The four-year administration of United States President Donald Trump is coming to an end. Voting by presidential electors on Dec. 14 confirmed that Democratic candidate Joe Biden will be the next president.
President Trump brought confusion to both the U.S. and the rest of the world. American democracy was compromised, and divisions and conflicts deepened.
What gave birth to Trumpian politics, and what is it leaving behind? Without reevaluating and reflecting on the events, it will be impossible to rebuild the country.
We recall the phrase “alternative facts” used repeatedly by a senior White House official shortly after the launch of the Trump administration in 2017. The White House argued that the crowd that attended Trump’s inauguration was the biggest in history, and when faced with evidence that that wasn’t the truth, insisted that it was true if the figure included those who watched the inauguration on television and online.
Looking back, justifying falsities, refusing to acknowledge inconvenient truths, and taking refuge in a world of fabrications comprised the origin of Trumpian politics.
Trump defended white supremacists, and treated those protesting discrimination against Black people as terrorists. He even let out a torrent of abusive language, saying a member of the House of Representatives originally from Somalia should “go back” to the “corrupt” country where she was born.
One after another, Trump fired Cabinet members and aides who failed to comply with his every wish. He was unrelenting even to central figures of the government, such as the secretary of state, the attorney general and the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). He also targeted Congress and the courts, calling the Democrats “thieves” and a federal judge who criticized his immigration policy as a “so-called” judge.
Trump saw much of the media as the enemy. “Fake news” was a platitude that he used to criticize newspapers and television that resisted the Trump administration, regardless of whether their reporting was truthful.
During the presidential election, the president branded mail-in voting as being a hotbed of voter fraud and made the novel coronavirus seem less threatening than it is, telling the public it would not take long for it to disappear. These are still fresh in our memories.
He fomented discrimination and incited division. He misused his authority to appoint personnel, and trampled on the checks and balances that were supposed to rein in his powers. He abused his powers with abandon, and as a result, American democracy suffered deep wounds.
But it mostly was the laborers who are suffering from low wages or are now unemployed due to economic globalization and industrial automation who have been supporting Trump. Under the slogan “Make America Great Again,” people who had been disenchanted with the political establishment came together and put their faith in Trump’s potential to destroy the old and breathe new life into politics.
Trump launched a trade war against China, which continued unfair trade practices, and demonstrated to Russia that the U.S. was ready to go on the offensive in a nuclear arms race. His supporters were relieved.
But Trump’s destructive power was put to use recklessly.
Its effects directly showed in foreign diplomacy. Trump pulled the U.S. out of multilateral arrangements one after another, from the Trans Pacific Partnership to the Iran nuclear deal. As a result of exposing his attitude to simply pursue national interests, Trump failed to forge a new framework that would take the place of the existing world order, and instead isolated the country from the rest of the world.
In his impeachment hearings, it was brought to light that Trump had applied pressure on the Ukrainian president to assist his electoral victory.
According to a survey by the American think tank Pew Research Center, the level of confidence in Trump is lower than that for Russian President Vladimir Putin or Chinese leader Xi Jinping. But does that mean that Trump’s supporters feel they have been let down by him? Considering that Trump obtained far more votes in the November presidential election this year than he did in 2016 demonstrates that that is not the case.
Many of his supporters agree with Trump, a president who insists without any evidence that the election had been “stolen,” and that he was the winner.
On Twitter, Trump posted that the latest presidential election was “the most corrupt election in U.S. history!” and that the U.S. today was not the real U.S. he knew.
According to a public opinion poll, many Trump supporters believe there was election fraud, and do not see Biden as the legitimate president-elect. Some of Trump’s supporters are pushing for him to run for president again in 2024, while others believe that he will become the Republican Party’s kingmaker.
What we see before us is a Trumpian populism that generates political vitality taking root in the U.S., with anger and disappointment toward a sense of stagnation as its fuel.
American democracy, with its respect for freedom and its generous spirit, was once called a “lighthouse” of the world. It will not be easy to bring back those sound democratic politics.
But it is clear what needs to be done. Redressing disparities, creating a fair society, and placing weight on international cooperation will be the prescription for correcting what Trump has done to the U.S.
And for that, a bipartisan effort will be necessary. Biden has said that it is time for unity, and the top Republican acknowledged Biden’s victory in the presidential election. That is where the small ray of light lies.