Future Historian’s Take on the Trump Era
October 19, 2020
Posted in Meta
Trump may still win the election. After all tens of millions still support him. Why? It seems to me that it is a cult. People support him because they see him as a beacon of light that will protect them against the impinging forces of darkness that threaten them. For the true believer facts, logical arguments, and pointing out his contradictions do nothing. Many cannot even explain them away or even need to. Their faith in him is blind. He is against the same things they are against and that is enough. Future historians will have much to say about this era and I doubt all of it will be kind. I’d like to get ahead of the game and offer my historical post mortem of this era now rather than later. What happened was this…
- Many Americans were fed up with a political system that failed to meet their needs. Trump appeared as an outsider who would upset the applecart of those smug Washington politicians. He had a persona created by and for reality television as a successful businessman who would make the tough and decisive choices to avoid the bullshit and move us forward. It turns out that the “reality” was that he is a failed businessman, narcissistic, lacking empathy, who had little understanding of the law, the U.S. political system, its history, and the Constitution. Rather than “draining the swamp” as he had promised in his election campaign, he hired cronies and sycophants who proceeded to undo their government departments and loot them for personal enrichment. People were hired and fired for their loyalty not their ability. Trump enriched himself and his class at the expense of the rest of the country. A pandemic swept down on the country and his incompetence was exposed. His concern was not to save lives but to minimize the effect of Covid 19 to avoid panicking the stock market. Most of these people came to regret the choice they had made and voted against him as soon as they could.
- Many people dissatisfied with the choice of candidates they were given simply did not vote. Over 90 million eligible voters did not vote in the 2016 election. That’s over 40% of the electorate. In the electoral college system in key states that was enough to swing the election Trump’s way even if he did not win the most voters. For people dissatisfied with Trump this brought about a surge of voting in the 2020 and a questioning of the electoral college system.
- For those believing in the authoritarian strain in government described by political scientists Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weller (among others) Trump was the ideal candidate. His strongman persona resonated with an American brand of authoritarianism which held that the president should not be hindered by things like the Congress, the court system, and a free press. All of these should be tailored to support him. Trump’s idea of a leader was the same: strong willed, free to enact his beliefs, and resenting those who hindered him. Trump did not understand the difference between being president and being a CEO. Neither Trump nor his authoritarian supporters understood that the American system was created in reaction to such a leader and that Congress, that court system and that free press were designed precisely as limits on the president’s powers. The Republicans in the Congress allowed and enabled him to undo the checks that the framers of the Constitution had intended. Seeing his popularity they became convinced that the only way to stay in power was to support him by protecting him from impeachment, loading the courts with sympathetic judges, and voting down policies rather than reaching compromises. They were Trump’s enablers.
- Racists, white supremacists, and domestic terrorists listened with glee to Trump’s dog whistles supporting their causes. His refusals to condemn them emboldened them to publicly proclaim their beliefs and take measures to enact them. Racist acts and domestic terrorist plots sky rocketed during his regime. One plot uncovered by the FBI planned to abduct the governor of Michigan and start a civil war. Anti racism groups like Black Lives Matter and anti-fascism groups demonstrated in the streets against the rise of police brutality or misconduct, racism and fascism.
All of this happened and is not some dystopian dream or fiction. I am optimistic that his reign will end in 2020, but regardless of whether it does, its effects will go on for years unless the next regime works to curtail them. The last four years should be a warning to always maintain vigilance lest the dark side of Americanism slips its bonds. It is always there.