The gravity and legality of the two exercises in meddling differ, certainly. But they both operate to wound our faith in democratic legitimacy. It has gone this way before. It took several incidents, from Vietnam to Watergate to scattered episodes of civil unrest, to permanently damage American trust in government; but as distinct as each event was, they all fractured the same essential faith. We haven’t returned to consistent levels of pre-’70s levels of trust in 40 years, and I doubt this current civic unease will fade much sooner.
This particular horror — Trump and his failures, whatever ridiculous thing he has said or done today, whatever international incident he causes on Twitter tomorrow, however authentic the next panic is — will pass. What will last is the frank revelation of a point that, while ugly and dark, is at least true: You really don’t have the choices you ought to in American democracy, because of decisions made without your consent by people of wealth and power behind closed doors. It’s possible to continue to participate in a democracy after that. But not with a quiet mind.