Donald Trump is set to leave the White House following his defeat by Joe Biden in a historically significant election. Yet whilst Trump the man joins the invite-only club of one-term Presidents, Trumpism- the ideology that has evolved and emerged over the last four years- will remain if Democrats cannot provide a real alternative. From billionaires and rural farmers, to the religious right and the anti-science anti-truthers, Trumpism has infected a huge cross section of the national psyche because of its ambiguity, flexibility, and naked chauvinism.
Professor Peter J Katzenstein has defined Trumpism as resting on the three pillars of ethnonationalism, religion, and race. Essentially, Trumpism creates an adversarial ‘Other’ in all parts of life. Establishment Democrats, progressive Democrats, the media, immigrants, scientists, Black Lives Matter activists, Muslims, Mexicans (the list goes on…) are all identified by Trumpism as being to blame for the issues in America.
Sometimes, Trumpism is correct in asserting that the Democrats have neglected working people and subjected them to decades of neoliberal policies that have devastated many communities. Yet, what remains in the dust of these crumbling towns and what Trumpism draws out within this kernel of truth, is a summons to whiteness.
When economic despair has stripped people of hope, Trumpism offers whiteness as a tool for rebuilding middle America’s broken societies. When Trumpism vows to put ‘America First’, it appeals simultaneously to not only a desire to see industry back on American soil, but an emasculated sense of whiteness that can be unashamedly put ‘first’. It becomes synonymous with ‘the good old days’ of the past. When factories were pumping and jobs were secure, that’s when America was ‘great’. Appealing to this sense of racial-tinged nostalgia is what Trumpism does best.
The irony is of course that the Trumpism over the last four years has benefited the ultra-rich the most. Tax cuts, efforts to deregulate the economy, and preservation of private interests in all areas of American life have ensured that while Trumpism claims to be for the working man and woman, it is actually for its billionaire allies- who came out in full force at the 2020 election in donating to the Trump campaign. Yet, this is why Trumpism is so powerful: because it is a flexible ideology which can be interpreted to mean a multitude of things.
The Democrats have a huge task to unclasp the small-handed hold that Trumpism has around the neck of America. They need to provide real alternatives to the solutions Trumpism has offered. This does not mean appealing to the quasi-fascist, racist, misogynistic ‘base’: these views must be confronted head on.
However, in talking about the economy, Democrats need to shape and frame the narrative that Trumpism currently occupies. At the 2020 election, the economy was seen by voters as the most important issue. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed upwards of 240,000 lives, the issue was the economy- how America was going to get back on its feet economically amidst and after the pandemic was more important than the virus itself. Where Trump vowed to reopen the economy, The Democrats, whilst rightly being guided by the science, in their rhetoric on coronavirus at least, stood for lockdown and nothing much else. They need to offer concrete economic stimulus packages to help Americans over the next few months, rather than voting through congress billions of dollars of relief for corporations and showing off their stuffed-to-the-brim freezers of ice cream whilst record numbers of Americans are losing their jobs.
Democrats and their activists need to go into poor communities and offer local solutions to local problems. Essentially, they need to take the next four years to disentangle the politics from the party identity. They would do well to remember that politics begins the moment you walk out of the door and ends when you put an ‘X’ in the ballot box. If Democrats can stimulate grassroots initiatives, like Stacey Abrams did in Georgia, they may do well in 2024.
They should and must celebrate the historic victory of Joe Biden who has ousted the ranting, narcissistic, bleach-injecting clown. But the man is easier to topple than what he has left behind.
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