Trump, Trumpism and can another Trump rise again?
Vidya S Sharma*, M.B.A., Ph.D. writes: After the 6 January 2021 riots/insurrection/failed coup attempt that led to the storming of the Capitol in Washington, this is what I wrote to some of my friends and clients: “What happened on January 6, 2021, on the Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, was only 4 years too late. The groundwork for this event was laid by Trump in 2016 when he continued to tell his supporters the system was rigged, millions of dead people were voting for Democrats (surprisingly NOT even one for the Republican candidates), there was voter fraud on a massive scale, etc. These riots did not take place in 2016 because Trump won and Hillary Clinton conceded even before the counting was finished.
“This event reminded me of something the political philosopher, Hannah Arndt, has said (I paraphrase it here): for democracy to succeed there has to be consensus on what is the truth among all political players. Only one significant player/political party has to go fact-free (a phenomenon greatly aided and abetted by social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Parler, etc) as four years of Trump presidency and one year of campaigning before 2016 were, and democracy as exemplified by the rule of law and peaceful transfer of power will collapse.
“To this, I would merely add this: democracy also needs for every player to play within the bounds and spirit of rules and not subvert his/her country’s Constitution, and to offer a measured response when criticizing the opposition. Democracy is fragile and needs to be tended by all players involved.”
Failed coup attempt
To understand Trumpism, its origins and future, it is crucial to appreciate the events leading to Trump’s failed coup attempt to steal the victory from Joseph Biden.
I use the word, “coup” advisedly as there is now overwhelming evidence that once he found out he has lost the election, he attempted to overturn the result. He used many tactics and explored many avenues to achieve his aim. To incite his armed supporters to storm the Capitol building, disrupt the certification of electoral college votes, put the lives of all legislators and his own Vice President in danger were only the last steps he undertook in his failed coup attempt.
When he lost the election then Trump tried to discredit the US electoral system by making mendacious, baseless and outrageous claims such as the country’s voting machines, run by Dominion Voting Systems, were manipulated to delete millions of votes for Trump, flip votes for Biden and has links to Venezuela and its dead former president Hugo Chavez.
When the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) chief, Christopher Krebs, dismissed Trump’s claims then Trump fired him.
Trump made similar claims in his hour-long telephonic conversation with Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger. A copy of the audiotape was released by The Washington Post and a full transcript of the call can be read here.
In this conversation, Trump can be heard asking Brad Raffensperger to find him another 11,779 votes so that he can be declared victorious in Georgia. Trump also complains, without offering any evidence, about the voting machines being manipulated. Trump offers him advice: to recount and recalculate the votes. The implication is being to reject enough votes cast for Biden so that Trump can be declared a winner.
Donald Trump personally along with many members of the Republican Party (also known as the Grand Old Party or GOP) and numerous right-wing political and religious lobby groups filed more than fifty lawsuits in various states to have the election results cancelled, annulled or overturned. Most of these cases were dismissed out of hand, in many cases by Trump-appointed judges, for lack of evidence.
Nevada court ruled that Trump Campaign had ‘No Credible Or Reliable Evidence’ proving voter fraud.
Trump contended that Republican poll watchers were not allowed to monitor votes being counted in “in key states all across the nation.” Again this claim was found to be baseless when local officials produced video evidence in the courts and this allegation was eventually removed from the Trump campaign’s lawsuits.
Though Trump and his supporters were backing off from these outlandish claims in the courts yet Trump (via his Twitter account and his favourite channel, Fox News), Rudy Giuliani (his personal lawyer), and many others on his legal team (most notably Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis) continued to peddle in these baseless lies and outlandish conspiracy theories when talking to media.
Trump personally also lobbied lawmakers in battleground states to rescind the electoral college votes and nominate their own loyal Republicans to the electoral college who would vote for him.
Donald Trump even pressed the Justice Department to file a case in the Supreme Court to overturn election results. To achieve his goal Trump was prepared to replace the acting attorney general with another official who was willing to pursue Trump’s baseless claims. Trump even pressured the Justice Department to ask the Supreme Court to invalidate Biden’s victory.
He failed in his efforts because some of his appointees in the Justice Department refused to do so and threatened to resign en masse if the new Trump-loyalist acting attorney general went ahead with this plan.
Republican Party’s complicity in Trump’s coup attempt
It is just not Trump who has been plotting to steal the victory from Biden after his loss in 2020 election. Numerous GOP or Republican representatives and senators both at State and Federal levels did also refuse to accept the fact that Biden won the 2020 election. This included Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader in the Congress, Kevin McCarthy, Minority Whip Steve Scalise and numerous state governors and elected GOP representatives.
Several GOP members, including U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, filed a case in the US Supreme Court alleging that Pennsylvania’s mail-in voting rules were unconstitutional and, therefore, Pennsylvania’s election results should be declared null and void. The U.S. Supreme Court, including all Trump-appointed judges, rejected the litigants’ contentions.
Trump alleged that electoral rolls were not up-to-date, especially in battleground states, and that dead people were able to vote. He alleged this was particularly true in states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. The courts found there was no substance to his claims.
Perhaps the most audacious or desperate attempt to overturn Trump’s election loss was made by Republican Party-governed Texas’s Attorney General, Ken Paxton, (it must be noted that Texas’s Solicitor-General was not a party to this case). Paxton sued Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and asked the Supreme Court to toss out the voting results in the above four states (all won by Trump in 2016 but was beaten by Biden in each of them).
More than 120 Republican members of the US House of Representatives (including the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy) were also party to this legal manoeuvre: they formally asked the US supreme court to prevent the above four states from casting electoral college votes for Joe Biden.
All nine judges, including three appointed by Trump, dismissed the case out of hand and refused to hear it.
Republican Party’s hypocrisy
While many GOP senators and members of the US House of Representatives and numerous state officials and elected representatives were challenging Biden’s win and peddling in baseless claims of electoral fraud and conspiracy theories, none of them was saying his/her election should be declared null and void because of these irregularities.
The extent of the GOP’s hypocrisy was exposed by one of their own when Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., in his Facebook post of December 30, 2020, wrote that in private, few Republicans actually believe the president’s baseless claims of voter fraud but are not prepared to say so in public because of backlash from Trump’s base.
Senator Sasse also excoriated his Republican colleagues for their plan to object during the certification of the Electoral College vote stating that “Let’s be clear what is happening here: We have a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage. But they’re wrong — and this issue is bigger than anyone’s personal ambitions,” Sasse wrote. “Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.”
In summary, I quote Senator Mitt Romney, R-Colorado, who said: “It’s pretty clear that over the last year or so there has been an effort to corrupt the election in the United States. It was not by President Biden, it was by President Trump”.
What is Trumpism?
So what can we learn about Trumpism from the above events and his tenure as a President?
Trumpism has both public and private facets and these facets at many points become tangled into each other like the branches of a briar growing in the wild. Let me discuss a few of these facets.
Being a post-truth president
Donald Trump was a post-truth president. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word as: “ADJECTIVE Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
Donald Trump’s concepts of truth and reality were different from what you and I understand them to be.
For Donald Trump truth meant whatever he thought or uttered and any other version of events was fake news.
He hated free press because it demanded transparency, accountability, rational behaviour and truthful explanation of events. Like all past totalitarian leaders (whether Hitler, Stalin, Franco, or any power-hungry and ideology-free dictator (eg, Mobutu, Gaddafi, Marcos, etc.) for Trump he was the only source of truth. All others were liars.
Any media outlets or an expert in a particular field, any opposition politician or even anyone in his own party or any of his appointee who challenged him were considered flogging fake news or did not know what they were talking about.
It is worth recalling that Nazis used to call it “Lügenpresse” (= lying press). Trump often called internationally respected media outlets (eg, The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, ABC, NBC, etc.) as “enemies of the people.”
As Nazis used radio (relatively new technology in the late 1930s and early 1940s) to discredit newspapers in Germany, Trump was assisted in his venture by various social media platforms. Primarily, Twitter and Facebook. These platforms allowed Trump to bypass established media outlets and avoid accountability.
The Washington Post has been maintaining a database of false or misleading statements made by Donald Trump since he became President. Towards the end of December 2020, this figure stood at more than 30,500.
As any authoritarian leader or dictator, Trump weaponised lies.
Much has been said and written about Trump’s base. Trump’s won in 2016 mainly because of two factors:
- Hilary Clinton ran a very bad campaign. She never visited Michigan (one of the states that voted for Trump) and took blue workers votes for granted; and
- Assuming that Hilary Clinton would win, most of Bernie Sanders’ supporters stayed at home and 12% of them voted for Trump to punish Democratic establishment for choosing her as the party’s presidential candidate.
Clinton was also hurt by Russia’s interference in the US elections, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange’s cooperation with Russia in working against Hilary Clinton for personal reasons, and an ill-timed and ill-judged re-opening of an investigation by the FBI Director, James Comey, into Hilary Clinton’s use of her personal computer to send official state department emails two weeks before the election (that came to nothing anyway).
Both Hillary Clinton and Democratic Party were blindsided by the anger and frustration that regional America and retrenched blue colour workers felt as more and more US companies offshored their manufacturing facilities, primarily to China. These people felt globalization may have increased per capita income in the US, created many more billionaires in the US but it had left them off much worse condition financially. Consequently, these people voted for Trump.
2020 election was different. Yes, Trump received nearly 74.2 million votes. More votes than many past successful presidential candidates have received. But Biden received 7 million+ more votes than Trump.
It is worth recalling here that the two-party system is so entrenched in the US (or the US society is so polarised), no matter who is chosen as a Democratic or Republican candidate, he/she is bound to get around 40% of votes.
This feature of American society was again manifest in 2020 presidential election: mid-west and southern states (eg, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, North and South Carolina, Florida, etc.) that traditionally vote for a Republican candidate still voted for Trump though they were very severely affected by Covid 19 pandemic.
Any presidential candidate who moves to the centre more successfully than his opponent generally wins the election.
Trump lost in 2020 because of his (a) divisive leadership, (b) support for extreme right-wing groups (pro-life, pro-gun, etc.) (c) rejection of systemic racism in police force across the US, (d) pandering to white supremacist racist elements and his support for their version of US history and society, (d) utter failure of leadership in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic (to the extent that at one stage he called Covid-19 virus a hoax).
Another thing that went against him was his anti-‘Black Lives Matter’ attitude.
All these issues energised the US voters against him. As Biden moved closer to the centre, Trump moved further to the right and appealed to more and more extreme fringe elements (anarchists, various southern-based militia groups, racist organisations, peddlers in various conspiracy theories or fantasies, extreme religious right groupings, tea party members, etc.). The result was much higher than usual voter turnout.
It must be evident from the above discussion that Trump’s base, (ie, the number of persons whom Trump may have inspired to take part in electoral politics) is very small. Maybe in low single-digit million but this group in conjunction with the religious right has captured the organisational wing and thus wield a great deal of influence on who gets preselected.
Two factors particularly energised black Americans to cast their vote in big numbers: The Covid-19 pandemic (that affected them much more than whites) and anti-Black Life Matter stance of Trump. We saw this phenomenon express itself in Trump’s loss of Michigan and Georgia (last won for Democrats by Bill Clinton). And then again when GOP lost both Senate seats in the run-off elections in Georgia. Losing both Senate seats meant that GOP ceded the control of the US Senate to Democrats.
[The above discussion regarding 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, as an aside, again shows how unresponsive/indifferent or unrepresentative the Electoral College system of the will of American people. Despite having received more than 7 million votes than Trump, Biden’s victory margin of 306 to 232 was very similar to Trump’s Electoral College win in 2016. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton 304-227 despite receiving 2.8 million fewer popular votes.]
From the above discussion and also what Trump said during the 2016 elections (which he won against his expectations) about the US electoral system and democracy it is clear that he does not believe in a democratic system which (a) requires playing by rules and (b) not to subvert the country’s constitutions whether one is in opposition or power. He finds the democratic form of government with its division of power and accountability of actions constraining.
He has a well-established form for calling elections ‘rigged’ if he doesn’t like the results. He has been doing so long before he entered politics. I give below just three examples.
On election night in 2012, when President Obama was re-elected, Trump said that the election was a “total sham” and a “travesty”. He also claimed the US was “not a democracy”. His Twitter post read: “We can’t let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!”
When Trump was seeking Republican Party nomination in 2016, he lost Iowa caucuses to Senator Ted Cruz. Casting doubt on the integrity of the electoral process, Trump wrote on Twitter: “Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he stole it. That is why all of the polls were so wrong and why he got far more votes than anticipated. Bad!”.
Then fearing he would be defeated by Hillary Clinton, in October 2016, Trump again cast doubt on the validity of election process by tweeting, “The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary – but also at many polling places – SAD.”
It must not come as a surprise to any seasoned watcher of Trump that after losing the election to Biden, Trump reverted to his old form and claimed the election was rigged, there was voter fraud on a massive scale, millions of illegal votes were cast and that the election was stolen. On the election night, he claimed he had won. As the time elapsed this victory became a landslide.
At every speech he gave and in most of his Twitter posts after his election loss, he kept insisting the election was stolen by Biden (read ‘deep state’ that Trump was fighting against) without offering any evidence of voter fraud or malpractices.
This authoritarian streak in Trump also explains his eagerness to befriend Russian President Putin and another brutal dictator, Kim Jong-un of North Korea. Both of them manipulated Trump as if he were a fantoccino.
It is different this time
But the difference this time was he was making all these false claims as the President of the US.
Consequently, it should not come as a surprise then that the 13-17 November Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll found that 52% of all Republicans “believe President Donald Trump “rightfully won” the U.S. election but that it was stolen from him by widespread voter fraud that favoured Democratic President-elect Joe Biden.” The same poll also found that “68% of Republicans said they were concerned that the election was “rigged.” Since the election, many polls have been conducted and all of them show more or less the same result.
Thus domestically Trump has damaged American democracy by casting doubt on the integrity of elections.
CNN Poll conducted by SSRS last week also found that Trump’s falsehoods have meant that “75% of Republicans say they have little or no confidence that elections in America today reflect the will of the people.”
Internationally, Trump’s actions have made the US laughing stock amongst the comity of nations. Its words will not carry any moral authority when the US criticises other countries for not conducting fair and reliable elections. The situation was not helped when the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, refused to criticise Trump and demand he must resign after Trump incited the mob (many of them are armed) to storm the Capitol and demand that lawmakers reject the will of the people and declare Trump as President. Pompeo refused to admit that Biden was President-elect. The US standing amongst its allies, especially the NATO allies in Europe, has reached a new low.
Even sadder is the fact that the Republican Party has stood solidly behind Trump thus providing greater credence to Trump’s baseless assertions. This has been especially true of GOP leadership team both in the Senate under the leadership of Mitch McConnell and in the House under Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy. Except for a few members of the Congress and Senate, nobody has been prepared to take Trump to task for being a sore loser and for damaging the US’s civic institutions. Not just a sore loser but a constitutional arsonist.
Their shameful behaviour continued even after Trump had lost more than 50 lawsuits he brought to prove election irregularities in various district and appeal courts and one in the Supreme Court. Many of these cases were heard by Trump-appointed judges. They continue to stand by him even after he incited insurrection on January 6, 2020. Now they oppose his impeachment on the ground that it would create further divisions and militate against Biden’s attempt to unify the country.
This is despite the fact, as Sen. Ben Sasse reported in his Facebook post, that privately no one in the GOP has complained to him to this effect. In other words, they have preferred to protect their interests and political careers instead of being true to the oath they took to protect the Constitution of the US.
Appointing ‘Yes-Men’ and enablers
Trump’s presidency, like any authoritarian leader, was characterized by the appointment of people who were either his relatives and sycophants willing to carry out his wishes instead of maintaining the integrity of democratic institutions by adhering to the letter and spirits of their oath to follow and protect the constitution of the US.
Thus, very early in his term, we saw the sacking of the FBI Director, James Comey, because he was unwilling to close an investigation into whether Trump’s advisers colluded with Russia to influence the election. Comey also refused to promise his loyalty to Trump.
When Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself after appointing a special counsel (Robert Mueller) to investigate dealings with Russia by Trump’s campaign staff during 2016 presidential elections, Trump bitterly tweeted about this fact many times.
In June 2017 Trump tweeted, “Jeff Sessions didn’t tell me he was going to recuse himself. I would have quickly picked someone else.” In August 2018, Trump tweeted that “Jeff Sessions should stop this rigged witch hunt right now.”
Trump finally sacked Jeff Sessions when the investigation was getting too close to him.
He then appointed his loyalist, William Barr, as Attorney General, who allowed Trump to use the Department of Justice resources as if it were Trump’s personal team of lawyers.
Barr interfered in criminal prosecutions of Roger Stone and Michael Flynn (both Trump allies) being conducted by his Department. After pleading guilty and then being pardoned for lying under oath to Mueller’s Russian interference investigation, Flynn advised Trump to impose martial law to overturn the 2020 election result.
Barr pursued Trump’s political foes including John Bolton.
Barr released a misleading summary of Mueller Investigation report that downplayed the ways Trump and his campaign team relished Russian interference. The Federal Judge Reggie Walton excoriated Barr’s handling of the Mueller Report and termed Barr’s summary of the Russia probe “distorted and misleading”.
Barr also reversed decisions by career officials in prosecuting cases that Mueller had handed over to the Justice Department thus allowing Trump to discredit Mueller’s most damning findings.
Similarly, Trump appointed his daughter, Ivanka Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to senior White House roles. Neither had any experience nor qualifications to carry out the tasks.
For several months before the 2020 election, Trump had been claiming early voting and postal voting were open to massive fraud. This was in spite of the fact that the FBI Director, Christopher Wray, directly contradicting Trump, stated that there was no evidence of ‘national voter fraud effort’.
Towards the end of his term, Trump appointed Republican Party mega-donor and his crony, Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General. Both Trump and DeJoy perfectly understood that because of the Covid 19 pandemic, millions of Democratic voters will cast their votes early, especially Black Americans. Immediately after his confirmation, DeJoy started taking steps that would minimise postal voting, eg, cutting down on overtime of postal workers so that the postal votes would not be sorted out and delivered in time, removing letterboxes from areas where blacks lived, etc.
Trump as president: Not all bad news
Much has been written and said about his uncouth and un-Presidential behaviour throughout his four years as the US President. We know all about what he has said about the role of NATO and the US’s NATO allies. We know he not only encouraged Brexit but also said Boris Johnson would be a better Prime Minister when Theresa May was Prime Minister of the UK. We know he encouraged break-up of the European Community because he thought it would enable the US to negotiate more favourable trade deals with individual countries than with the EU. He interfered in domestic matters of many of the US’s allies. We know his concentration span is extremely short. We know how unprepared he was when he impulsively decided to have a summit meeting with Kim Jong-un.
But Trump as president was not all bad news. Just like Barack Obama’s “pen and phone” strategy he aggressively used executive orders. But mostly to undo Obama’s achievements: restrict immigration, dilute environmental protection, weaken Affordable Care Act, etc.
He kept his word and did not involve the US in a new war and at the time of his leaving the office the US had fewer troops based in Afghanistan and Iraq than at any time since 2001.
During the Obama administration, the US was a victim of many cyber hacks from many countries, especially Russia and China. The latter hacked the Office of Personnel Management databases.
Trump administration changed Obama-era rules and allowed Cyber Command to engage in operations without White House sign-off. Further, under Trump, Cyber Command followed a ‘Defend Forward’ strategy which meant that it already had intruded into enemy networks. In theory, it allowed Cyber Command to discover and neutralize threats before they materialized.
But we know now it did not work out like this. In 2020 Russia was able to hack computers of the State Department, the Pentagon, the Treasury Department, the Department of Homeland Security and other departments and agencies. Further, Cyber Command did not even know about this breach. It was FireEye, a private cybersecurity firm, that discovered the intrusion.
Trump also brought about some changes to the US’s trade policy. As part of delivering on his anti-neoliberal globalization agenda, he negotiated significant changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the benefit of American workers. NAFTA in its original form had passed the Congress in 1993 by a very narrow majority. The revised agreement Trump negotiated passed both houses by a very big majority: the House 385–41 and the Senate 89–10.
Trump also followed a more aggressive policy towards China: both in matters relating to trade and on cybersecurity. What Trump was said of US-China trade relations during his election campaign in 2016 has now bipartisan support, ie, (a) China’s entry into the WTO has hurt the US greatly; and (b) China presents a very serious economic threat to the US.
Trump also said that China has been pilfering U.S. trade secrets and it required a much more aggressive response than the jawboning, soft agreements (as Obama negotiated with his China that required China to voluntarily stop such activities) that China never took seriously.
Origins Of Trumpism
Trump was an expression of the failure of American democracy and to what extent and how many Americans feel disaffected with and/or estranged from the rest of the society.
But Trumpism did not begin with Trump. He only exploited the conditions that were already there and brought them together to bring about Trumpism.
There are five main players responsible for the rise of Trumpism. These are (not listed in any order of priority): Both political parties, ie, Democrats and Republicans, the US Inc., Supreme Court and various social media platforms.
Some elements of Trumpism we also witnessed when Ross Perot (Texan billionaire) got almost 19% of the votes when he stood as an independent in 1992 (against Bill Clinton and George Bush Sr.) and also when Pat Buchanan tried to seek GOP nomination in 1992 and again in 1996 by emphasizing his paleo-conservative credentials (ie, American nationalism, Southern Christian ethics, regionalism, restricting non-white immigration, anti-multiculturalism, and protectionist trade policy).
Democrats contributed to this alienation when Bill Clinton (President of the US from 1992 to 2000) (a) allowed the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act (brought in by FDR in 1933) that had effectively kept commercial banking separate from investment banking. This led to the rise of modern finance sector (with all its derivative instruments symbolized by hedge funds and in the minds of ordinary people by the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and bailing out of banks and millionaire/billionaire bankers by forcing austerity measures on the middle class). This allowed capital to flow unrestrained from one sovereign jurisdiction to another overnight (now at the click of the mouse); and (b) after being hoodwinked by China in accepting that the Chinese economy was a market economy, Clinton supported China’s membership to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The Supreme Court, over the years, has contributed to this alienation by giving verdicts that have favoured:
(a) gun rights not realizing the 21st-century weapons are deadly efficient precision killing machines and are not the same as those that existed in the 1860s when Southerners were allowed to carry guns as part of the settlement that brought the civil war to an end; and
(b) free speech without realizing that it is a privilege that requires every practitioner of free speech (as Hannah Arndt realized) has a responsibility to tell the truth, without which having a functioning civil society and rule of law or democracy becomes impossible. The Supreme Court suffers from amnesia about the other side of free speech coin.
Social media platforms made it NOT ONLY very easy for people to spread lies, half-truths and conspiracy theories but also brought them in contact with each other in an unprecedented way.
Perhaps, the USA Inc. bears the greatest responsibility because after China was granted full membership of the WTO, lured by low wages, the US Corporations ran in droves to China to set up manufacturing facilities thus retrenching their workers left, right and centre at home.
Nobody, neither Democrats nor Republicans (for them it would have meant interfering in the market and reducing profits of the USA Inc.) nor the USA Inc. thought how would these workers earn any living, pay their mortgages, support sick family members if they were not redeployed or given adequate financial assistance to re-train themselves.
The Republican Party bears responsibility for the rise of Trumpism because it was under Ronald Reagan that the hollowing out of US Government seriously began (though Govt. expenditure under every Republican President as a percentage of GDP since Reagan has increased (ie, Reagan to Trump inclusive) and at the same time the US economy has grown slower under Republican Presidents). GOP rendered Federal government impotent by saddling it with more and more debt, taken up to finance tax cuts for wealthy and USA Inc. and by depleting it of all expertise.
The US’s inability to bring under the Covid 19 pandemic control has amply demonstrated the extent to which the Federal, State and Local governments have been hollowed out.
This is what made globalization increasingly unpopular with ordinary workers. They felt totally left out. They felt nobody cared about their plight. They were living in total isolation. It was this resentment, their total alienation from the rest of the society and their hostility towards the Government, their loneliness (with only their collection of guns as their companions) that Trump exploited to the full. He told them he was their Messiah. He was going to “drain the swamp”.
Hannah Arndt And Her
Relevance To GOP
One way of looking at why Trump went on to claim the election was rigged (with the tacit support of the Republican Party leadership), and that he had won the election that culminated in his call to his armed supporters to storm the Capitol, is that it was another chapter in the continuing debate in the US on who deserves representation.
After the Civil War, when African Americans were given the right to vote, things like poll taxes and literacy tests were used to make it harder for them to vote. To overcome this kind of discrimination President Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights act of 1965.
Since these laws were passed, the Republican Party has tried to win seats by resorting to gerrymandering (drawing up electoral boundaries that would favour them) and introducing measures that would make it difficult for black Americans to vote (euphemistically called voter suppression). In other words, to restore the pre-civil war status quo.
All Trump was doing was to make it more difficult for Black American voters to cast their votes or trying to have their votes declared ‘illegal’ by filing so many legal cases. He was not doing anything different from what most elected Republican officials have been doing for the last 60 years or so. When he claimed the election was rigged he was dog-whistling to his supporters that too many Black Americans have been allowed to cast their votes and the situation must be rectified ex post facto.
Arndt contended that a press that publicises half-truths and propaganda is not a feature of liberalism but a sign of creeping authoritarianism. She stated that “lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history.” This is what we saw during Trump’s presidency and after Trump lost to Biden.
Hannah Arndt, drawing on her knowledge of Aristotle’s criticism of democracy that how it could be manipulated by well-resourced demagogues, and moral philosophy of St. Augustine, concluded in her study of the origins of totalitarianism that to have a functioning civil society all stakeholders must share the same version of reality. All have a responsibility to tell the truth, without which democracy becomes impossible. This is exactly what we saw happen.
Trump, with the help of Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms, was able to bypass and avoid scrutiny of the what I would call truth-seekers: scientists, academics, epidemiologists, intelligence agency officials, journalists working for reputable media outlets. He used lies as weapons to humiliate and silence his critics and opponents.
Arndt argues that press (read social media in our context) that is free to publish what it wishes and helps spread half-truths, propaganda, blatant lies, conspiracy theories fails to fulfil the responsibility that is bestowed on it by democracy: of telling the truth.
In an interview in 1974 with the French author, Roger Errera, she said: “Totalitarian rulers organize… mass sentiment, and by organizing it articulate it, and by articulating it make the people somehow love it.”
What we saw during the Trump Presidency was not that the press freedom was muzzled but Trump rendered it irrelevant by relying on social media where one could disseminate any kind of lies, half-truths, conspiracy theories without being questioned.
In the same interview, Arndt also said, “Totalitarianism begins in contempt for what you have. The second step is the notion: “Things must change—no matter how, Anything is better than what we have.” That is what alienated people were trying to do when they came out in large numbers to vote for Trump and then they were willing to stage a coup by storming the Capitol building.
Can The GOP Elect Another Trump?
On this occasion, fortunately, coup plotters did not succeed as the American institutions refused to help him, especially the Defence forces, Courts and DDEmocrat controlled House of Representatives (about two-thirds of GOP Congress members were on Trump’s side) and most of the Senators (around 10 GOP Senators were willing to overturn the wish of people).
But it does not mean it cannot happen in the future. Here it worth quoting something Bertolt Brecht says in his commentary on his play, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui:
“They are not great political criminals, but people who permitted great political crimes, which is something entirely different. The failure of his enterprises does not indicate that Hitler was an idiot.”
For us what Brecht’s message is that somebody in the future will learn from the mistakes of Donald Trump and we may not be so lucky next time.
Can GOP choose Trump or Trump-like figure as its Presidential nominee again? The short answer is ‘Yes’ unless GOP purges itself of extreme elements of two kinds: the religious right and white supremacist elements. Instead of playing voter suppression strategy to win elections, the Republican Party needs to win seats by formulating policies that are inclusive and appreciate that the US of today is very different from the USA of 1860s or 1960s.
They owe this to every American citizen and every ally of the US all over the world. In fact, to the entire world. Because nobody – whether a staunch Left-winger who hates the US nor Right-winger would want to live in a world that is dominated by China.
Right now GOP is on a path, to use a Darwinian term, to de-select itself.
Vidya Sharma advises clients on country risks and technology-based joint ventures. He has contributed many articles for such prestigious newspapers as: EU Reporter (Brussels), The Australian, The Canberra Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age (Melbourne), The Australian Financial Review, The Economic Times (India), The Business Standard (India), The Business Line (Chennai, India), The Hindustan Times (India), The Financial Express (India), The Daily Caller (US), etc. He can be contacted at [email protected]