As the Trump presidency limps towards its’ final day, it may be time to ponder what Trump will leave behind when he finally packs his bags and is whisked out of the Whitehouse back to his private life.
The Trump epoch has been characterized by an extreme polarization of left and right. This is most evident in many elections for federal offices being decided by the narrowest of margins. The recent runoff elections held in Georgia for two seats in the Senate, provided razor thin margins of victory for the two democrats who were elected. In the presidential election of November 2020, President-elect Joe Biden received a total of 81 million votes, however Trump was a close second at 74 million votes. It is evident that no matter who wins, there will be a large group who feel disenfranchised by the results.
Trump has been at his worse when he plays on these divisions to pump up his own popularity among the groups who represent his most ardent supporters. By vilifying his opposition rather than engaging in reasonable debate, he has added fuel to this dangerous fire.
Having pitted American against American he has become an ally of enemies of the United States who would happily see American democracy torn asunder by internal discord, amplified to the point of insurrection, by his selfish and careless antics. This has been most evident in his “Stop the Steal” campaign which has demonstrated his reckless disregard for the principles and institutions of democracy, neither of which he appears to understand in any substantive way.
Trump has characterized the press as “the enemy of the people”. While it is fair to critique the press, a broad brush dismissal of the press is reckless and has pushed his loyal followers to alternative media which are often little more than propagandists, dedicated to campaigns of misinformation. Attacks on the press have served to divide the country by promoting “alternative facts” that are cooked up to promote a highly skewed view of reality. The toxic environment created by Trump and those who propagandize his lies, facilitated the recent storming of the Capitol by insurrectionists, firm in their conviction, that such an action was justified.
It if fair to argue that Trump did not create the divisions he amplified. He did not create the left/right divide. He did not create the economic pain of the middle class he played on during his election campaign. He did not invent racism, bigotry or misogyny. All of these ills were already present in the American landscape and Trump has successfully amplified them for his personal benefit through a cynical and deliberate strategy.
Since Trump’s strategy has always been a “me first” approach while convincing his followers he cares about their needs, it is fair to enquire about his character. What is it about him that is appealing to the large numbers who support him?
Answering that question may reveal some of the most deeply toxic aspects of the current American condition. The Trump phenomenon cannot exist and flourish without an environment that feeds it. Why did America choose an authoritarian populist at this time? What are the values and views that promote such a choice?
Some questions this inquiry brings up are unsettling.
- How did bullyism come to be seen as strength?
- How did the attack on the “other” come to be seen as promoting America?
- When did lies become truth?
- How did unhinged sociopathy come to be seen as strong leadership?
- When did dividing the country against itself come to mean making it great again?
- What happened to acting out of principle, rather than relentless self-promotion?
None of that is pretty or attractive, yet that is the personal legacy of Trump. Characteristics of Trump that we would find reprehensible in our children are lauded by his supporters. He has normalized egregious behavior. The press has become so numbed by his relentless torrent of lies and misrepresentations, they can barely keep up and have failed to parse what is going on in any depth.
The concern going forward, is that Trump has perhaps set the table for someone far worse and more slick than he, who can bend a gullible public to their will, leading to a truly catastrophic future for America.
Trump has not healed America, he has taken their wounds, laid them bare and deepened them. That is his horrible legacy.