By Muyiwa Adetiba
Many news buffs who rely on CNN for their news – a lot of people across the world do – will see Mr Donald Trump the incumbent US President, as a man who is unworthy of the office he holds. Over the course of his presidency, Mr Trump has been portrayed by CNN, not without substance I must add, as a leader with serious character flaws.
CNN is not alone. The mainstream media in general think very little of him. One described him as a serial liar using fact- check which has attributed about a lie a day on the average to him, as proof. One went even further to say he has no character at all. Many were appalled that he got there in the first place.
Mr Trump does not help his own cause to be fair. His administration is unorthodox at best and simply chaotic for the most part. His favourite sentence in ‘The Apprentice’ the reality show that got him good ratings was ‘you are fired’. It turned out to be one of his more favourite sentences in office. He had hired and fired more executives in his four years as President than any of his predecessors. He is still firing as we speak. Its probably indicative of the allegations of ruthlessness, lack of empathy and narcissism that seem to trail him.
His term as President was preceded by scandals. They trailed him throughout his four years. But ‘tell all’ books which would have damaged many public figures had little effect on him. Scandals which would have hurt others hardly scratched his indelicate skin. Like water on a duck, he simply shrugged off one scandal after another with hardly any movement on his approval – or disapproval – needle. Sometimes it seemed he welcomed the scandals as distractions from weightier issues of governance.
On the other hand, those who watch Fox News or read some conservative journals see a different portrayal of Mr Trump. Fox News and a few right wing media portray a strong, macho man who is ready to defend the age-old values of America. The last man standing against the invasion of immigrants. The bastion of basic rights.
The defender of rural America and those things that once made America great – even when those things are intangible or racist. The Evangelicals see him as the man who will checkmate the excesses of liberal, or if you like, immoral behaviour; the man who will bring God back to the society. And some – even this beggars belief – see him as the man ordained by God to take on the Anti-Christ who they see in whomever they choose. To make all these believable, conspiracy theories are woven so deep and around so many dark issues, that they become mind blowing and frightening. The more frightening the conspiracy theories, the better because fear is the glue that binds them. Fear is the opium they feed on. Ignorance, fuelled by fear, is what makes alternative facts become sacrosanct. Welcome to the world of Trumpism.
Some adherents, especially the evangelicals, are sometimes uncomfortable with his brashness, his bullying nature, his lack of deep moral values and his disrespect for truth. They probably would want a man more suitable to the ‘godly mission’ they have assigned him. Some adherents seem too outwardly suave and sophisticated to publicly claim their support for Trump because of what it would say about their persons. So they admire him in the closet. Other adherents actually love the brashness that goes against the grain of orthodoxy if not decency.
They see it as coming from a man who is not afraid to call it as he sees it. All of them however look beyond his character traits to the bigger picture. That bigger picture is what over 72 million Americans voted for during this election despite his mishandling of the pandemic, despite his tax debacle, despite his impeachment, despite the downward spiral of the economy. That bigger picture is Trumpism. Lesser mortals would have been swept away by these developments in an election year. Not Trump. Instead, he got 10 million more votes than he had in 2016. The second highest in the history of American elections. If ever a referendum was needed on what Trump represents, this was it.
Joe Biden, the Democratic flag bearer and now President-elect, said the contest was for the soul of America. He was right. The contest was not about the pandemic that had claimed a quarter of a million American lives; it was not about rising unemployment; it was not about healthcare; it was not about character. Many of those things which normally decided elections in the past had become tangential. It was also not about the GOP and its position on lesser government, gun control and family values. Those issues had also become tangential.
What was crucially important to voters was which America would emerge in 2021. Americans had been largely capitalists. Its politics had been centre left or centre right. Those on the fringes had always been humoured but largely ignored. But it didn’t stop them feeling angry and frustrated believing America was leaving them behind. Their numbers grew. So did their desperation. So did their tendency towards militancy. The far right ate into the Republican Party. The far left ate into the Democratic Party.
While the Democrats tried to accommodate its far left without losing its essence, Donald trump seized the far right and ran with it. The rise of populism, email scandal and voter apathy gave him the Presidency in 2016. He has spent the last four years strengthening and emboldening the far right. Today, he owns it and what it represents. Today it has consumed the Republican Party. That explains why the leaders of the Party cannot challenge Mr Trump without consequences even when they feel queasy about some of his antics. This explains their lack of spine to do what is right with the outcome of this election.
Besides the tussle between the far right and far left, there is the existential tussle between White Americans and Coloured Americans. It is telling that almost 60% of White Americans voted Trump while almost 90% of Black Americans voted Biden. Simply put, one wants an America that will retain its privilege and culture. The other craves relevance in a diverse culture and a chance to breathe in a stifling environment. The issues are literally life and death to the two sides. But they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. A common ground can be found.
So Trumpism is not just a common cold that will burn itself out. It is a coronavirus that can destroy vital organs if not treated promptly. Trumpism must not be treated as cavalierly as Donald Trump treated COVID19. It cannot be wished away. Can GOP find a vaccine soon? For its sake? For the sake of America?