

It doesn’t really matter, in the end, if you camouflage Trump support as social analysis. It may well be true that the Trump movement is rooted in the suffering of rural and small-town America. It may well be true that some of Trump’s supporters have been dislocated by profound economic and cultural changes and are angered by the condescension of elites.

The problem with this kind of argument is that there is no tissue of connection between means and ends. Trump as president has no discernible tie or relationship to such valid cultural concerns. This argument is like saying: “The problem of cultural and economic inequality is growing in our society, therefore let us eat more rutabagas.” Or: “Drug abuse is increasing in rural America, therefore let us engage in more naked karaoke.”

A man of Trump’s character, background and talents is the answer to precisely none of the great challenges of our time. His election in 2016 was an act of irrationality and folly by a powerful, noble and indispensable nation. It has made us more pitiable, more degraded and more replaceable than before. And this likelihood was obvious to anyone with a single grain of foresight.

For all those who called Trump the better of two evils in 2016, it should be clear that the choice was really between a flawed but qualified Democratic candidate and a flawed and manifestly unfit Republican one. Now the unity of our country is under severe strain, the justice of our country is under close questioning, and the leader of our country is a crank with a keyboard. So enough with explaining Trump or explaining him away; he must be defeated.

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Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Trump is in a free fall — for now

The Post’s View: As the nation burns, Trump’s bullhorn drowns out the voices of our better angels

Danielle Allen: The situation is dire. We need a better normal at the end of this — and peace.

Karen Tumulty: Trump channels Bull Connor

Donna Edwards: George Floyd’s death is sickeningly familiar

Paul Butler: Filing charges in George Floyd’s death was the easy part