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margaret wente

For millions of people across America, inauguration day has been a catastrophe. The world as we've known it is at an end. President Donald Trump is for real. Armageddon is at hand. These emotions have spilled over into Canada, where many of my friends have retreated into their safe space to eat Oreos and ice cream.

Other folks have decided to join the anti-Trump resistance. Hundreds of thousands of women are expected to join the march in Washington on Saturday, whose purpose, so far as I can tell, is to exorcise the devil in the White House with their pink pussyhats. In other protest action, academics held teach-ins on the writings of Michel Foucault, in hopes that this would rally the masses. Even the Girl Scouts were urged to boycott the inaugural parade, in which they've marched for decades. As one former Girl Scout wrote in the Guardian, "Does tradition justify collaboration with an administration that promises to oppress the young women it's supposed to serve?"

So far, outrage shows no sign of giving way to reason, let alone reconciliation. Democrats, the liberal media, and other defenders of democracy are obsessed with the catastrophe of Donald Trump and the unfathomable idiocy of the people who elected him. "Are you not alarmed?" said the headline on a column by The New York Times' Charles Blow. "This is about democracy and fascism, war and peace, life and death," he wrote.

Elizabeth Renzetti: On inauguration day, presidents always took the high road. Not Donald Trump

John Ibbitson: Fear Trump, but have faith in the endurance of U.S. institutions

Opinion: It was a screed less than a speech: Trump's endless tweet

One problem with setting the outrage meter at a steady 10 is that it gives you nowhere to go. Once you start comparing Mr. Trump to Hitler, who do you compare him to when he does something really bad? The other problem is that people will start tuning out – as millions already have.

Mr. Trump, as we know, has no sense of proportion. Meryl Streep (bad!) and Vladimir Putin (great guy!) get him equally worked up. But the media have the same problem. Everything's outrageous. If they say anything positive, or even neutral, about any of it, they'll be accused of betraying the resistance.

My own view is that Mr. Trump is the most alarming President in our lifetime. He is a petulant, vindictive and pathologically narcissistic demagogue. Will he be an unmitigated disaster? Maybe, maybe not. We'll have to wait and see. For the moment, my advice is to pass the smelling salts and stop setting our hair on fire every time he opens his mouth.

Why are we so irrational about Donald Trump? Well, we're tribal, and we've decided he is Moloch. (By "we," I mean the usual left-liberal-academic-media-urban professional crowd who don't own pickup trucks.) Also, we have no sense of perspective. Most of us who live in North America have no idea what bad leaders or bad times are truly like. We don't know any history, either. Populist backlashes are nothing new. According to the historian Niall Ferguson, the five ingredients for a backlash are a rise in immigration, a rise in inequality, a perception of corruption at the top, a major financial crisis, and a demagogue to light the spark. The U.S. scores a Bingo. Populism, he points out, is usually part of a global phenomenon. Its targets are typically immigration, free trade and high finance. Populists are more interested in trade wars than shooting wars.

So Mr. Trump is nothing new in history. What's new is his unequalled power to shake the global order. But that order is already pretty shaky. The European Union is floundering. China, Russia, North Korea and Iran are all jockeying for power and position. We've had a pleasant break from history since 1945, or 1989 if you prefer, but now we're in for uncertain times again, no matter what.

At the risk of undermining the resistance, here are a few notes of cautious optimism. I do not believe that Mr. Trump's agenda is racist or sexist or that he hates Mexicans or even Muslims (peaceful ones, that is). Most of his closest advisers are reasonably sane. (In fact, I'd feel incredibly relieved if Jared and Ivanka ran the White House while he tweets away.) Many of his cabinet appointments are fine, and some are outstanding. Rex Tillerson, his secretary of state, has Vladimir Putin's number. He is tough and crafty. He makes John Kerry look like a eunuch.

I hate to say it, but if Mr. Trump can juice the economy and avoid a war, he could prove pretty popular. Meantime, the Democrats are all but dead. They have no comeback strategy and no younger generation of potential leaders. They're going to lose more Senate seats. At the state level, they have only 16 governors left.

Outrage isn't going to solve their problem. And it won't stop Mr. Trump. Sad! Maybe it's time to think long and hard about what will.

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