"Trump will be our Bonaparte, the monster who continues to terrify us in exile."
Thomas Paine, Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, Saint Augustine, and Thomas Hobbes all agreed: A house divided against itself cannot stand. In this election season, the massive fault lines of gender, race, and class—snaking deep underneath the foundation of American democracy—have been revealed for all to see.
In many ways, Campaign 2016 has been one long series of seismic quakes, laying wreckage to any semblance of a shared national identity. And the Big One, Trump has teased/threatened, is possibly still to come — a contested election that spills out into the streets.
Gordon Matta Clark, Splitting (1974)
We’re joined by journalists Sarah Smarsh and Matt Taibbi. Smarsh’s recent article in the Guardian takes the media to task for their monolithic presentation of the white working-class, particularly in her own state of Kansas. Taibbi, Rolling Stone contributor and fierce Wall Street critic, envisions for us a scenario in which the specter of Trump continues to exert enormous influence long into foreseeable future of U.S. politics. He takes the long view ahead: how Trump might end up being the best thing to happen to Clinton (and her friends in finance and the pentagon) — acting as an instrument to suppress dissenting voices of any stripe. As Taibbi writes:
Trump ran as an outsider antidote to a corrupt two-party system, and instead will leave that system more entrenched than ever. If he goes on to lose, he will be our Bonaparte, the monster who will continue to terrify us even in exile, reinforcing the authority of kings. If you thought lesser-evilism was bad before, wait until the answer to every question you might have about your political leaders becomes, “Would you rather have Trump in office?”
More than Hitler or Mussolini, Bonaparte may be the most apt comparison for Trump. Even if he loses, he will continue to be an imminent danger (conveniently, for some in the Establishment) to democracy.
Illustration by Susan Coyne. Main photo by Julie Dermansky/The Atlantic.
author of The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap and Rolling Stone Magazine journalist
director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School
journalist and author of the forthcoming In the Red
senior editor at The Nation
fellow in Governance Studies at Brookings Institute