I have heard many times that we must not wish for Trump to fail. America cannot afford a failed Presidency. So we must hope that Trump succeeds.
I understand the sentiment behind such claims. But the claims themselves are a muddle. A great deal hangs on distinguishing exactly what we want to see succeed and what we want to see fail. In times of normal politics, we are able to fairly easily elide the interests of the nation with the interests of the Presidential administration; to treat the President as a synecdoche for the populace. I disagreed with President Bush’s policy in Iraq, but that did not justify me hoping that the policy would fail. Because at the end of the day, President Bush and America shared a set of overarching goals. If Iraq had been democratized, it would have made the world and our nation safer. If I had disagreed with Obama’s plan for healthcare, that would not justify me hoping that it would fail. If we could establish a structure that would cover more people without raising costs, it would be for the benefit of the entire society. In normal cases, it makes sense to say, even if you disagree with the President, you should not wish for the President’s failure.
But we do not live in a normal political time any longer. We live in the age of Trump, a man who not only embraces controversial strategies to realize our national values, but threatens the shape of our national values themselves. Trump has already significantly lowered the state of our national dialogue. He has openly attacked our own intelligence agencies when they dare to challenge his view of the world. He used a stereotypical portrayal of mental retardation to mock a disabled reporter who dared to call him out for spreading false claims. He has used racial slurs an effort to undermine the judicial system where it threatened to hold him accountable. He has endorsed violence against his political opponents. He has explicitly and publicly supported American participation in war crimes: the use of torture and the direct targeting of non-combatants in the war on terror. He has publicly demeaned women and bragged about his ability to commit sexual assault.
In all of these areas Trump is not to be identified with America and America’s interests. He is to be rejected as un-American, un-Presidential, unprofessional, cruel, and at times inhumane.
So, should we wish for Trump to succeed? No. We should wish him to fail and fail spectacularly. We should wish for him to fail in transforming the nation in his own repugnant image. We should wish for the nation to reject him as the racist, sexist, xenophobic tyrant that he is. We should wish that he becomes a pariah such that the American people would never think of electing him or anyone like him again.
Success during this administration will be found in the extent to which America is able to resist and obstruct every move Trump makes. Success comes in remembering a politics not dominated by hatred and bullying so that we might return to it when Trump is banished from leadership. Success means America waking up to the reality of the viciousness and ignorance that led to Trump’s election.
I wish for America’s success during the Trump administration. But I refuse to confuse America’s success with the success of the Trump administration. In times of moral inversion, we must work against institutions that are usually authoritative in order to maintain a semblance of goodness. We do not live in normal times, and we must not forget that.