It is hard to imagine, but it has been 7 years since a fateful trip down an escalator brought Trumpism into our national vocabulary. Now we will see if this political era was an aberration, or whether there will be an ongoing phenomena of selfish nationalism as a defining political belief. So many things have changed in the intervening years. For one thing, money was nearly free for much of the Trump era as interest rates hovered near zero. This nation and the world suffered from the most extensive viral infection we have seen in a century – though many people still do not think there was any unusual disease around them.
In many ways, the response to COVID provides an answer that Trumpism is not an aberration. If Trumpism is defined as a distrust of all forms governmental, along with a belief that our nation is better off going it alone and forgoing all international alliances, then no, Trumpism is not an aberration. An entire wing of the Republicans has always stood for isolationism, and a propensity toward conspiracy theories. As I grew up, it seemed those beliefs got segregated within self-contained enclaves, like the John Birch Society. We were able to laugh at those who believed in the imminent threat water fluoridation posed. But the Republicans writ large were able to subjugate this tendency since the existential threat of international communism seemed to be the primary motivation for foreign policy.
Once the communist threat imploded, the glue holding the Republican coalition loosened. Combined with downward economic mobility afflicting much of the nation’s interior, we emerged into a world where a significant portion of the population became convinced nothing good would ever come to them if the elites remained in charge. The wisdom of Donald Trump (gad – it hurts to write that phrase) was to reach out, if only in a superficial way, to that segment of the population and toss them a life preserver. That so many reached out for that life preserver, even when it was revealed to be covered with the slime of self-interest, carried Donald Trump to an improbable victory.
Once in office, he tried ineffectually to turn the levers of power to his advantage. Much to his chagrin, he found it was not possible to turn the ship of state, even in a single four-year term. He mistook this resistance to change to an entity he called the deep state. But he was able to establish his mark upon many of the governmental organizations, especially those with a conservative bent. Still, he found it impossible to totally restructure those portions of government with a liberal bias, and thus minimal change occurred in the groups who used science to govern their actions. Fortunately for us, the corruption and incompetence of Donald Trump enabled the deep state to survive a single term.
But if you view Donald Trump as someone who rode the currents to victory in spite of himself, the second generation of Trumpism offers hope to those who believe in the ultimate objectives of Trump. They come with the experience of running large organizations, and have survived the skirmishes politics throw up. Governors of Texas and Florida are well-positioned to ride the waves of anti-government sentiment still crashing on our shores. They are backed by legions of followers who self-segregate into media pools where only their own perspective is allowed. Nowhere was that more evident than in the decision of Fox News to not only ignore the prime time January 6 hearing, but in the secondary decision that organization made to forego any commercial revenue in the hopes of keeping fingers from switching inputs to other channels, where the hearing was playing.
So where we stand is at a precipice. It is still possible to convince a portion of this nation of the evil represented in the Republican position, while at the same time it is possible to evoke emotional support for those same positions in another segment of the population. But that is a key point. Only 20 million people watched the first January 6 hearing, and while those involved in television believed this was a huge crowd (it rivaled the audience for Sunday Night Football!), I myself was underwhelmed by an audience of 6% of the population of this nation who had enough interest to tune in for two hours. You must realize it will be the 94% who didn’t watch this coverage who will determine the outcome.
Those who will decide the course of this nation are not the people invested in politics. The ones who will decide are those who cannot see beyond their current economic conditions and view their vote as the only tool they have to right the wrongs they see in their own lives. You can try to convince them to vote in favor of principles, but high and mighty thoughts will be swallowed by the economic waves battering the shore. Many folks cannot see beyond those waves, and to persuade them of the impending death of democracy should they choose the party of autocrats is hopeless. What we must do is figure out a way to make more noise than the opposition. I am convinced it is necessary to yell, since it seems only cacophony can be heard over the drone of the trumpets. There’s a reason Twitter has such a small character limit to its posts – the national attention span can’t handle longer thoughts.
What this nation needs is not a better COVID vaccine. We need a vaccine against the idiocy and idolatry of Trumpism.