America’s apocalyptic nightmare may be over, at least for now. Exhibit 1 is Donald Trump, who was not generally perceived as the winner of his second debate with Hillary Clinton.
His performance was classic Trump, full of dark visions of illegal aliens streaming across the border, terrorists embedded with Syrian refugees, lawless inner cities, ISIS, Russia, Iran and China looming, while America had become weak, its nukes tired and exhausted. Yet this time he didn’t get the same frenzied response. The reason may be a change in the national mood, and ironically, we may have Donald Trump to thank.
When Trump descended from an escalator in his namesake tower in June 2015 to announce he was going to make America great again by building a wall to keep out murderers and rapists sent from Mexico, he was speaking to a receptive audience. Nearly 70 percent of Americans were telling pollsters they thought the country was headed in the wrong direction. People were frustrated with their jobs and insurance premiums. Cops were killing unarmed blacks, who were rioting in the streets. ISIS-inspired lone wolves seemed to be everywhere. The Middle East was screwed, Congress was gridlocked and the president was a feckless, Islamic Kenyan.
Trump did not create those feelings of fear, anger, hate, sexism, racism, xenophobia and scapegoating. They are always simmering below the surface. But he did bring them to a boil, as many a demagogue has done from time immemorial. His acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention was perhaps the apogee of his dystopian imaginings, which were also a large part of his stump speech — a constant drumbeat of death and destruction, weakness, bad deals and bad judgements. He also kept the sap rising by flouting political correctness and feuding with characters great and small, from Sen. John McCain to Miss Universe, Mexicans, Muslims and his own party. Not to mention crooked, lying Hillary.
Then something happened. The turning point may have been the notorious pussy tape a couple days before the second debate, which sparked one last orgasm of outrage, except this time the anger was coming from across the political spectrum. During the subsequent town hall, Trump pivoted from whatever question he was asked to repeat chunks of his bloodcurdling stump speech, a strategy that was simple and elegant and required zero prep. Yet as much as the prophet of doom huffed and puffed, sniffed and sniped, shamed and stalked — he even raised the specter of illicit sex — nothing seemed to work.
Why? Trump hadn’t changed, but maybe many of us had. He was like a violent video game that America had been playing for so long that we became desensitized to his end-of-days shtick. There’s only so many times he could cry wolf and people would believe him, and only so long that Americans could remain furious before the fever broke and sanity returned. Things aren’t perfect, but they’re not THAT bad, and believe it or not, neither is Hillary Clinton.
Of course, the calming of America does not extend to bigots, xenophobes and other irredeemable deplorables who were outraged long before Trump came along, and always will be. And it would take just one terrorist attack or October surprise to shock the rest of us back into a state of national hysteria. But if we can maintain our composure for just a few more weeks, we may not just defeat but repudiate the false messiah that is, or was, Donald Trump. So thank you Mr. Trump for scaring the bejesus out of us, and giving us a chance at redemption.