Despite the “never, ever, ever give up” language in Donald Trump’s recent disaster of a commencement speech at the Coast Guard Academy it takes little imagination to picture him suddenly resigning from office. Although a majority of Americans would like to see him depart for his golf courses permanently as quickly as possible, an excruciating slow motion departure from office would be more beneficial.
Beyond the raw entertainment value of watching a ridiculous narcissist get his comeuppance, there are three good reasons to hope that the current occupant of the White House is dragged out kicking and screaming after a protracted legal struggle rather than make a dignified exit.
The first reason is that it will show that the United States of America remains, in John Adams’s immortal characterization, “a nation of laws and not men.” Watching this presidency abrade against the constitution until friction stops it entirely will be a powerful lesson in the power of our venerable liberal democratic institutions to resist abuses of power. If we are lucky, every American will see the rule of law triumph over crass wealth and extreme partisanship.
The second reason to prefer a painful excision is that it will help to educate Americans about contemporary international affairs. Much of the commentary and public reaction to Russiagate has revealed how little many know about contemporary world politics, and especially about the threat posed by the kleptocractic dictatorships ruling most of the post-Soviet successor states. Americans have a lot to learn about the world as it actually is and that will require acceptance of unhappy truths, such as the following: The Middle East cannot be policed by the United States acting unilaterally, and perhaps not even multilaterally. Strategic patience remains the best of the poor choices in dealing with North Korea. Faux scientific denial is a dilatory tactic that makes responding to climate change much more expensive in the long term. Closing borders to trade and migration in response to the problems of economic and social globalization is counterproductive. Most important is the unhappy truth that there are no simple solutions to the complex problems of global governance.
The third reason to hope that the unfolding drama of Russiagate is time-consuming and emotionally draining is that it will force responsible leaders in the two major parties to confront the irrational elements that have emerged on their ideological extremes. After decades of playing to some of the worst impulses of the electorate, including religious extremism, racism, and anti-government paranoia, Republican elites lost control of their party to an authoritarian movement led by Donald Trump. Republican elites will need to learn how to talk sense to voters rather than appeal to fear and selfishness if they are going to redeem the party of Lincoln. Democratic elites haven’t lost control of their party and confront a more fragmented collection of irrational currents: bitter ‘never Hillary’ former supporters of Bernie Sanders who now make common cause with the fringiest of Green Party activists and the ‘America is always in the wrong’ followers of Glenn Greenwald and Noam Chomsky. Where the ideological extremes meet is in denying that the Kremlin successfully interfered in the 2016 general election. To believe otherwise would require recognizing foreign rather than domestic political enemies.
What we may learn over the course of a lengthy Russiagate scandal drama – the betrayal of national security to the Kremlin and business dealings with post-Soviet oligarchs – will be an eye-opener for many Americans. The inevitable temptation to turn away from the ugliness and find some quick resolution should be resisted because the opportunity to learn from a mistake as enormous as the presidency of Donald Trump may not come along again in the life of this republic.
My favorite aphorism of Benjamin Franklin is this: “Experience keeps a dear school, but some will learn in no other.” Since we have already paid the tuition for this educational experience, we should derive the maximum benefit. Here’s hoping Donald Trump refuses a dignified exit.