Sometimes progress doesn't look like progress at the time. Getting fit is an ugly business that involves panting and profuse sweating. Throughout the course of human history, disruptive events as cataclysmic as rising sea levels and barbarian raids have actually prompted changes that - over the long run - made life better, forcing as they did innovations as varied as irrigation and compassionate religions.
In various cultures, they have gods of mischief who disrupt the status quo. Thanks to Marvel comics, the Scandinavian god Loki is the most popular of these. The gods of mischief show a lack of respect for the existing order and disrupt it in ways that can either leave in its wake destruction (like a tornado going through a neighborhood) or creation (like snow melting into streams and rivers, feeding plants and animals downstream). Loki sweeps the table clean and lets you rebuild without undue concern for what was before. He's the graffiti artist who gives you reason for a fresh coat of paint, perhaps even a new design.
Donald Trump might just be the GOP Loki, purging the GOP of some really dangerous ideas.
For instance, he's the first mainstream candidate to point out that the Bush / Cheney notion of building a democracy in Iraq was a bad idea. After Donald, it's hard to imagine that any GOP candidate will be as able to blithely dismiss criticism of this policy. That will make the GOP better.
Donald's New York sensibility that so alarms Ted Cruz, Donald's loose hold on social norms that are waning even in the Bible belt, is something that also offers hope for the relevance of the GOP. Legalizing same-sex marriage, for instance, is a form of religious freedom in that it allows that people might engage in practices that you disapprove of. Donald realizes that he has to win over evangelicals but when he tries, the effect is comical. (My favorite so far came when he addressed the students at Liberty, where evangelicals send their young adults. He read one verse and managed to reveal his ignorance of Biblical norms by referring to Second Corinthians (II Corinthians) as "Two Corinthians." That distinction only seems subtle to people who don't read the Bible. If you hear someone say "Second Corinthians" you expect to hear a verse. When you hear "Two Corinthians" you expect to hear a joke. "Two Corinthians walk into a bar ..." Religion is a beautiful thing ... as long as it isn't something imposed on others. And the segment of the GOP that continues to confuse what they believe with what everyone else should do need to be marginalized in order for the GOP to remain relevant. Donald offers a route towards that.
Donald's foreign and domestic policy is at turns vague and incoherent. He's racist and feeds the fears of GOP voters. But for all that, he is disrupting the GOP right now. He's playing the role of Loki and whether he leaves in his wake a GOP that never again has a chance at the White House or a GOP that is forced to remake itself into something better and more modern - like a town rebuilding from an earthquake - is uncertain. What is certain is that the GOP will be very different in the post-Trump era. And given its direction over the last couple of decades, it needs that.
This country needs a clear choice each election: do we rely more on markets and less on regulations or more on social safety nets and government programs? There are ideologues who believe there is always just one answer to that question but in fact history rewards the communities able to alternate between those two broad directions. A healthy country needs parties on the left and right who are reasonable and safe choices in spite of ideological differences. The GOP of Bush and Cheney was not and in order to get better, it had to be disrupted and re-made. Trump might just be the catalyst for that change.