What Happened on Election Day ~ How the election and Donald Trump’s victory looks to Opinion writers ~ NYT

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It is an enormous and very rare privilege to have lived in the days of good government. Across nations and centuries, few people have ever done so. By a rare bit of luck, certain groups in a few corners of the globe tasted decades of this remarkable, anomalous blessing. They might even, foolishly (especially if they traveled little, seldom read history books or had a very high estimation of their own populations) have started to assume it was a natural or God-given norm.

Yet the default state of almost all nations is quite other; it is authoritarianism, bullying, demagoguery, corruption, monopoly, racial segregation and state-sponsored aggression and murder. We will not now, it seems, be living in dramatically unusual times; it was the years before that will be remembered as unusual: a daring bet against the facts of human nature. We aren’t sliding into a new age of darkness, we are reverting to a mean. Civilization was always, simply, an unlikely concept.

Those who are afraid are typically reassured by optimism: All will, eventually, be well, the kindly tell them. But we need stiffer and darker counsel. We should explore not what might ideally happen (which leaves us oscillating painfully between hope and despair), but what will happen if the worst comes to pass. We need to make ourselves entirely at home with catastrophe, looking it squarely in the eye — so as not to keep catching glimpses of it here and there, taking fright anew every time. We stand to see that whatever comes to pass will be survivable. A home could be built among the ruins. There might be some sort of life to be led, despite everything.

Nothing is ever properly unbearable, not least because we always retain access to the best escape route. The Stoic philosophers of Ancient Rome, those poor souls agitated beyond compare by the antics of their hysterical, thin-skinned murderous Emperors, were known to calm themselves down by holding up their veins to the light and calling out “Freedom!” — knowing it could, if it came to that, all be over in minutes.

We shouldn’t be surprised by our fellow citizens. That is what the human animal is really like: very sweet at points from close up, usually generous to small children and the elderly, hard-working, but highly prone to delusion, tribal, offended by strangers, disinclined to rational analysis and with a fondness for slaughter and reckless messianic plans. The elite are not “out of touch” because they forget what a gallon of milk costs, but because they forget how dark and broken human nature is.

There’s a natural longing to do something quickly and angrily. There’s an equal longing to give up and hide, the counsel of quietism. Neither feels right; neither endurance nor explosion. The only true avenue is to commit ourselves to years of careful, adroit plotting to bring about a renewal of that now ever more implausible dream: a land governed for a little while longer by a spirit, as fragile as crystal, of wisdom and love.

Alain de Botton is the author of the novel “The Course of Love.”

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