At this point, news of another corruption scandal within the Trump administration is not surprising. These stories have become disturbingly routine over the past year, as have the shrugs from the vast majority of Trump supporters in reaction to such news. Trump’s election has opened my eyes to the fact that many Americans are basically cool with a corrupt form of petty authoritarianism as long as they feel that their tribe is part of the “in” group that will benefit from said authoritarianism. Human history certainly provides plenty of examples of our willingness to get behind a strongman who promises to protect us from those people, but it’s depressing to watch these tendencies play out in real time.
During the Cold War, we framed human conflict as a struggle between competing political ideologies. It seems more accurate to frame conflict as a struggle between our most basic and twin natures: the desire to surround ourselves with people who are just like us in a society shaped by a powerful few and the desire to find a way to live alongside those who are different from us in a society shaped by democratic norms. Our darker instincts seem to have the upper hand at the moment, both in America and around the world. Perhaps all of our history will be a pendulum swinging between the impulses writ large of our better angels and our inner demons. I want to believe that the pendulum will begin to move in the other direction soon, even as the daily news tests my optimism.