A lot of people are rightly panicking about the prospect of a Trump presidency. I am one of them, more often than not. In this discourse, Trump is an absolute evil that must be stopped no matter what the cost, even if that means holding your nose and voting for Hillary Clinton — or, at the most extreme, even doing the unthinkable and supporting Rubio. Anything to stave off the very worst.
What if the very worst already happened, though? What if the very worst was George W. Bush? Here we have an illegitimate president who lost the popular vote, who spent the early months of his presidency trying to drum up hostilities with China, who engineered a vast hand-out to the rich, who ignored warnings and hence neligently allowed the worst terrorist attack in American history, who leveraged all those corpses into widespread popular support that he then used to sell the nation a war based on lies, who created a world-wide network of torture camps and openly defended it through legal causistry, who tried to appoint a personal crony to the Supreme Court, who left a great city to drown, who refused to acknowledge the expert consensus that his war was a failure, and whose term culminated in the greatest financial crisis and economic decline of the postwar era. Well over a million people are dead as a result of his actions and their consequences (ISIS, for example), hundreds of thousands of lives and livelihoods destroyed, with more and more power concentrated in the hands of wealthy nihilists and fewer and fewer protections against arbitrary government surveillance and violence. Trump would be hard pressed to surpass this record of sheer evil and destruction.
When confronted with the actual, so-far worst (fingers crossed!), the Democrats not only failed to protect us, they actively abetted it. They went along with the tax cuts that undid their much-vaunted legacy of balancing the budget. They went along with the Iraq War and in 2004 nominated a candidate who had supported it. The transformative candidate they offered up in 2008 — with considerable reluctance, I might add — virtually endorsed the Bush tax cuts and national security measures. And Hillary Clinton, the current candidate who is supposedly our sure bet to fend off the Hypothetical Very Worst, did essentially nothing to obstruct the Actual Very Worst while she was in the Senate. In a way, she even represents a step backward, because at least Obama had actually opposed the Iraq War (though I’ve always wondered what would have happened if he’d actually been in the Senate at the time it was voted on).
Admittedly, this analysis does not issue in an easy recommendation for who to vote for in the primaries or what speculative scenario is most likely to play out, which may be why you don’t see many reflections along these lines. The fact that Bush was so bad certainly isn’t a reason to be indifferent or even optimistic about a Trump presidency, nor do the Democrats’ past failures disqualify them as the “lesser evil” — though it perhaps places less emphasis on the “lesser” than the “evil.” What it does is put us in the position of Nietzsche’s Hamlet or Dionysian man:
both have once looked truly into the essence of things, they have gained knowledge, and nausea inhibits action; for their action could not change anything in the eternal nature of things; they feel it to be ridiculous or humiliating that they should be asked to set right a world that is out of joint. Knowledge kills action; action requires the veils of illusion: that is the doctrine of Hamlet, not that cheap wisdom of Jack the Dreamer who reflects too much and, as it were, from an excess of possibilities does not get around to action. Not reflection, no — true knowledge, an insight into the horrible truth, outweighs any motive for action, both in Hamlet and in the Dionysian man. (Birth of Tragedy, section 7)
Once you’ve seen how truly fucked this country is, the notion that we can even begin to fix it with one election insults your intelligence. The idea that an elderly eccentric senator from a state with two dozen people in it is leading some kind of political revolution that will fundamentally change our society is an embarrasing joke. If only the votes in some state you would barely deign to drive through go in a certain way, everything will change! Who can actually believe that, in all seriousness?
And what of Trump himself? He’s not unlike Claudius, who openly flaunts his illegitimacy and his quasi-incestuous affair with Gertrude, who all but admits that he killed his own brother and dares anyone to call him on it — and everyone goes along with it. Something is rotten in Denmark indeed, and removing the figurehead (whom Shakespeare might equally address as “Denmark”) won’t remove that rot. How different is this from Bush, the Harvard-educated son of privilege who trained himself to talk like a good ole boy with an IQ of 80 — betraying his open contempt for his supporters, who then rewarded him with a personality cult for someone with no discernable personality? It’s easy to want such men removed from power, even to want them dead — but isn’t it insulting to think that getting rid of this one guy can fix a problem so deep?
But don’t worry. I’ll suspend my disbelief long enough to do what’s needful behind the curtain of the voting booth — though I doubt my aim will ultimately be any better than Hamlet’s was when similarly situated. As for my uncouth and counter-revolutionary opinions, I’ve taken the precaution of sharing them during an early stage of the process, before many people are paying attention. No swing voters in Ohio are reading. Bernie still has a chance, and even if he doesn’t pull through, Hillary is a really smart and seasoned politician who can make quick work of a buffoon like Trump, much less an empty suit like Rubio (you know, a young, fresh-faced senator from an ethnic minority). And even in the worst case, I saw on 538 that Democrats can probably take the Senate anyway.