Trumpism 2.0: Message to Survive Delivery Malfunction

Trump's Message to Survive Delivery Malfunction

President Donald Trump

A disconnect between the medium and Trump’s message deprived the incumbent President of a second term in office. However, seventy million voters cannot be wrong – or ignored. A sizeable part of the US electorate that didn’t burst into celebration on Saturday, after Pennsylvania turned blue and prompted the major networks to call the election for Joe Biden, has the medium to blame for its loss.

Most Republicans chose the message rather than the messenger. Christian conservatives overlooked Trump’s many peccadillos to focus on his pro-life stance. Blue collar workers discounted the president’s silver spoon origins to cheer his defence of legacy industries. Establishment conservatives showed disdain for the man’s uncouth style but did appreciate his deference to privilege and class. Libertarians disregarded Trump’s love affair with potentates abroad but cherished his push for small government at home.

Business leaders recognised an entrepreneurial poser but rejoiced the president’s generous tax breaks. And, finally, flag-waving and gun-toting ‘patriots’ refused to entertain any thoughts about possible collusion with foreign powers but couldn’t be more excited about the president’s clamp down on immigration and his impeccable second amendment credentials. Nearly all Republican constituencies feared an imminent breakdown of law and order should Antifa and like-minded riffraff gain a toehold in a White House ‘occupied’ by bleeding heart liberals.

Poor Medium

For all but a handful of Republicans the poor medium was an acceptable price to pay in order to save Trump’s message. A surprising number of ‘Reagan and Trump Democrats’ also stuck to their guns. The anticipated blue wave, presumably riding on popular indignation over Trump’s rather unpresidential mannerism, was reduced to a ripple with vox populi agreeing up to a point but wisely imposing congressional limits on the president-elect’s freedom of action.

The January senatorial twin run-off election in Georgia – which was carried by Biden on the thinnest of margins – offers Democrats but a glimmer of hope: Any whiff of the incoming administration catering to the combative progressive agenda as espoused by New York Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will likely reaffirm the Republicans’ control of the US Senate.

Trump may have lost the election; Trumpism – defined as an almost anarchical mistrust of government – is alive, well, and here to stay. The 45th US president was not the systemic hiccup many held him to be. Though his abrasive rhetoric was certainly out of line, his manifest failure to at least pay lip service to national unity is what ultimately did him in. Most Americans value strength and decisiveness in their president, but also look at the White House for a sense of national purpose, expecting its occupant to keep the nation on an even keel and somewhat together.

Though charismatically rather underwhelming, Biden has built his 47-year career in Washington on reaching out to opponents, meeting them halfway, and being as good as his word. A political operator par excellence, the president-elect realises that anger seldom yields results whereas the pursuit of consensus often does. Hopefully, Biden also realises that he embodies the Washington establishment – a quality that raises suspicion amongst a great many voters who had elected Trump to ‘drain the swamp’ instead of Hilary Clinton who represented said swamp – and must act swiftly to address those lingering misgivings.

Downfall

Almost forgotten in the euphoria of the present moment, Trump entered 2020 on a high. He had survived impeachment, appointed an impressive cohort of conservative judges, disassembled the Islamic State without resorting to overt war, and honoured his promise to limit immigration. Most important of all, he got the economy firing on all cylinders with Wall Street breaking records and unemployment hitting rock bottom.

This American idyll was rudely disturbed by the onset of the Corona pandemic which Trump initially dismissed as nothing more than a harmless flu that would soon peter out, if not ‘magically’ disappear. As the outbreak quickly ripped through the nation, he continued to hold that line; resorting to statistical gimmickry to bend the curve downwards, suggesting a miraculous vaccine would bring immediate salvation, and even proposing bleach as a possible remedy – all the while ridiculing public health experts and branding them ‘alarmists’ and ‘fear mongers’.

After he succumbed to the virus last month and was admitted to a military hospital for treatment with experimental drugs, many Americans realised the error of the president’s ways and woke up to the fact that the pandemic was real – and not a sinister plot hatched by the ‘deep state’. Though the US election did not turn into a referendum on the Corona pandemic, as Democrats had hoped, the glaringly obvious federal mishandling of the emergency did dissipate Trump’s aura of infallibility. After that, no degree of angry tweeting by the president – and his tone became increasingly acerbic, bordering the lunatic – could put humpty dumpty back together again.

Second Chances

A forgiving nation by nature, and always eager to offer second chances, Americans usually have little time for losers and even less for sore losers. Trump was no different, but with an unpleasant twist. Between 1991 and 2009, his hotel and casino businesses filed six times for bankruptcy protection to offload and renegotiate debt.

In early September, the Atlantic Monthly revealed that the president last year told staff members whilst on a visit to France that he did not see the point of visiting the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris because ‘it is filled with losers’. Unperturbed, he continued to brand the 1,811 US marines fallen in the Battle of Belleau Wood ‘suckers’ for getting killed. Already in 2015, Trump poured scorn on the war record of the late Senator John McCain who languished five years in a North Vietnamese prisoner camp, saying: “He’s not a war hero. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Trump must now own the insults he hurled at others. Conveniently or otherwise, he seems to have forgotten his December 30, 2014, tweet in which he posited that winners are differentiated from losers in how they react to new twists of fate. Perhaps the tweet has been misinterpreted all along and implies that winners must stick to their narrative, come what may.

Trump, now on the verge of turning into a sore loser, did captured the moment – the contradictory and singularly complex zeitgeist of the present – to near perfection. His message still resonates with more the than 70 million voters who distrust mealy-mouthed politicians. In 2016, the electorate got perhaps more than it had bargained for. Biden will undoubtedly tilt the scales towards a much more reasoned equilibrium. He may, however, wish to rein in the more excitedly progressive wing of his Democratic Party lest Trump’s message be relayed to someone smart enough to lend it an air of style.


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