America and the Challenge of Post-Trump ‘Trumpism’
America and the Challenge of Post-Trump ‘Trumpism’
In the last couple of days, the concept of ‘state institutions’ won a major battle against demagoguery and mob mentality; but it is far too early to talk about ‘winning the war’.
This battle was won - and had to be - because the alternative would have been frightening. This, of course, was far from the thinking of the tens of thousands who marched on Washington under naïve and extremist populist slogans. These slogans have nothing to do with the notions of responsible freedom, institutional democracy, and the acceptance of diversity in a society of immigrants that was initially built on diversity.
Perhaps, the best example is the short dialogue between TV reporter Hunter Walker and a woman from Knoxville, Tennessee, sobbing in front of the camera. The dialogue went like this:
* Ma’am, what happened to you?
- I got maced.
* And what happened, you were trying to go inside the Capitol?
- Yeah, I made it like a foot inside, and they pushed me out. And they maced me.
* What's your name, where are you from?
- My name is Elizabeth, I'm from Knoxville, Tennessee.
* And why did you want to go in?
- We're storming the Capitol, it's a revolution.
The woman’s bizarre ‘logic’ is shared by the tens of thousands of those incited by populist conservative groups, the agitating words of President Donald Trump, and ‘conspiracy theories’ long fabricated by racist white supremacists as well as ultra-extremist evangelicals against the state, its institutions, and its devolution of power mechanism.
The poor woman seems to be honestly convinced that America was corrupt and threatened by foreign invasion. She also believes that the country’s social fabric – originally based on immigration – was threatened by ‘intruding’ immigrants who do not deserve to be Americans. Furthermore, there is the conviction of the need to ‘Make America Great Again' (MAGA), although up till now it remains the world’s richest and most powerful country.
This is why I believe that what ended on January 6th was just a battle; as it is too soon to talk of winning the war. It is true that Donald Trump and his old backers have lost; but, these backers are still there, active, well-financed, and ready to gamble on him or anyone who inherits the leadership of his current.
Yes, Trump lost the 2020 elections, but the ‘Trumpist phenomenon’ is alive and well. It will continue to be an influential, irritating, and threatening voice that would affect America’s ability to go forward challenging a world in which facts and beliefs are ever-changing.
Despite the hope that the handover would take place smoothly on January 20th, there is the uneasy feeling that the next days and weeks may carry unforeseen developments in more than one area, such as:
- How to deal with President Trump in the light of his direct incitement behind storming the Capitol. The options are calls for his resignation, moves to impeach him, and attempts by some to have him fired. Each of these options has its political costs and repercussions, let alone legal complexities.
- How the leaders of the Republican Party handle the ‘Trumpist phenomenon’ after its first-round defeat. Will this defeat be a blessing in disguise to the Republican traditional leadership, which could feel temporarily ‘liberated’ from the stranglehold of the militant mob; and thus able to rebuild and rehabilitate party? Or are we going to see the moderates and traditionalist Republicans lose heart again, and run away from confronting that mob?
- How far can president-elect Joe Biden maintain the unity of the Democrats, and empower their rationalists? My guess is that the latter realize that their November presidential victory and regaining the Senate - after their double victory in Georgia - may be impressive, but are by no means overwhelming. Therefore, they do not enjoy Trump’s ability to crush and marginalize within the Republican Party. This means that Biden, and VP Kamala Harris, whose influence has now been enhanced by having the casting vote in the Senate, are now in a good position to keep the radical ‘Progressives’ under control.
- How to heal the nation, after four years of deep racial divisions, increased radicalism and polarisation, distrust of the state and government, doubt in the media, and ignoring the independence of the judiciary. All these, along with Covid-19 and its repercussions, America’s shaken global prestige, and credibility … prior to and after that painful day in the Capitol.
Regarding Trump, and how Republican leaders would deal with him, there are many rational explanations to all options. One must not underestimate the danger of pushing hard against Trump during these tense times, when emotions are still inflamed. Punishing and demeaning Trump can prove counter-productive to all; including the chances of moderate Republicans reclaiming their party. On the other hand, some – including Republicans may feel that the extremists could misconstrue moderation, and regard it as appeasement and weakness; so becoming more extreme and belligerent, and the chance for change could disappear.
For the Democrats, the job at hand looks easier, but not that much. To begin with, Biden’s personality seems temporarily ‘unifying’ all wings of the Party, but he must lead a quick change within two years before the next mid-term elections. This landmark may be decisive, given the slim Democratic majority in the current Congress, and the continuing effects of Covid-19, including public unrest, unless extreme political polarisation is contained.
Given the above, it is the two major parties’ duty to contain the dangerous drift away from ‘institutional government’ to settling differences through mobs in the streets. It is also their duty to take note that the abyss the country came close to is still there, and wise leadership is needed to stay away from it.
The wise have succeeded, this time around, in defeating the Congress’ opportunists and adventurers, who overlooked the fact that doubting the fairness of the elections meant doubting the legitimacy of their own presence in Congress. However, those remain there awaiting the people’s verdict.
America has never been in need of a mainstream conservative party than it does now.
It badly needs such a party that believes in America and its institutions, and presents a healthy alternative to a liberal party, within a civilized diverse society.
Democracy can never survive without those who believe in it.