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Trump was no accident. And the America that made him is still with us

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發表於 2020-11-8 22:47:39 | 顯示全部樓層 |閱讀模式
by Michael Goldfarb
Sun 8 Nov 2020 09.15 GMT

It would be wrong to see the outgoing president as an outlier. He was the product of a series of forces in US politics and culture


Donald Trump is no longer president. The Trump anomaly is over. Or is it? For it’s a measure of the bizarre, outsize impact of the man that pundits are already speaking of Trumpism.

Liberal leftish types anticipate his return like Brian de Palma movie devotees anticipate Carrie’s hand coming out of the grave – Trump’s coming to drag them into the darkness. Rightwing radicals – conservative doesn’t seem the right term any more — speak of Trumpism because he was the person who energised their disparate coalition in a way no other person has. I almost typed politician rather than person but Trump is not a pol. He is a “leader”, someone on whom people project their own desires.

Trump’s presidency was the end product of two strands of American life coming together after a quarter of a century of independent development. First, the Republican party’s evolution from a bloc of diverse interests into a radical faction built around a single idea: winning absolute power and making America a one-party state ruled by people dedicated to tax cuts for the wealthy and stacking the federal courts with judges who would roll back the New Deal/civil rights-era social contract.

The former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, began this process more than a quarter of a century ago. He was the first prominent Republican to see in Donald Trump the man who could fulfil the modern party’s dreams. Gingrich later wrote, in 2018: “Trump’s America and the post-American society that the anti-Trump coalition represents are incapable of coexisting. One will simply defeat the other. There is no room for compromise. Trump has understood this perfectly since day one.”

Imagine Trump had not run for president and that Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz or even Jeb Bush had become president. Would that trio have pursued a substantially different agenda? Tax cuts that favoured the party’s wealthy donors, appointing three rightwing supreme court justices, restricting immigration, removing environmental regulations. They would all have pushed them through. There would have been a pushback against China in the sphere of trade – at least rhetorically. And they all would have played to the burgeoning ethno-nationalism that has evolved globally since the crash of 2008.

But what none of them could have done is demolish the norms and customs of governance to embed this agenda. The reason Trump destroyed all three of those men to get the Republican nomination was a performer’s charisma. What Gingrich saw in him is what half the country saw in him: a self-confident guy who took no shit and had moved beyond the rhetorical niceties of politics. He was more familiar to many voters than Cruz, Rubio et al via The Apprentice, his name on the casinos where they lost money and, of course, Fox News.

Media is the second stream that helped create the Trump presidency. The “siloing” of American society has long been noted but just how incomprehensible people had become to one another after a quarter of a century and more of being in such different media environments overwhelmed the anti-Trump side. The same people who regarded Gingrich as a blowhard, Rush Limbaugh as a malign clown and Fox News as something only your crazy uncle watched could not begin to understand how many of their fellow citizens accepted their worldview.

For a little more than half the population, a figure such as Trump, gaining first the Republican nomination and then, through the anachronism of the electoral college, winning the presidency despite Hillary Clinton outpolling him by 3m votes, is a shock that will never go away.

This was deepened by social media, especially Twitter. Trump’s tweets became the main way he communicated with the country. And those who opposed him did the work for him on that platform. Last month, Pew Research Center released an analysis of Twitter that found “just 10% of users produced 92% of all tweets from US adults since last November and that 69% of these highly prolific users identify as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents”.

The inference is that Trump tweets something insane and millions of anti-Trumpers retweet it, spreading his message like an unmasked person with Covid spreads the pandemic. But anti-Trump Twitter is as far from objective reality as Fox News or Limbaugh. The disastrous closure of local newspapers in America – 2,000 have closed in recent years – has shut off a critical source of knowledge for Americans about the vast, complex country in which they live.

Twitter has replaced these papers as a source of information but it isn’t journalism. And it creates a misleading picture of what is going on. I went to a Trump rally in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the day before the vote. The impression I had formed from Twitter of what to expect was nothing like the reality. Most people wore masks, they were overwhelmingly middle class and, frankly, normal looking. Insane behaviour? Not that I saw. It is easy to dismiss people if you think they are bonkers. It is frightening when you realise they are not.

In the end though, Trump was just too tiring for a majority of Americans. Joe Biden, who had failed badly in his two previous attempts to get the Democratic nomination, found himself, at the age of nearly 78, the right man in the right place at the right time.

The pandemic is affecting people. And Trump’s act had worn thin. People want to be soothed for a bit. Biden is nothing else if not soothing. He basically won the election in the first debate when he told Trump, in a voice of exasperation: “Shut up, man. This is so unpresidential.” He spoke on behalf of the majority of Americans.

Trump will weigh on America’s consciousness for a long time. For some, these past four years will be a source of PTSD. They will constantly fear a resurgence of Trumpism and that’s not a bad thing. Hopefully, they will stop laughing at people whose worldview is shaped by Fox News and finally understand the nature of the struggle they are in. For the Republicans, by the time Trump has finished calling the election results into doubt, they will have yet another resentment that will never go away.

The power of Trump, whether you see him as leader or demon, is that he gave a human shape to a fact that predated him and will continue after he’s gone: America is perilously divided, with no sense that society will bind up its wounds soon.

Michael Goldfarb is the former London bureau chief of NPR and fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He is the host of the FRHD podcast (www.goldfarbpod.com)
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