The Sunday Magazine

The coming epic battle between the Trumpians and the Gumpians - Michael's essay

The next four years will pit glass-half-full people against glass-half-empty people.
Justin Trudeau's "sunny ways" and Donald Trump's "American carnage" (CP images)

The major battle of the next four years will not be a soul-destroying Armageddon conflict of Good Versus Evil.

It will be the Gumpians versus the Trumpians. It will be between those who see optimism as a political act, a strategy that can and has sparked revolutionary change, and those who look around and see only despairing ruin.

In the United States, it is those who believe in Ronald Reagan's Morning in America and those who cling to Donald Trump's Carnage in America. 

The natural optimists, the heirs to Forrest Gump, will see opportunity and the universal possibility of change. The followers of Donald Trump will focus on failure, despair, inevitable decline, those who insistently moan, "We're all doomed." (Something, by the way, I say to myself every time I get on an airplane.)

Signs of the optimism revolution are beginning to appear in North America and in Europe.

In Canada of course, we have everybody's poster boy idea of optimism in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Unlike his late father, Mr. Trudeau rarely lets a dark image or malign idea cloud his sunny countenance.

The result of his muscular optimism: popularity approvals any politician would kill for.

In France, the right wing temptress Marine LePen has been exploiting the politics of fear for decades. Along comes a young man named Emmanuel Macron, a boyishly optimistic independent who just might become the country's next president.
France's Front National Leader Marine Le Pen (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)
Independent centrist presidential candidate for the presidential election Emmanuel Macron smiles prior to a television debate. (Patrick Kovarik/Pool Photo via AP)

The French love the guy. While publicly they adopt a Sartrean vision of bleakness, 80 per cent of them say they are content about the course of their personal future.

It won't be an easily won fight. At the moment, the Trumpians seem to be in the ascendant.

The president of the United States has surrounded himself with masters and mistresses of darkness, people like Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway.

True, they have trouble keeping track of their warships, but the Trumpians strongly support whatever actions their leader might take to further whatever idea he may have on any given day.

The academy and the elitist of the elite have jumped into the debate.

In February, American Enterprise Institute economist and scholar Nicholas Eberstadt published an essay entitled Our Miserable 21st Century.

Progressives countered with a new book called The Optimistic Leftist: Why the 21st Century Will Be Better Than You Think. In it, the author Ruy Teixeira makes the case that optimism is a valuable strategy for those on the left of the spectrum.

"An optimistic outlook will help liberals enact their political agenda and win elections.. pessimism does not motivate the typical person, while optimism mobilizes people."

History is on the side of the glass-is-half-full cadre.

Look at Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the most successful political figure of the 20th century. He was the embodiment of optimism — in the darkest days of the Depression his campaign song was Happy Days Are Here Again.

When President Jimmy Carter spoke to the nation, his listeners came away feeling depressed.

When Reagan talked, audiences rose as one and voted him into office. Conservatives and rabid right-wingers tend to be ur-pessimists, the gloomiest of Guses. Reagan smashed that image.

The coming fight will not be pretty. The Trumpians are well-organized, well-financed and well-focussed.

The worst thing progressives could do now is to retreat into a warming cocoon of self-pity and despair.   

As I've said, the battle will be epic.

My money's on the Gumpians.
Tom Hanks as the character Forrest Gump in the film of the same name. (Reuters)