One year ago tomorrow, Americans were flocking to the polls. The entire media establishment was gearing up to declare a Hillary victory. I had dutifully written my column in advance.
Late in the afternoon on election day, my editor called. "What if she doesn't win?" she asked. I laughed merrily. "Impossible!" I said. She agreed. But she told me to prepare for Plan B, just in case.
Some time after 9 p.m., Hillary lost Ohio. The election party I was at had fallen grimly silent. I beat a hasty retreat to my computer and bashed out Plan B. I hazily recall that it predicted the end of democracy as we knew it.
That was not completely off the mark. Since then, like a berserk bull elephant, Donald Trump has been smashing the democratic norms we took for granted. He has flouted every rule of civilized decorum. His tweets have kept his worldwide audience outraged, amused, and mesmerized. The Donald Trump Show is the greatest reality show of all time, and we – to our discredit – are hopelessly addicted. By obsessing over him full-time, we give him exactly what he wants.
Much of the media commentary on Mr. Trump has achieved a sort of numbing repetition. He's awful! He's even more awful than you thought! We caught him in his 137th lie! Pundits write these things as if they were a revelation. Every few days they write that Mr. Trump has finally gone too far this time. He went too far with the Muslim travel ban. He went too far when he fired James Comey. This time he's in real trouble!
But he never is. That's why you should take the latest Russia revelations with a shovel full of salt. So far, there is no sign that Mr. Trump can or will be legitimately removed from office, even though he will surely cross a line next week too.
Many people predicted that Mr. Trump would become more presidential once he took the oath of office. These people were deluded. Others warned that he'd be the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. They too were foolish. Mr. Trump is simply a garden-variety populist who wants to use his office to enrich his family fortunes. The main surprise of his first year is that the world has more or less survived him. His authoritarian impulses have been checked by his short attention span and impressive incompetence, as well as by the tendency of courts and government officials to obey the rule of law and ignore instructions they don't like.
That's the heartening part. The disheartening part is the utter disarray of both Republicans and Democrats, who seem equally unable to find a way forward. The few Republicans of principle have fled the party (except for John McCain, whose days are numbered), and the others are terrified of alienating the base. The Democrats are busy tearing themselves to shreds. They don't grasp that identity politics has been the ruin of them. Last week, someone at the Democratic National Committee sent out a memo to recruit new tech talent, requesting that the memo not be shared with "cisgender straight white males, since they're already in the majority." Which pretty much tells you why the party is in so much trouble.
Who knows what will rise from the ashes of the old-line parties? Right now they both deserve Americans' contempt. And despite Mr. Trump's plunging popularity, his platform is still a winner: Stay away from stupid foreign wars, get a grip on immigration, pursue nationalist economic policies, and show a middle finger to the elites. You might not like it. But show me someone with a better one.
That first plank is why I'm not losing so much sleep over North Korea. So long as the deranged dotard and the little rocket man stick to silly name-calling, nuclear war does not seem like that great a threat. The real threat is the void in the international order where American power used to be. Nobody takes the U.S. seriously any more. There is only one great power in the world right now – only one country with visionary leadership, a long-term strategy to build global alliances and influence, a thriving economy, sophisticated military technologies, and a confident, optimistic populace who believe their country's destiny is to take its place at the centre of the world stage. This country is, of course, China.
China's leader, Xi Jinping believes that the United States has lost its leadership, its moral authority and its mind. He's right. All he needs to do is stand by and watch as the greatest country in the world devours and tweets itself to death.
As for those of us stuck in Trumplandia and its hinterland, there's only one thing we can do to protect our brains from further rot. Lock the door, draw the curtains, and pull the plug. Do not watch or read the news. Treat ourselves to a nice, long break from the Trump reality show. We probably won't miss a thing. The show will still be on when we get back.