Even if Biden Wins, Trumpism Won’t Go Away Overnight
Trump’s reigning ideology will have lasting consequences to ripple out across American politics. Unfortunately, for many years to come.
“With Joe and Kamala, you’re not going to have to think about the crazy things they say every day,” he exclaimed in front of the silent assembly of hundreds.
“You’re not going to have to argue about them every day. It just won’t be so exhausting. You might be able to have a Thanksgiving dinner without having an argument,” he continued, followed by an exhilarating response from the crowd.
The above-stated words were part of former President Barack Obama’s speech at a drive-in rally in Philadelphia last October 21st. Obama made a clear promise: With Biden, all the anger, the divisiveness, and the arguments will come to an end.
As Election Day approaches — and many polls favor Joe Biden, Obama’s promise is more palpable than ever before. It seems that what many Americans have been eagerly hoping for — an end to the political polarization, concentrated executive power, and rising economic inequality — will finally become tangible reality real soon. However, one thing is for sure, Trump won’t go away that easily; in fact, even if he loses the election, Trumpism will outlast him.
The Continuation of the Empowered White Male Rage
One element that would categorically remain from Trump’s regime would be white nationalism, which has been crashing into America’s demographic divergences for some time now. The stubbornly loyal MAGA hat-wearing militias he has encouraged might be Trump’s most prominent political legacy.
From the very beginning, Trump set himself up as the torchbearer for “the losers of globalization” and “the forgotten people,” pledging — and failing to revitalize critical industries in the economy, such as thousands of manufacturing jobs — including also a plan to replace Obamacare — key promises he never delivered on. However, he continues campaigning as if he had.
Trump’s broken promises shouldn’t surprise anyone. His statements were never intended to be more than a bombast performance. He never encouraged policy but narratives heavily reliant on symbols, impudence, fear-mongering, and disingenuousness. Undoubtedly, the President’s reigning ideology will continue to resonate strongly among his constituency — disproportionately white and uneducated male — and will have lasting populist consequences to ripple out across American policies and the world for many generations to come.
In the current election, 43 percent of the electorate still feel that Trump is doing a good job. Their devotion will present major impediments to Joe Biden if he lands the presidency. Together with like-minded congressional Republicans, the federal judiciary, and state and local governments, they will have ample opportunities in the upcoming months to undermine democratic attempts to battle the pandemic and restore the economy.
If Biden becomes President, before anything else, his first order of business would be to devise and implement a cohesive national coronavirus strategy to flatten the curve. His administration’s efforts will rely primarily on the American people to follow the rules, including wearing masks, avoid crowds, and comply with contact tracers.
But it is unlikely that a defeat by Trump will banish the current political divisions. In fact, a close loss, particularly one in which his supporters can blame a rigged election, could prolong his violent rhetoric and unleash waves of protests and raging violence. Many Americans, especially Trump’s acolytes, will do everything in their will to obstruct any further progress towards normality, from a future vaccine to wearing a mask.
The New Post-Trump Republican Party
Trump’s existing fundamental worldview — immigration, trade, foreign policy, etc. — will dominate the G.O.P. for decades, much as Reagan’s whole worldview did. He’ll become the ex-officio leader of everything Republican and the face of American populism. Unless his party can find a new political agenda or shift his paradigm, they are in a tight spot. Trump’s phenomenon showed that the traditional and outdated Republican political and economic conservatism no longer had a solid grip on the party’s supporters. Grassroots passion for fiscal conservatism died — if there ever was one — the day the party embraced Trumpism and Trump’s allured white working-class voters. No wonder roughly 90 percent of self-identified Republicans favor him for reelection — according to a recent poll by Hill-HarrisX.
Even though Trump failed as a president, his ranting conservative populism has proved successful at winning primaries for the G.O.P. As an Axios report shows, appointed conservatives have become progressively more Trumpian over the past four years.
The most unmistakable signs of a continuation of the legacy can be seen among Trump’s acolytes. From the “restorationists” like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz or former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to the “dynastic heirs” such as Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump Jr.
Future Republican candidates or would-be successors will have to embrace his grievance-based rhetoric and deploy his narcissistic playbook’s staple strategies. With an established media apparatus behind and new populist alliances in Europe and elsewhere — Orbán, Bolsonaro, and Johnson — it won’t be hard to back-up a 2024 nominee to fill in an ideology around Trump’s sui generis persona.
In the case Joe Biden wins, the Republican party has two options: either become a party of the opposition or redefine itself into a version of Working-Class Republicanism, because that’s where the majority of the voters are.
The Destruction of America’s Power and Influence
Trump’s efforts to reshape national and foreign policy in his own image, dragging his party and the executive branch along, will have a profound impact on American and global politics for many years to come.
At the last stage of Trump’s presidency, U.S. foreign policy pillars are isolated and prostrated with weaker allies and stronger enemies. At the beginning of his administration, Trump inherited a robust political system that was not exempt from imperfections but had a historic global significance and influence. In the past four years, Washington has lost a great deal of its moral authority under Trump’s nationalistic regime.
One of the most evident results of Trump’s presidency has been the sharp decline of the U.S. in the eyes of the world; in other words, the fall of its “soft power” as one of the pillars of American hegemony.
A survey conducted last September by the independent Pew Research Center among citizens of 13 of the world’s most developed countries revealed that respondents’ perceptions of the U.S. had plummeted to “unimaginable” levels. Only 26% of Germans, 30% of Dutch, 31% of French, 33% of Australians, and 35% of Canadians had a favorable opinion of the United States.
“In relatively stable times, the world can endure problematic leaders without lasting damage. It is when a number of disruptive factors come together that those wielding power can bring on the perfect storm.” — Margaret MacMillan
An effective foreign policy requires the right combination of coherence, patience, and strategic vision. This is how the United States forged the great weapon treaties of the Cold War and those that came many years later. Faithful to his impulses, driven by his obsession with money, his focus on short-term benefits, and his disinterested airs and graces, Trump dismantled U.S. global leadership along with several international agreements, ostensibly without proposing viable alternatives other than his ‘America First’ empty narrative.
One of Biden’s greatest challenges will be to restore that grounding, as well as trust with his international allies. It will be a large-scale undertaking. The damage has pervaded American politics’ reputation, to the point where the world now regards Washington with eyes of shame and horror rather than admiration and respect.
A Biden election triumph would help the United States regain abandoned commitments, reconnect with its Western allies, and rediscover a more rational policy. However, expectations of a comeback to yesterday’s world would be just as naive as the expectations that Trump was going to be moderate or take a ‘presidential’ stance.
Even if he ends up being a one-term president, many ominous issues that have come to the fore since 2016 — such as the increased emphasis on protecting domestic industries and trade — and technology tensions with China are far-reaching matters that will not go away once Trump leaves the White House.
Biden’s final concern should be the political, social, and economic factors that gave rise to Trumpism. Unfortunately, the main elements are still there, more prevalent than ever, mostly since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Hyper-partisanship, unemployment, racial injustices, misinformation, blue-collar despair, the Chinese and Russian threats, and middle-class disintegration are issues as bad, or worse, as they were four years ago.
Those feeling hopeful for a new post-Trump reality must be prepared to face the challenges that await them in the radicalized political climate Trump leaves behind.