Donald Trump has found aa way to save the Democratic Party. He’s abandoned great patriotic themes that used to fire up the GOP and he’s allowed the Democrats to seize that ground. If you visited the two conventions this year, you would have come away thinking Democrats are the more patriotic of the two parties—and the more culturally conservative.
Trump has abandoned the Judeo-Christian aspirations that have always represented America’s highest moral ideals: toward love, charity, humility, goodness, faith, temperance and gentleness. He left the ground open for Joe Biden to remind us decent people don’t enjoy firing others.
Trump has abandoned the basic modesty code that has always ennobled the American middle class: Don’t brag; don’t let your life be defined by gilded luxuries.
He left the ground open for Barack Obama to remind us that our founders wanted active, engaged citizens—not a government run by a solipsistic and self-appointed savior who wants everything his way.
Trump has abandoned the deep and pervasive optimism that has always energized the American nation.
For decades, the Republican Party has embraced America’s open, future-oriented nationalism. But when you nominate a Silvio Berlusconi, you give up a piece of that. When you nominate a blood-and-soil nationalist, you’re no longer speaking in the voice of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and every GOP nominee from Reagan to McCain to Romney.
Democrats have often been ambivalent about that ardent nationalistic voice, but they were happy to accept Trump’s unintentional gift.
There were an unusually high number of great speeches at the Democratic convention this year. These speakers found their eloquence in staving off this demagogue. They effectively separated Trump from America. They separated him from conservatism. They made full use of the deep nationalist chords that touch American hearts.
Trump has allowed the Democrats to mask their deep problems. A Democratic administration has presided over a time of growing world chaos, growing violence and growing anger. But the Democrats seem positively organized and orderly compared to Candidate Chaos.
The Sanders people have 90 percent of the Democratic Party’s passion and 95 percent of the ideas. Most Sanders people are kind- and open-hearted, but there is a core that is corrupted by moral preening, an uncompromising absolutism and a paranoid unwillingness to play by the rules of civic life.
But the extremist fringe that threatens to take over the Democratic Party seems less menacing than the lunatic fringe that has already taken over the Republican one.
I left the Democratic convention each night burning with indignation at Mike Pence. I almost don’t blame Trump. He is a morally untethered, spiritually vacuous man who appears haunted by multiple personality disorders. It is the “sane” and “reasonable” Republicans who deserve the shame—the ones who stood silently.
The Democrats had by far the better of the conventions. But the final and shocking possibility is this: In immediate political terms, it might not make a difference.
Both conventions featured one grieving parent after another. The fear of violent death is on everybody’s mind. The essential contract of society—that if you behave responsibly, things will work out—has been severed.
It could be that—in this moment of fear, cynicism, anxiety and extreme pessimism—many voters may have decided civility is a surrender to a rigged system, that optimism is the opiate of idiots, and that humility and gentleness are surrendering to the butchers of ISIS. If that’s the case, then the throes of a completely new birth are upon us and Trump is a man from the future. If that’s true, it’s not just politics that has changed, but the country.•
Brooks is a New York Times columnist. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.