Trump Was Defeated, but Will Trumpism Prevail?
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, January 9
After prolonged resistance for over two months, President Trump finally admitted his defeat in the November election, but not before inciting thousands of protestors to storm the Senate building, where the election outcomes were formally being approved. Even the declaration of his defeat came, as expected, in Trump’s ostentatious way, when the president described his presidential term as the “greatest” in American history. And although Trump exaggerated by all counts, his term was surely an exciting one from the very first day he entered office: politically, economically and socially. The most important question now is: Trump will finally depart the White House and move to his Florida mansion, but will the political, social and intellectual environment that he created over the course of the past four years retire together with him? In other words, Trump may have lost, but has Trumpism been defeated? Nobody is able to answer this question, even Trump himself. In order to make an educated guess on the future of Trumpism it is important to understand the nature of this phenomenon. Trumpism was associated with the personality of the 45th US president, and the circumstances that helped elect him to office in 2016. His loud, controversial, frank and shocking personality resonated with a large segment of Americans who felt anger at the deteriorating economic conditions in which they lived. This angry cohort of voters was joined by another large group of Republican voters who believed that the government bloat promoted during the Obama era must be curtailed and that conservative values must be protected. Both of these groups joined hands to rebel against Washington’s elites. All this anger, worries and ideas were clearly reflected in Trump’s political, economic and cultural rhetoric, which was summed up with the slogan “Make American Great Again.” Trump spoke about the separation wall with Mexico, which would prevent the entry of illegal immigrants to protect American jobs, and fiercely attacked the political elite in Washington. He presented himself as a defender of Christianity. Despite his extramarital affairs, he defended conservative family values, and despite his wealth, he portrayed himself as a champion of the poor. How can we explain these contradictions? The only explanation is that these angry crowds searched for a savior and found that savior in Trump, who knew how to press their instinctive and psychological buttons. Because of his experience in media, he knew that the key to success is to effectively appeal to your target audience. That is why he spoke to his voters in simple, everyday language. Trump scored a successful presidency in the first three years of his administration, featuring steady economic growth, declining unemployment, withdrawal from bloody wars, and targeting of notable terrorists. This success came crumbling down with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was the main factor driving Trump’s defeat. The second reason is Trump himself. Trump actually defeated Trump when he refused to confront COVID-19 right away, allowing the Democrats to focus their entire campaign on his great failure in managing the crisis. Trump’s presidency can be described as three successful years and one terrible final year — a loss of balance that his opponents cleverly exploited. He could also be described as an unfortunate president, who was struck by an epidemic at the wrong time, during a crucial election year. It is my belief that despite the grim assessments, Trump’s departure from the White House will restore a certain normalcy to American politics. The partisan struggle between the two parties will return to its normal course, and the process of reconciliation between the two sides will finally begin. – Mamdouh Al-Muhaini (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)