- While Trump has been definitively defeated, he continues his attacks on democracy, serially denying democratic electoral procedures and promoting a ridiculous and, most probably, a failing coup attempt.
- It is true that democratic institutions are relatively stronger than in the past, and yet we must not assume that they are so formidable as to fully avoid the return of Trump to power.
- It is clear that justice being served would solidify democracy and provide a warning to future Trumpists. past stories of democratic reconstruction teach us that the defense of legality and legitimate politics go hand in hand
Trump leaves but the seeds of Trumpism remain. Now that Trump has been defeated, it is important to do a forensic analysis of what went wrong with democracy in the United States and, at the same time, acknowledge how and why its "antibodies" worked in the last election.
While Trump has been definitively defeated, he continues his attacks on democracy, serially denying democratic electoral procedures and promoting a ridiculous and, most probably, a failing coup attempt.
Trumpism increases its possibilities for the future by repeating its most destructive anti-democratic behavior, denying reality and promoting the delegitimization of democracy.
In pursuit of the wishes of its leader, Trumpism has created a new and mobilizing myth. Thinking of his future triumphant return, Trump presents himself not as the loser that he really is but as a victim of treason to the fatherland that he is clearly not.
There are important resonances with the myths of the “lost cause” created by American slavers and racists after their defeat in the American Civil War as well as the proto-fascist myth of the “stab in the back” used by defeated German generals at the end of World War I in 1918.
As in previous fascist and populist cases in history, Trumpist propaganda rewrites history through deliberate fiction. And yet fact-based history continues its course. With this historical framework in mind, we must not only ask ourselves what went wrong and what was right in the analysis of the antidemocratic phenomenon of the American caudillo, but also what the history of authoritarianism can tell us something about the possible future paths to power of Trumpism.
Trumpism lost a battle but seeks victory in a longer war. Its anti-democratic attempts show that it is cementing a new myth of a lost battle eyeing a presidential run, and with or without that, that the time of neo-Trumpisms (anti-democracy candidates that follow the myth of Trump) is near in the future.
Hannah Arendt faced this scenario of a longer war in June 1945. The German-Jewish philosopher believed that fascism had not ended after its defeat and that the seeds of a fascist international were well planted globally, especially in South America.
Arendt envisioned the continuity between classical fascism and the democratic reformulation of fascism that was populism. But the new ism was very from the past. It was a post-fascism that left behind what had been the constitutive elements of fascism such as xenophobia, absolute repression, totalitarian propaganda techniques and dictatorship.
From Juan Perón in Argentina to Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, these elements were not at the center of politics. In contrast, the new populisms, with Trumpism leading the pack and closely followed by Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Viktor Orban in Hungary and Matteo Salvini in Italy, have made many of those fascist elements important again. In short, they have returned populism to key dimensions of fascism, with the exception, of course, of the dictatorial dimension.
Trumpism, like these new populisms as a whole, can be defined as the post-fascist moment in which the freedom to think was replaced by a mixture of freedom to buy, of populist racism and xenophobia, of fascist-style lies, of giving leaders a free pass to ignore their own health and that of others and, last but not least, of total obedience to the leader.
The costs of this conception have been manifolding and often lethal. Trump's years in office have been a disaster from the point of view of a democracy that has been deeply denigrated but not destroyed in the fascist style.
It is true that democratic institutions are relatively stronger than in the past, and yet we must not assume that they are so formidable as to fully avoid the return of Trump to power. The same applies to future neo-Trumpists in waiting such as his daughter Ivanka Trump, Mike Pence or Senators Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton or Ted Cruz. With or without Trump, democracy will again be attacked from within. Despite its failures, Trumpism will remain a feature of American politics.
We must remember that leaders like Trump were possible because democracy was less participatory. It was unfair, it was elitist. In other words, against extreme right-wing populism we need democracy to be more just and more representative. Constitutional democracy must defend itself against the danger of fascism that Trumpism represents, but it must also expand, be more tolerant and be less unequal.
Based on its recent history, it is possible to say that Trumpism will present a terrible and implacable opposition. Neither deliberation nor dialogue will be part of the picture.
We can expect more lies and more conspiracy theories, including the mobilizing myth of an unjust and “false” defeat. And perhaps we can also expect, more militarization of politics and violence and the insistence on the cult of their leader as a persecuted heroe who constantly needs to be redeemed from the electoral failure and future judicial processes against him.
To conclude, let's analyze this last point. Will Trump be investigated for gross negligence and dereliction of duty, and even worse the promotion of disease and death in conditions of a national and global health pandemic? What about the plentiful alleged cases of corruption and the many incitements to repression and violence?
It is too early to say whether the Biden administration will not oppose these judicial processes, but it is clear that justice being served would solidify democracy and provide a warning to future Trumpists. The opposite case, and an infamous one, is that of Gerald Ford's presidential pardon of Richard Nixon for his crimes. And yet, Nixon’s crimes seem tenuous compared to the legal muddles that Trump may face if he is investigated. One thing is clear, past stories of democratic reconstruction teach us that the defense of legality and legitimate politics go hand in hand.
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