What these modern-day Jacobins don’t realize, alas, is that destroying institutions is easier than building them. If their assault on our core political traditions and institutions is successful, the United States will at best end up weaker and poorer. At worst, it will cease to be a meaningful democracy. The fact that the generally conservative Economist Intelligence Unit recently downgraded America — that’s right, the “Land of the Free” — from a “full” to a “flawed” democracy tells you just how serious this problem is. Based on the early evidence, Trump and Bannon want to accelerate that trend.
Some of Trump’s supporters may have flocked to him because they were tired of the failed strategy of liberal hegemony and worried that Hillary Clinton and her team were going to repeat the same mistakes that Obama, Bush, or her husband made. If so, it’s increasingly clear they aren’t going to get the smart and more restrained approach to the world they were hoping for. By that standard, in short, Donald J. Trump is already a failure. Didn’t take him long. I would say it was “Sad!” but it’s not. It’s tragic.
I think if Walt has any classical definition in mind, then tragedy for him would be in this case on behalf not of Trump and the core Trumpists, who are more the villains in the play, but of foreign policy Realists and everyday Americans who’d staked any hope at all in the Trump disruption delivering a more Realist American strategy. Walt doesn’t say whether he ever held such hopes himself, but he does lay out the, from his or his school’s point of view, lost potential of the moment. So, if you believe there was such a potential, and if you believe failure to reach it is likely to equate with great waste in American blood and treasure, damage to the American interest, vast human suffering in war, and risks of global cataclysm, then the effect would probably satisfy two definitions of tragedy, and certainly the looser one – of a profoundly bad outcome.
Normally I let the casual use of “tragic” pass without comment. But here, and I suspect increasingly, what we mean by “tragic” when we say “tragic” matters.
Is it the Oedipal, earnest pursuit of doing the right thing only to have the disaster we sought to avoid be the result? Or is it an expression of the soteriological distaste of bad things happening to good people?
Walt guesses that that fellow has no endgame in mind, relying on esoteric plans that have no exoteric correlate. That fellow says he will save us all, we need only to believe.
If so it seems to not even have the good faith of hubris. If so it is not tragic, only mere dementia.