Trump Lost The Presidential Race But Trumpism Remains A Potent Force in US Politics
He has not lost. It is a temporary setback in an otherwise extraordinary political career. He won the hearts and minds of millions of Americans not because he had a great message or a credible alternative for governance. All he did was to grasp the right opportunity at the right time to ride on the wave of national populism brewing not just in the United States, but in many countries of Europe and beyond. The globalization in the last couple of decades has benefitted a small global elite which continues to reap the harvest of this immense economic connectivity. In fact, that is why the Donald was able to transform his father’s local Brooklyn business into an international real estate empire – which sprung up on the back of the bourgeoisie travelling around the world in search of cocoons of peace such as the Grand Hyatt in the 80s – transformed by the upcoming mogul from the rundown Commodore Hotel into a haven of sorts in New York.
Biden’s victory is not a reflection of the complete rejection of America First, rather it is the disapproval with Trump’s style of rhetoric. It got too heated after George Floyd. Americans may be somewhat racist, more so than many Europeans but they are still not neo-Nazis as fake Russian news stories may have led us to believe. There is a modicum of decency in the average blue-collar working-class stiff. He may be white, and he may hate the rioting and looting going on in the Eastern and Western seaboards, but he would hesitate to knee down a regular Black guy for no reason. Guys like those came out in droves in the swing states of Wisconsin and Michigan to tilt the odds in favour of the now President-elect. Then there were millions of mail-in-ballots, unique to this election. They took the steam out of an electric campaign by Trump – handing Pennsylvania on a platter to ‘Sleepy Joe’. And, if it was not for Trump’s mangled response to Covid-19, he may very well have won.
Does this election result mean that populism has died? Does it mean that there are no followers of the incendiary rhetoric unique to both elections Trump got involved in? In fact, this political angst did not even start with Trump. Sarah Palin – whom Zardari did not shy away from showering compliments on – was the very first Trump way before Donald Trump emerged on the scene. I use the name Trump as a common noun because the incumbent US President has used the name “Trump” as a phenomenal marketing weapon to stoke the flames of nationalism and ride on it much like he used brand marketing to launch his real estate brand. His political brand does not have any ideological touch but has a thin veneer of hatred of the ‘other’ – a soft and mellow version of the hatred the kind Mussolini’s and Hitler’s youth bands espoused.
The good news is that not all Americans subscribe to it, not even most of them. Even in the last election, the popular vote went to Hillary Clinton. In this election, the margin was even higher.
But there are reasons to be afraid.
A key fear is that this Presidential defeat will make Trump and his merry band of supporters even more extremist and if the economy continues the way it has been going since coronavirus descended, and if the pandemic attacks America in another giant wave, there would be more unemployment, more grievances addressed at the system. Joe Biden might be able to manage a little with his calm voice, but economic stagnancy gives birth to hatred driven nationalism.
Trump may have lost the race for the Presidency but he has not lost politically. Millions of rural Americans have found their voice in Trump. These groups yearn for the mythical days gone by, and felt compelled by Trump to come out in droves enabling him to win the second highest popular vote in American history. There are rumours circulating that Trump has plans to launch a TV channel, which he will use to remain the leader of this group of nouveau far-rightists. Two days ago, Kushner expressed disappointment with Rupert Murdoch for Fox’s Arizona call and Trump seems very unhappy with his once favorite channel. Therefore, Trump starting the television version of Brietbart News to furnish his brand would not be surprising. What the President-elect Biden ought to do in the future is to find ways of accelerating economic growth no matter how many stimulus packages it takes, because this is the only thing would stymie the tide away from the extreme right, prevent more people from joining the camp.
Trump must not be hated for being the leader of this camp. All he has done is give voice to the lamentation and aggression of the ignored classes of both men and women in middle America who are finding it hard to survive. I doubt he believes much of the rhetoric he spins. It is only for the cameras. He may appear natural on the camera and he might seem to revel in his rhetoric but that is only because he is a good salesman reading from the perfect pitch in his mind. Who else can turn the most grotesque video ever of a Presidential front-runner talking about grabbing women by the p**sy into a victory over Clinton? He has a knack for reading the pulse of the people which the entrenched GOP class in DC just cannot. Trump is a great salesman because he can relate to the common people, to understand what they are feeling and give vent to their feelings in an overly dramatic and exciting manner. Yet, he would never have won the Presidency if he was not a cunning strategist, in his gut feeling the right time to enter the Presidential race, when aftereffects of a recession had angered the right by the supposedly socialist direction the country was taking.
Trump may not have been a beacon of hope for the rational amongst us, but he demonstrated the power of non-intellectuals. If you hate him for this, it would be like hating Rupert Murdoch, an Australian and an avowed internationalist for capitalizing on the same fears and tensions felt by middle America via his extremely popular Fox News channels.
And let’s not worry too much. Trump will concede. He will have the same light-hearted press conference with Joe Biden on his last day as he did with Barrack Obama on his first. But he is unlikely to quit politics.
The author works in alternative financing on Wall Street, and has a fascination with modern history and politics.