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OP-ED: Trump may or may not be gone, but Trumpism is here to stay

  • Published at 02:21 am November 9th, 2020
Supporters listen as President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at iG Flight Services
Photo: AFP

His trend of politics shows little sign of falling out of popularity

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr’s election as the president of the United States of America is significant, but perhaps more significant is the continuing popularity that Donald J Trump enjoys with his voters and conservative bases.

While Trump lost the key battleground states by slim margins, he also increased his popular vote share by 11%, taking it to a staggering total of more than 70 million, the second highest for any presidential candidate in the history of the US, just behind this time’s winner Joe Biden. It’s true that the higher turnout in this election, due to the hype it received, contributed higher voting numbers for both Biden and Trump -- yet data shows that Trump has not lost any vote to Biden.

It’s to the credit of the Biden campaign and the Democratic party with all the great election findings that they have mastered this time, that they were able to get more Democrats to cast their ballots, including the expansion of the support bases, especially among the urban youth, African Americans, and Covid-affected elderly.

When an incumbent loses, normally competitors from the other streams of ideologies within a party come forward to take lead. None has dared to come forward in the GOP so far, seeing the size of support Trump has garnered despite losing. They appear to be worried about their own future political prospects if they contradict Trump -- so much has Trumpism engulfed conservative politics in the US.

Trump has lost, mostly due to the Covid situation in the US, but Trumpism hasn’t, it seems. If there were no Covid mishandling by his administration, Trump would have sold his little higher than average economic success as a grand accomplishment, and there would have been a red wave reelecting him in all probability.

It was more of a referendum on Trump rather than a competition between the two. Despite Trump’s losing of the presidency by a slim margin in the Rust Belt states, the Republican Party did quite well in the mid-term House and Senate elections that took place concurrently. Many Republican leaders and supporters credit Trump for that.

Biden has his weaknesses. Although he is quite presidential, he is old and lacks energy. He was considered a compromise candidate rather than a strong one within the Democratic Party. Biden’s credit is that he intelligently kept his focus and continued talking about Trump’s failures in handling the Covid situation, and occasionally reiterated his commitment to fighting institutional racism and ensuring racial justice; with these he was able to build a solid liberal White-African American coalition.

He didn’t repeat Hillary’s mistake by taking the democratic blue wall of the Midwest for granted, and worked hard to rebuild the Rust Belt wall rather than expecting those states to come back to him on their own, just riding on the supposed anti-incumbency. He didn’t get the white working class votes back, but was able to offset that by energizing African Americans, who are normally lacklustre in participating in the elections in comparison to white Americans, to vote for him in much higher percentages than normal.

He utilized President Obama to good effect in his campaign, especially to mobilize the Rust Belt’s urban African Americans. He knew a lot of Americans were fed up with Trump’s antics. He messaged wittily, “I  am not an almighty, but look who you have got as an alternative.” 

The change in the US political landscape started with Trump winning the GOP nomination and getting elected as the POTUS. He increased his grip on the Republican Party and the party leadership had to fall in line. Those who didn’t appeared to have fallen in the wayside. He used his strength of popularity among white rural and working class Americans in doing that.

In US domestic politics, he has done away with all the civilized norms, decency, and decorum that were the hallmarks of an advanced Western democracy. In the international sphere, with his incompetence, he brought disrepute for America and threatened to dismantle the very important post-Cold War world order. 

This time he lost the election, and won’t get the second term. Yet his popularity in absolute terms soared among his white support bases and expanded to some Latinos. He lost for other reasons. This would solidify the long haul of Trumpism, whether Trump remains in politics or not. Unconventional Trump may not even give up politics like others did in the past after losing,  eg .George HW Bush or Jimmy Carter.

Some are even suggesting that he will run again in 2024 and the changed Republican Party might not have the strength to prevent him from doing so. If he steps aside from politics, there is the probability of new Trumps emerging within the GOP as a trend of political benefit, however immoral, has already been set out.

It’s a matter of in-depth inquiry and research into whether Trump made a large section of white Americans vicious, or if the hateful elements were pre-existing within the segment and he just made a true representation.

But he has shown that even in a developed society, divisive, mean, majoritarian, and racist politics can work. He proved that, even in the postmodern era of enhanced knowledge and advanced ideas, the sole superpower can behave quite irresponsibly in the international arena. We have to wait and watch exactly how Trumpism pans out in the coming days, with or without Trump.

Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury is an opinion contributor to the Dhaka Tribune.

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