The lingering spectre of Trumpism

For many people across the world, and not just in the United States, 20 January 2021 was a date marked by a collective, almost universal, sigh of relief. It was the formal end of the train wreck presidency of Donald J Trump.

For four tumultuous years, the international community watched in dismay, alarm and shock as a the self-declared ‘non-politician’ wreaked dysfunctional havoc on the United States of America and, to a lesser extent, the global stage.

Here was a president, devoid of a moral compass, entirely comfortable with ruling by division, inciting hatred and spreading misinformation all whilst ingratiating himself – to feed his enormous insatiable ego and his personal wealth. His administration from day one set itself the task of dismantling the social fabric of the US, emboldening intolerance, shamelessly promoting an Orwellian-inspired interpretation of reality and undermining the very foundations of US democracy.

A disturbing and tragic side-effect of Trump’s personality disorder was his sheer incompetence in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, which he initially declared was a ‘Democrat hoax’. To this day, it is an example of unfathomable negligence and disregard for the lives of his fellow citizens.

Not achieved by any other GOP US president, Trump re-moulded that party into a personality cult. The very threat of his displeasure made former primary election foes quake and submit almost instantly. Whilst Trump pushed his re-formed party into a vocal force for white nationalism, racism, conspiracy theorists, authoritarianism, anti-Semitism, homophobes and misogynists, the once powerful ‘establishment’ of that same party were reduced to mere spectators.

Then we saw the fallout of the 2020 US presidential election. The myth of a “stolen election” was used with such disturbing effectiveness that many GOP politicians still refuse to acknowledge reality and condemn Trump for playing out his self-induced fantasy in real life. The result of this cowardice is now clear. His refusal to accept the fact that he lost in November, that there was no widespread election fraud, led directly to the violent storming of the Capitol building on 6 January. It took several long weeks for some GOP politicians to admit the truth.

However, as we have seen since the inauguration of his successor, Joe Biden, the existential threat of Trumpism remains, and in some quarters, is being bolstered. The GOP is still beholden to his ego, his fantasy and his propensity to lie at a whim. Although this might dissipate over time, it still begs the question how a ‘mainstream’ conservative political party could be dominated so completely by such an immoral, narcissistic individual, who has a well-documented deceitful past and has clearly engaged in, and continues to engage in, questionable activities.

The remedy for the spectre of Trumpism – not just in the US but wherever it appears – is bold, unwavering support for our democracy, for human dignity and equality and, of course, for truth. Progressive forces must examine ways to solidify and transform the institutions that underpin our democratic processes and underpin our basic human rights.

There is also a lesson for us here in Australia. Although not wielding a direct impact, the alarming by-product of Trumpism is how it found so many admirers in the Liberal and National parties. Since the clearly evident electoral loss of Trump, a number of Coalition MP’s and supporters – including their Murdoch press cheer squad, were disturbingly muted in their criticism of Trump and his fanatical base. Make no mistake, intolerance will always find a way to express itself and still has a home in ‘mainstream’ Australian politics.

However, what US democracy demonstrated, despite its well-known systemic flaws, is that given an opportunity to resist, citizens will use their power to express opposition to an abhorrent creed.

Of course, it is dangerous to assume that Trumpism has passed.

We must remember, almost 47% of US voters willingly chose intolerance, racism, inequality and deceit. Elsewhere, including here in Australia, those that would advance this hateful agenda feel a sense of vindication and a renewed sense of purpose. Recognising the need to exorcise the spectre of Trumpism – a mutated version of 20th century fascism – is vital.

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