Donald Trump left the White House on Wednesday morning, American time. Air Force One took him to Florida, where he plans to live on his Mar-a-Lago estate. On Wednesday lunchtime, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States and Kamala Harris as its Vice President. A new team at the helm of the United States – but also a new era? One thing is certain, Trumpism will remain.
There were torturous weeks between the November 3rd election and the day of inauguration. Everything that had made up Trump’s presidency condensed and accelerated: the narcissist struggled and twitched to wriggle out of the reality of his election defeat. He dispatched an army of lawyers to legally impose on America its narrative of the “stolen election”. When reality withstood even the most bizarre testimony and the third recount, he called on his followers to go “wild”. On January 6th, they stormed the Capitol.
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It was an attempted coup, but it was not just aimed at maintaining power. It was directed against the truth. Trump wanted to overthrow reality and replace it with “alternative facts”: with lies.
Trump’s coup attempt was also an attempt to overthrow the truth
Populism has been described as an attempt to bring political power to a “real people” oppressed by a supposedly elitist minority. The story of the stolen election, but also conspiracy theories such as the QAnon cult, are ultimately only variants of the narrative that the “true majority” is being subjugated.
Political populism in Europe and the US has often linked this narrative with real political problems: with the challenges that migration and integration bring with them, with poverty and inequality. Trumpism, on the other hand, has almost completely decoupled itself from real political problems during Trump’s tenure.
White men without college degrees brought Trump to power
When he came to power in 2016, Trump’s election victory was largely attributed to one group: white men, often without a college degree, often from rural areas who had not participated in politics for years, suddenly started voting. They wanted to be heard and they found it.
Many liberal politicians self-critically admitted that they had not paid enough attention to these people and the regions in which they lived, that areas that had become de-industrialized or threatened by poverty as a result of globalization had been left to their own devices for too long. In many, especially rural constituencies, Democrats changed their language and politics, with success. In the 2018 congressional elections, they won seats in the House of Representatives with “blue collar” messages.
Trump’s populism became a cult
But under the swelling stream of lying tweets and the beat the constant propaganda of right-wing speakers in the media lost the real concerns and needs for Trump’s populism of political importance. The president himself increasingly became the center of a political cult.
The Russia affair was seen as an attempt to disempower him – and with it his followers. This reached its climax in the story of the lost election and the storming of the Capitol: Trump’s supporters only fight for the fantasy of being the majority. Populism has mutated into Trumpism.
The fear of his followers is steeped in racism
This was also possible because Trump’s success was not just fueled by the anger of globalization losers from the start. The fear that unites many of his followers is also the fear of whites of becoming a minority, both culturally (among ultra-conservative Christians) and demographically.
Their fear is permeated with racist resentment. Trump cared for and fed them. He has described right-wing extremists as “good people”, advised MPs with dark skin to go back “to their own countries” and stylized the Black Lives Matter protests as an attack on the (white) order of American suburbs. The storming of the Capitol was also the coup attempt by whites who threaten to lose their political power.
For decades, Republicans have tried to prevent minorities from voting
Trump thus has the decades-long development of the Republicans to the White Party taken to extremes, like Stuart Stevens, a former top Republican strategist, them in his book “It Was All a Lie” describes. Republicans have set themselves the task of maintaining the political power of white voters despite changing demographic realities, for example by making it difficult to register for the election or to vote by letter – which leads to a lower turnout among People of Color .
Trump also wanted to legally prohibit postal voting and even boycotted the post office. But the method is exhausted, as the election victory of the Georgia Democrats shows. The coup attempt became the last resort of the “true” white people.
Joe Biden will form the most diverse cabinet in American history
Joe Biden will now form the most diverse cabinet in American history. American reality has triumphed, it is being replicated in Washington. But the overthrow succeeded at the same time: Trumpism did not win political power, but it alienated a large proportion of the voters from reality. Can Biden free the followers of a cult from the fantasy
There is no political offer that Biden could use to ease the Trumpists’ racist fears. He cannot acknowledge their reality. But he can alleviate their real-world worries and needs, in the hope of indirectly breaking the spell of the cult. In this respect – as perverse as that may sound – the pandemic is a huge opportunity. Because hardly any truth forces itself on people with such brutality as the corona virus.
It is Trump himself who first burdened his followers with this reality through the mismanagement of the pandemic: getting sick and dying in the closest environment, especially where “skeptics” live and do not wear masks. The more this reality is denied, the harder it strikes. It is therefore also an opportunity to prove what concrete politics can achieve. Joe Biden wants a 1.9 trillion corona aid package to be passed first. It contains economic and social aid and money for a vaccination campaign.
50 million Americans are said to be vaccinated in the first 100 days of his term in office. 50 million contacts with specific politics. It is also an opportunity to work locally: the government provides the money, the mayors and governors will act, not an abstract “elite” far away in Washington. There is still hope for reality.