After four long days, the Associated Press (AP) finally called America’s controversial and chaotic 2020 Presidential Election. Former Vice President Joe Biden has been elected, to quote commentator Ian Smith “by the barest of margins”. However, for American and the world, that does not mean the end of Trumpism, but rather the start of a whole new kind.
What exactly is Trumpism?
During his time in office, Donald Trump has been called everything from incompetent to selfish, but perhaps nothing sums up his politics better than the word ‘Trumpism’. It’s a brash conservative style of governance, that he did not pioneer. Back in 2016, David Edward Tabachnick wrote in The Hill “Trumpism is linked to the person Donald Trump but its roots run much deeper, intertwining contemporary and traditional political trends in such a way that makes it both uniquely American and of the 21st century, distinct from the European Fascism of the last century.”
Before we get into how Trumpism will thrive in a Biden presidency, we need to understand its roots and how did it become such a huge part of America’s politics? To answer those questions, we first need to break down what Trumpism consists of.
Tabachnick outlined four characteristics of Trumpism: celebrity, nativism, the outsider and populism. To this, I would add there is another key characteristic: silence. In particular, silence against wrongs. The cult of Trump runs on the silence of those around him. In an emotional monologue, political commentator Stephen Colbert said – “For evil to succeed, all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing.”
That is how Trumpism has gained ground all over America. From the campaign trail of 2016, Trump has made statements most who aren’t part of his base consider beneath a Presidential candidate. At any other time, the Republican party would have condemned those statements, but when it came to Trump they did nothing. Four years in the White House and the GOP refused to speak out against any of Trump’s lies, even at the cost of the lives of the American people.
This has allowed Trump’s politics to not just gain ground, but grow. The Republicans have won four more seats in the House, and conspiracy theories, including QAnon, continue to spread like wildfire. The fact that conservative hosts like Rush Limbaugh have moved from the fringe to the mainstream is proof of the rise of a post-factual world. The cult of Trump is no longer something to be ashamed of, which is why it won’t die so quickly.
Claims of Voter Fraud is the Fuel to the Trumpist Fire
Despite the lies and misinformation, Trump failed to win a majority. Yet, he keeps on insisting voter fraud is the reason he lost. Trump’s campaign is set to mount legal challenges in several states, proof that Trumpism isn’t dying just yet. The Washington Post, by analysing data from the Electronic Registration Information Centre found only “372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of deceased people out of about 14.6 million votes cast by mail in the 2016 and 2018 general elections.” That is about 0.0025% of all votes.
Clearly, the data shows fraud is not an issue in the US. Despite that, Trump, his allies and a large number of American people believe that it is. Prior to the election, a Pew Research Centre study found that “43% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents identify voter fraud as a “major problem” associated with mail-in ballots. By contrast, only 11% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say the same thing.”
As Pankaj Mishra wrote for The Print: “there is little respite from clownish demagoguery once a long-standing political order loses credibility and legitimacy among a significantly large proportion of the population. This is why there can be no easy or quick escape from his baleful shadow.” The legitimacy of America’s democracy will continue to be questioned, even if Trump is forcefully removed.
That is where the President-elect must focus his attention. Any government elected on claims of voter fraud will find it hard to function, especially if the opposition is set to continue to campaign on it. Right from the Obama administration, we have seen strong opposition from the Republican party on several counts. Now, with their jobs and control of the Senate on the line, they are only going to redouble their efforts.
Trumpism and the GOP
The cult of Trump is very closely tied to the GOP. The GOP was always comfortable courting the extreme-right, even before Donald Trump. Right from the 1990s, the party has been comfortable challenging democratic norms in a bid to court the extreme-right. Under Trump, that just became more visible.
Over the last two decades, the extreme-right has gone from being a part of the GOP to being the GOP. A 2019 survey of political experts by Pippa Norris of Harvard University asked respondents to rate just how anti-democratic political parties are. The results speak for themselves. The GOP was rated as one of the most anti-democratic parties, akin to Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS). No wonder Trump called himself a “president of law and order”!
QAnon once relegated to a corner of the dark web has today ridden the coattails of trumpism right into the heart of America’s government. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a strong advocate for debunked QAnon theories has been elected to the US House of Representatives from Georgia’s 14th District.
What this goes to show is that Trumpism is indeed alive and thriving in the GOP. Of course, there are talks of Trump, or even Ivanka or Don Jr. running in 2024. Since Trump still has a strong hold over the party, he could easily stage a comeback with little repercussions. So far, the strength of Trump’s hold on the GOP base has meant that the GOP hasn’t even tried to move beyond Trump’s hold on the party, and it seems unlikely that they will, considering the need to win the two senatorial runoffs in Georgia, where getting out the base will be crucial to determining who controls the Senate
A New Kind of Trumpism
Continued questions over the legitimacy of the election, a party that is perfectly happy to comply with Trump’s wishes and a growing base of extreme-right views all point to one thing – Trumpism will continue to thrive and survive. As long as Fox News and other right-wing media outlets are happy to peddle the lies, 70 million Americans will be happy to lap them up. That will only lead the GOP to continue moving right.
In a Biden administration, not only will Trumpism retain its populism and nativity, but it will become more widespread. Writing for Politico, Tine Nguyen said: “As the official networks housing Q theories get taken down — platforms shutting down groups, Twitter cracking down on hashtags — the QAnon movement has found a home inside the MAGA movement.”
That spells bad news for the Biden Administration. It is hard enough to crack down on far-right terrorists when they are shifting to platforms like MeWe and Telegram. Added to that, the GOP has shown it is willing to adopt conspiracy theorists and racists. The non-profit Media Matters has counted 97 current or former congressional candidates who openly support QAnon.
That is the kind of Trumpism we will see during a Biden administration. Rather than come from the top (or the President), it is now a grassroots movement that will take the whole party with it.
A House Divided
There is an argument that if trump fails to overturn the result as most think likely – it will prove that even under a sustained assault democracy won through. Although at what price? What this goes to show is that America’s democracy is crumbling from within. It is not because of voter fraud as Trump claims, but the rising shift to the right by the Republican Party. As a desperate attempt to win more votes, the shift to the right should concern all of us. Even if they don’t win the Presidency or House, the Republicans can do plenty of damage as an opposition.
We have seen some of that already, from holding back Obama’s Supreme Court justice picks, to stalling on critical funding during the pandemic, the GOP is fully capable of suffocating the Biden administration. The determined attempt to sabotage Biden has already begun. The Trump team has refused to cooperate over a transition. That’s just the beginning. An executive order by Trump will allow him to fire civil servants at will, and replace them with political appointees who cannot be removed for their “political affiliation”.
In essence, this is an attempt by Trump to give Biden a civil service loyal to the GOP, rather than America. It has profound implications for the future of America’s civil service. Effectively, Trump has spent his presidency ensuring that Trumpism will thrive and survive in his absence from the White House.
Abraham Lincoln famously said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Biden may be promising to unite America, but it is clear the GOP, and their base does not want to do so. The promise of Trumpism is just that – to divide the house.