"Everyone says we have no chance against Houston. They're probably right. But I know one thing: We have a better chance to beat Houston than anyone else, because we're playing them."
It was 33 years ago and Jim Valvano's North Carolina State Wolfpack were on the eve of pulling off the biggest upset in NCAA basketball history by defeating the Houston Cougars for the title. I think of that quote more and more as I listen to the naysayers say nay about Donald Trump. Admittedly, there are fewer and fewer by the day. What once seemed impossible now seems possible, if not yet probable. For the first time in our nation's history, a major political party will nominate a candidate who is neither a politician nor a military officer. Donald Trump has a better chance of defeating the Democratic candidate for the presidency because, 3rd party speculation notwithstanding, he's the only one playing.
I've decided to stop worrying about Trump as a potential president. Sure, he's a thin-skinned egotist with the impulse control of a hungry ferret. But apparently a lot of Americans are into that. Which is why the thing that really worries me about a potential Trump presidency is the nature of those Americans.
I have a good friend who has been asking me for the past four months, "What happens when Trump gets elected and then doesn't build his wall?" Or what if it isn't big enough? Or if Mexico doesn't actually pay for it? This seems an ever more appropriate question as the presumptive nominee begins walking back positions on taxes and the Muslim ban. (I'm sorry but the memo says you have to use the phrase "presumptive nominee" at least once when writing about Mr. Trump.) It seems that the Trump campaign is beginning to consider the fact that a president cannot necessarily do whatever he wants.
Or can he?
We can expect that if he is unable to keep any of his campaign promises, Trump will blame Congress. Democrats first. Republicans if necessary. The man is allergic to accepting responsibility for failure or to apologizing. That's fine. It does not behoove anyone seeking the Oval Office to back down.
Regardless of where the blame ends up falling, how do you think his most passionate supporters will react? The ones who raised their right hands and pledged loyalty. The ones who beat up protesters with their hero's full support. The ones who have said - still the most chilling quote I have heard this election cycle - that Trump can do whatever he wants because he's the leader.
When that wall fails to live up to its promises, there are going to be a lot of very angry people.
Now I have met Trump supporters, but so far, no one I consider a friend has told me he supports the man. That's understandable. I have spoken in unflattering terms and they probably didn't want to fight over it. At least not yet - not when their man is winning. So in case any of my friends are reading this and are feeling offended, let me say plainly: when Donald Trump sends his supporters to the polls, he is certainly sending racists and bigots and homophobes. But he is also sending, I assume, some good people. So feel free to put yourself in that "good people" category. I assure you your Mexican friends are doing the same.
But the questions persists. What will you do when that wall doesn't magically appear to solve your problems?
Should Trump win in November, I assume a number of very smart people will have already completed all but the final chapter of their books about the 2016 election. If anyone needs it, here's a potential first paragraph for your book.
"The shock waves that greeted the election of President Trump put on full display the level of political myopia that had infected political discourse throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The fascistic trend toward a personality-in-chief had been gathering momentum since the Great Depression. From FDR to LBJ to Teflon Ron to Slick Willie, the balance of power continued to tilt in the direction of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue until, finally, with the election of Trump, America got its first genuine "strong man" president."
This is why Paul Ryan and other Republicans can't sleep at night. Forget the policy debates. There may be honest concerns about where Trump stands on a variety of issues. He changes his rhetoric so often that no one should have any confidence about what he will try to do. But Ryan knows that Congress can intervene if things seem to be heading in a direction they don't like. Unless...
Donald Trump claims to respect the Constitution. Big deal. They all claim that. However, when he says that Ryan and the Congress will have to bend to his will, or when he says that he is his own closest advisor, or when he tells everyone to trust him with his trademark "believe me," he is doing exactly what conservatives claim to fear the most. He is amassing more and more power in the White House.
This too is understandable and even acceptable. Presidents, by nature, are power-hungry. But they cannot do whatever they want without the consent of the governed. So when Trump fails to build his wall and blames it on Congress, the question of what will you do becomes crucial. Who will get the vitriol? The President or the Congress? An embattled President Obama still has a positive approval rating, while congressional approval ratings are at historic lows. Americans despise the congressional branch. Will Trump devotees storm the Capitol?
It's somehow poetic to imagine that the patron saint of conservative Republicans, Ronald Reagan, built his reputation on tearing down the Berlin Wall. And now, the presumptive Republican nominee, might be in the process of engineering a shift from democracy to oligarchy and beyond, because he wants to build a new wall.