The Dangerous Lesson.

Well, GG is hoping that AGU gives him an opportunity to move back into science discussions, but one last thing (let’s hope!) from the election before we make that move. Professors are always looking for lessons in the real world to carry to their students, and GG thinks there is a pretty good one in Trump’s victory. We might someday thank Donald Trump for the campaign he ran, not so much for the policy outcomes but for the lesson that the American republic is not immune to demagoguery.

Many op-ed types wrote immediately after the election that disappointed voters should not equate Trump’s victory with Germany in 1932, when Hitler was elected to the post of Chancellor. They claimed that the U.S. had far stronger traditions and rules against the kind of arbitrary power Hitler eventually used. GG sort of agrees, but for different reasons. While we might have things like the Constitution and more than 200 years of tradition, we also have in the Presidency the kind of power that Hitler did not have until Hindenburg’s death in 1934.  No, the telling difference is that the demagogue Hitler had truly evil intentions, hatred and revenge stoked his ambition; the demagogue Trump seems to have been mostly motivated by narcissism and might well have started his campaign as a means of getting free press for his businesses (heavens knows there were times his campaign stops seemed more like infomercials for a Trump property).

Time will tell whether Trump’s Presidency is a success or not, but he has established a blueprint for those with more malice to gain control of government. Lying, expounding on conspiracy theories, name-calling, fear-mongering are all in the playbook. All of this has kicked around at times in American history, but never to the point of this level of success. The question for America will be, how do we respond?  Do we continue down this road, eagerly eating up the most salacious rumors that appeal to our gut, thinking the worst of some of our fellow citizens? Or do we find out how to reward leadership that acknowledges reality and makes promises that can, at least, be guiding stars for policies when in office?

If we inoculate ourselves against false news and rumor, if we determine to marginalize the aluminum-foil-hat tendency both in the public and in ourselves, we might have reason to celebrate Donald Trump, not necessarily for what he does as President but for what he taught us as a candidate. If not, we will rue the day others learn more from Trump than we have.

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