The Legacy and Undoing of Trumpism
an op-ed by Jiaying Zhang
If the 2020 U.S. elections have revealed anything to us, it is that the cult of Trumpism has prevailed despite hopes that the 2016 victory was just a perverted aberration, and that it runs deep in the bloodlines of half of the American population. Indeed, it could even be argued that there was a miniature “red wave”, with Trump receiving approximately 11 million more popular votes than he did four years prior. What is also clear is that Trump was not the perpetrator of an era of political polarisation, nor is Trumpism the source of widespread right-wing populism. He simply conformed to an existing trend that was rapidly gaining momentum, and his success is merely a symptom of what was already in the country: a medium of racial nationalism, Christian fundamentalism and counter-progressiveness, that has been growing and close to over-filling for decades prior.
However, his legacy in the context of right-wing populism should not be underestimated; by honing in on the views he knew his followers had, expressing them publicly and still sustaining a growing fanbase with zero repercussions, he has created a safespace for closeted bigots, racists and neo-nazis to spread their narrative too. Simply put, he has made it more socially acceptable to humanise the rhetoric of dehumanisation of the marginalised, normalised venal manipulation of the truth to the public, pushed the agenda of skepticism in the face of outright evidence, and tried to facilitate the breakdown of democracy. In this sense, Trumpism will continue to thrive even in a post-Trump era, and his legacy will be reflected in the outspokenness of the once Silent Majority.
Not only does the damage of Trumpism need undoing domestically, it represents a wider, intercontinental phenomenon that needs widespread dissolution. Right-wing populism, one that spouts anti-environmentalism, anti-refugee, neo-nationalism and Euroscepticism agendas, has simultaneously been growing in Europe. Although their populism was provoked by distinct issues and predates the one seen in the U.S., the four years of the Trump administration only reassures its presence in the world and uplifts its supporters. Illiberal democracies such as Hungary and Poland, that have always been vehement supporters of Trump’s populism, are the closest European allies with him, no doubt encouraged by their shared ideologies. Indeed, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has expressed his support for Central Europeans to become the de facto political power point of the European Union. To undo Trumpism, therefore, would also be simultaneously undoing the growth of populism throughout the whole Western world. Although the lack of a cheerleader in the White House for their populist domestic demands for the next four years would mean less security when confronting with the European Union (namely more progressive with powerful leaders such as Angela Merkel), since 70 million people voted for Trump, there is no reason to suggest why the legacy of Trumpism cannot facilitate a similar individual to power in the near future.
“The challenge of repair from all the wreckage left by Trumpism may be the work of not merely a political season, but of a generation” (David W. Blight). It is clear that there are deep cultural and political cracks in American society that have caused half the population to support a toxic, morally bankrupt administration. Given the decades-long path that led to Trump being elected in the first place, a fresh, revived presidency is undoubtedly insufficient to ensure that the ripples of Trumpism are constrained. Further activism and political reform is necessary: an emphasis on being united, an end to the rhetoric of factionism and polarisation, a revitalisation of international alliance, science, anti-racism, and climate justice. The U.S. needs to take whatever steps is necessary to ensure that Trumpism does not surge out of control once again.
Cover photo source: https://www.economist.com/united-states/2020/11/05/trump-and-trumpism