Trump Lost But May Continue to Wield His Weapons of Destructions
Suhit K Sen
Former senator Joseph
R Biden was declared president-elect of the United States on 7 November after
four days of quite compelling political theatre amplified by 24x7 reporting of
high quality on American television channels. People throughout the world
joined Americans in heaving a sigh of relief.
The very thought that
the United States, and the world, has seen the back, so to speak, of President
Donald J Trump has lifted what has been a toxic pall hanging over the country. This statement needs qualification, but
it is indisputable that Trump’s capacity for disruption and destruction will be
radically curtailed once he leaves his current 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
address; if needed dragged out kicking and screaming.
Trump is deserving of
the odium that has been heaped upon him over the past four years and will no
doubt continue to be heaped upon him in future. In winning the presidential
contest, Biden has amassed the largest number of votes any contestant has won
in a presidential contest, but in losing, Trump secured the second largest number ever, edging ahead of Barack
Obama’s record total of 2008.
This has been spun by
some as some kind of vindication of the outgoing president. But the stark fact
is that Trump has joined a select club of presidents who failed to win
re-election, joining four others in this century and the last one and two,
Jimmy Carter and George Bush Sr., since World War II. If it is extraordinarily
difficult to beat an incumbent president, it is reasonable to say that it’s
extremely difficult to lose as one.
One reason behind
Trump’s huge haul of votes was the huge turnout—the highest in 120 years.
Obviously that didn’t happen automatically. Both Trump and Biden were
successful in bringing out their voters in large numbers—the latter successful
in substantial measure by an unprecedented expansion in mail-in voting.
In Biden’s case, the
huge turnout was clearly actuated more by a desire on the part of diverse groups
of people to make sure that Trump did not get a second term, a second tilt at
swinging his wrecking ball to demolish the institutions and established
conventions that allow democracy to work to further a project of pure
self-aggrandizement. In Trump’s case, the success in getting his voters out was
based on his success in consolidating his base of mainly white voters with a
grievance, though in pockets he did get substantial support from Hispanics
(Cuban-Americans in Florida) and African-American men (up 2% from 2016).
The case against Trump rests on several pillars, but the most notable
feature of his stint as president has been his relentless attempts to demonise
and insult ethnic minorities—Hispanics, African Americans, or, generally
speaking, people of colour—while encouraging white supremacists to step up to
the plate. In the course of the first presidential debate, Trump refused to
condemn Proud Boys, a far-Right group, and instead said he would ask them
to “stand back and stand by”.
Trump’s misogyny has
also often been hung out to dry with the washing, including in his comments on
vice president-elect Kamala Harris after she was picked by Biden as running
mate. He described her first as “nasty”, a default description for female
opponents, then as a “monster”. And finally, in a sexist rant, Trump said in
late October, “We’re not supposed to have a socialist—look we’re not going to
have a socialist president, especially a female socialist president, we’re not
gonna have it, we’re not gonna put up with it.” All this, of course, after
mixing racism with misogyny, while questioning Harris’s right to contest
because she was born to immigrant parents.
Trump’s dog whistling
has not been confined to messaging his racist constituency. It has also been
used to encourage bizarre, and some would say dangerous, conspiracy theories,
especially those peddled by QAnon, a group that has been designated by the FBI
as a domestic terrorist threat. For Trump, pretty much anything that shored up
his position was worth his support.
instincts, in fact, seem to dovetail with those of white supremacists. Much
before he decided to run for president, he had taken a prominent part in peddling
conspiracies and lies about Obama’s birthplace and religion—the infamous
“birtherism” falsehood, which did quite a bit to pitch Trump into Republican
political circles and provide traction for his rise on the party ladder.
Infamously, Trump has
also weighed in on the side of those swathes of the public that are
anti-science, with disastrous consequences for the handling of the Covid-19
pandemic in the United States. This is of a piece with his complete disregard
for facts, expressed in his constant resort to mendacity. It appears that the
Republican Party has embraced, with him, a post-truth world. This was most
clearly expressed when a senior Trump aide, Kayleigh McEnany, referred to the
president’s inflation of the numbers who attended his inauguration, basically a
fabrication, as “alternative facts”.
Trump’s conduct on
the global stage has also been a mixture of the bizarre and destructive. He has
repeatedly broken with traditional allies while demonstrating a willingness to
kowtow to or cosy up with authoritarian leaders – Vladimir Putin in Russia,
Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Xi Jinping in China and, most notably, Kim
Jong-un in North Korea. In the process, he has torn up all the basic manuals of
international dealings. Taking the United States out of the World Health
Organization in the middle of the pandemic perfectly illustrated his
willingness to do anything that would further personal goals—in this case,
re-election to the presidency, which was being threatened by his inept handling
of the crisis.
To return to the
issue of Trump’s capacity to continue to wield his weapons of destruction, it
must be said it is likely to remain formidable in both the short and long term.
Trump will remain president for the next two and a half months. He can do a lot
of damage just by withholding cooperation to the incoming administration. In
addition, he can pursue a scorched-earth path, which will leave Biden and
Harris to pick up a whole lot of debris when they finally get in.
If Trump remains in
the frame as the patron saint of the Republican Party and the prime mover of
its base—or his base—there is scope for greater long-term destruction, by
fostering the high pitch of antagonism and making it difficult for Biden to
undertake constructive programmes.
It is, however,
necessary to recognize that Trump’s toxic vulgarity was enabled by the “new”
Democrat presidents—Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The former followed a
trajectory mapped by his Republican predecessors, which resulted in the
widening of economic inequalities and the sense among large swathes of the
people that they were being left behind. In the wake of the 2008 economic
crisis, Obama had the historic opportunity to rein in the financiers and the
bankers and set the path towards more equitable growth. He spurned it,
continuing to enable what the economist Joseph Stiglitz has called the 1%.
has been compounded by a style of Washington-based politics of elite
accommodation that leaves ordinary people in the rest of the country feel disenfranchised
and disempowered. It is this widespread sentiment with which Trump’s incendiary
call to ‘drain the swamp’ resounded.
Disturbingly, given the thinner victory the Democrats have achieved than
they had hoped for and pollsters predicted, the centrists in the party have
already launched a campaign against those on the left—Bernie Sanders,
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the “squad”, and others. This not only amounts to
attacking the countless “progressive” grassroots workers who worked tirelessly to
bring out the Democratic vote—historically a difficult task—but also ignores
the fact that it is precisely the centrist temporization of the Democratic
leadership and their tender concern for the 1% that keeps it alienated from the
Biden will likely
have to negotiate with a hostile Senate. Even so his first priority must be a
reset, which will incorporate promises already made—including healthcare
insurance for all and a new green deal.
The author is a
freelance journalist and researcher. The views are personal.