To many of his supporters, Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, is an asshole. But he’s also entertaining, even likable, bold and courageous, and certainly a winner. What is more, he’s potentially a force for good. Our political system is chock-full of assholes (is it not?), in which case we could do well to add an even bigger, stronger asshole in hopes of bringing order. As the great political philosopher Thomas Hobbes might have put it, Trump, the alpha-asshole, has the potential to “over-awe” the others and restore orderly cooperation.
Some of Trump’s supporters simply wish to “blow up” a political system that has shown contempt for them. I find this entirely understandable. But even aside from the desire to break something, the Hobbesian argument for Trump, for the strongman who brings order, should be taken seriously.
Trump is not president, and the GOP could still rightly deny Trump the nomination. The GOP is a private party, which sets the rules of its organization. It could still change them, with republican virtue, in order do right by the country and the party’s own long-term viability. Only political will is lacking (and there is still time, all the way up until the GOP convention). But this is not a possibility we can count on, and we must now look with fresh eyes on the real possibility of Donald Trump occupying the White House.
Should we choose this? The question is in part one of probability: how likely is Trump to clean up the political mess we’re in? Are chances good that he’d really bring order, breaking bi-partisan gridlock, restoring America to greatness? Or is this unlikely, because he’s more prone to further disrupt the soft tissue of cooperation that has made America great throughout its history?
The White House has had assholes in residence before. They did not bring total ruin. However, Richard Nixon, for instance, held office in a much more cooperative era, and voluntarily stepped down from the most powerful position in the world without the slightest threat of violence. This testified to the rule of law in a great nation. Trump, on the other hand, has already failed that test of democracy, having countenanced violence at his rallies and at the prospect of being denied the GOP nomination despite gathering the necessary delegate count. So his promise is not of the old-fashioned Nixonian assholery to which we’ve become accustomed, but of greater disruption.
Many of us rightly feel contempt or disgust for our fetid, foul system. Is there then little to lose playing in the Trump casino? What, after all, is the worst-case scenario: we’re left with the rotting political system we already have, in which case we simply try something different.
But this is not our situation. The stakes, I submit, are much, much higher. If Trump makes a giant mess of things, in part for being oblivious to how much he is disrupting, why assume the disorder would be contained to politics? While he wouldn’t usher in Hobbes’s “war of all against all,” he really could make needless war, with an unsteady hand on the nuclear button, and bring much bloodshed, or violence in the streets, along with an ever-deepening distrust that ensures what could be an irreversible devolution.
I’m not saying it will happen. I am saying it really could happen. I’m saying that nearly everything is at stake in the Trump gamble, with radically uncertain outcomes. So our question is: shall we play republic roulette? Do we feel very, very lucky?
With the very foundations of our democratic republic potentially broken, I say we shouldn’t take our chances.