Let us pray that President Donald Trump fails. And that he fails spectacularly.
That may sound spiteful and ill-mannered: the final, grasping howl of the embittered and vanquished elite. Surely, common courtesy dictates that even Trump's critics should wish him well — if not for his benefit, then for the benefit of regular workaday Americans. Doesn't cheering his failure mean hoping for economic pain and international disorder? And if the U.S. stumbles, doesn't Canada slip also?
The answer to all of that is "yes." In typical times and under typical circumstances, we should cheer the incoming president, even if we oppose his or her policies. In 2001, for example, George W. Bush was greeted politely upon his swearing-in, despite lingering controversy over the election result.
Trump is a different beast altogether. Never before have we seen someone campaign like him, and we have no idea how he might govern. This is a man who stretches the truth or manufactures 96 per cent of what he says in public, spreading mistruths, exaggerations or outright lies. He can tolerate no criticism of any kind, adheres to no obvious standards of conduct and has outright rejected conventions of ethics and transparency. These are not modest failings. They are the cracking pistol warnings of a demagogue.
Responsibilities of office
Of course, we knew all this before. But what we've seen since Nov. 8 is even more alarming because it demonstrates that the new occupant of the White House is wholly unmoved by the responsibilities of office. In fact, he remains frequently hostile toward the anchoring institutions of American democracy.
When Trump attacks, in personal and visceral terms, the head of the CIA, he sends a signal to all in the new administration that he will accept no scrutiny of unapproved matters. When he threatens to blacklist media organizations deemed unsupportive, he tramples upon a vital instrument of public accountability. And when he waves off inquiry into his campaign's ties with Russia while signaling that he may soon drop sanctions, it provokes obvious questions of conflict. Questions that he clearly prefers remain unexplored.
.@CNN is in a total meltdown with their FAKE NEWS because their ratings are tanking since election and their credibility will soon be gone!— @realDonaldTrump
Some held out hope that President Trump would set a different tone than candidate Trump in his inauguration address. That illusion was quickly shattered with an astonishing, jingoistic screed that characterized today's America as a place of "carnage."
As for his agenda, why would Canadians want it to succeed? Immediately upon taking office he issued an "or else" notice about renegotiating NAFTA. Softwood lumber is set to soon reignite into an uncompromising dispute. Until notified otherwise, the permanent threat of an import tax now hangs over our economy's head.
Then there's the uncertainty concerning Trump's approach as commander-in-chief. His dismissing view of NATO raises chilling questions about collective security, the integrity of post-war Europe and the global balance of military power. His persistent glibness about the use of nuclear weapons is the kind of thing that's best to just not think about.
Tactics will spread
Even in the context of all this, there is a more basic reason to desire Trump's failure: evolution. The laws of political natural selection dictate that a successful Trump presidency will necessarily breed a long line of descendants. His success will guarantee that vulgarity, divisiveness and ritual fabrication become commonplace. Those in his own party will rush to emulate and imitate him. Those opposed will feel competitively pressured to adopt the same tactics. And the spread will spill over borders. What we see first in U.S. politics is imported to Canada and other Western democracies.
Already, Trump's political victory has spawned Canadian mimics. Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch borrows his nativism and catchphrases. Kevin O'Leary cribs his reality TV shtick. In America, voters will soon be subject to an endless flood of disciples in local, state and national races.
The harsh Darwinistic reality is this: if Trump's success transfers from politics to governing, his dark and guttural ways will become entrenched and ubiquitous. Because when standards fall, they rarely rise again – especially not when they are proven to work.
America — and Canada — will carry on just fine if Trump fails. We might not be able to say the same if he succeeds. So let's hope hard for Trump to be a disaster. Not out of pique. But out of pronounced self-interest and concern for the future.