Beware the Black Swan

Consider this year’s election as a black swan event: an incredibly rare occurrence that has an outsized, usually unpleasant effect on history.

Last week we saw Republican bigwigs coming to terms with the idea that Donald J. Trump may win the party’s nomination on the first ballot. We also saw Serious Wise Men discover a recognizable foreign policy in Trump’s teleprompter speech, despite its being filled with mutually inconsistent positions unconnected to the real world.

Sure, some observers harshly criticized the speech. They were mostly experts in foreign policy, aware of relevant facts, but who cares about that? The Republican Party left facts behind at least by the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, completing a process many years in the making.

Trump is unbound by facts. He appeals to the authoritarian mob just as Nixon did. But Trump is more dangerous than Nixon, who was willing to undermine an election and obstruct justice. Say what you will about Nixon, but he wasn’t an authoritarian megalomaniac, the center of his own universe. Trump thinks he need only consult with himself about foreign policy because he has “a very good brain.” He also expects the world to follow his orders because, in his coddled environment, everyone always has.

That is why Trump never changes, not even in response to coaching from a high-priced campaign manager. If Trump doesn’t alter his behavior for longer than a day, even to appear to be “presidential,” what will restrain him if he becomes President?

The answer is, nothing. Trump has been unrestrained on the campaign trail because he is incapable of restraint. The danger he presents is not that he will lose to Hillary Clinton and take the GOP down with him, as some Republicans fear. The danger is that he might win.

It is a cheap shot to compare Trump’s rise with Hitler’s. Trump is not Hitler, who was quite open about his anti-democratic intentions. But neither is Trump Nixon or Bush, both of whom changed the country’s course but did not destroy its democratic foundation. Trump is a spoiled child like the “affluenza” teen who never learned to respect others. Trump does not know what presidential candidates needs to know, he doesn’t know that he does not know, and he doesn’t care. He wants what he wants and he thinks it should be given to him. In foreign policy, that’s dangerous. What’s frightening is that the press and the Republican Party lack the ability to even recognize the danger.

This election may be a black swan event. When Trump is nominated and the GOP falls in line, when the press does its he said/she said reporting as though the candidates are equivalent, and when voters, having been taught to distrust Clinton, respond to Trump, let us hope that there is no October surprise, no terrorist attack that jolts voters into electing Trump and turning this election into that rare, unexpected, and improbable event that may be the ruin of our democracy.

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