Cancel culture reaches its grim nadir as Trump leaves the White House
Where do you even start or end thinking or writing about Donald Trump? The phenomenon he spawns is so deeply conflicted and conflicting that providing a cogent commentary on it can barely be done without rolling out the same clichéd context beforehand. Our attempts to analyse Trump in real-time are undermined by the inherent need to regurgitate the full, gory history. We cannot separate the actions and behaviours from the ideological geneses thereof. The guy is just too complex.
Indeed, such a complicated figure is an ideal subject for books, not blogs, because we need 400 pages to broach each aspect of his multifaceted personality in adequate detail. Moreover, each aspect of Trump – or Trumpism – has its own tentacular properties, with causes, effects, legacies and manifestations. To ponder America’s 45th president, therefore, is to engage in social science experimentation, because the debates he ignites are so broad as to boggle the mind.
Alas, nothing we write about Donald Trump will ever be enough to scratch the itch, quench the thirst or produce the clean, binary conclusions modern society is taught to crave. Why? Well, because we have never encountered such a confounding and inexplicable man – at once rabblerousing but contradictory, patriotic yet insurrectionist, conservative but rebellious, populist yet isolationist, protectionist but laissez-faire, and dogmatic yet capricious.
Quite frankly, journalists are tired of covering Trump these days because every story requires a 74-year prelude and a psychologist rooting through his family tree. We cannot talk about this president without losing ourselves in the wider picture.
What is Donald Trump’s legacy as president?
As Trump leaves the White House, four years of chaos in his wake, there is a natural rush to define his legacy and shape the prevailing narrative. However, doing so is a thankless task, because Trumpism is a moving, writhing, malleable concept that mutates by the hour. Furthermore, in a world where we can no longer agree on anything, hoping to categorise an entire presidency as brilliant or disastrous is at best naïve and at worst incendiary.
The polarisation of America
In this regard, Trump’s most palpable consequence – if not his outright legacy – is the bitter polarisation that is tearing society apart. Never before have Americans been so divided in their passion, opinions, arguments and worldviews. Never before has the very concept of being American inspired such disparate debate. The world is suffering through a collective nervous breakdown, and the loss of simple common sense is astounding.
Trump is not entirely to blame for this division, though. In fact, the sheer ineptitude of opponents’ attempts to denigrate him have probably stoked the culture wars even more than Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric. Yes, the right has been aggressive, offensive and unforgiving under Trump’s aegis, but the left has resorted to similar obfuscation in the absence of a plausible plan for alternative governance. Both sides are as bad as each other, in other words, so blaming Trump alone for our fractured discourse is folly.
Personally, I most appreciate the way Trump exposed the complete uselessness of cancel culture as a vector for liberal progress. For four years, probably longer, the left has trivialised its own cause and decapitated its own expediency at the altar of woke retribution. As a result, we now live in virtue-signalling purgatories of perpetual offence, quick to score points but incapable of engineering real change. Democrats are holy, Republicans are evil, and there is no traction in between. With brash rebellion, Trump revealed that self-righteous prism to be utterly ridiculous, and there are pearls of wisdom to be fished from the wreckage of his premiership.
The allure of big tent conservative populism
To that end, for all of his many faults, Trump was the first global leader to show me the allure of big tent conservative populism. When he descended that golden escalator to announce a presidential bid in 2015, I was still a young, naïve, idealistic lefty. The thought of agreeing with Trump on anything seemed anathema to my instinctively progressive roots. Yet, as I wrote before the 2020 US election, I have embarked on my own journey in that span, sliding more towards the centre. The charisma and enterprise of Trump – along with other strongman leaders – played a big role in that transformation.
Once an ideological Marxist, I flirted with democratic socialism for a while, but winy liberal outrage – so incessant and self-defeating – left me feeling disenfranchised. Once a beacon of real enlightenment, the left sold its soul for tokenistic victories, chasing inconsequential revisions steeped in hypocrisy. Liberals became illiberal in their pursuit of liberality, and I often found that voices on the right represented my views just as well, if not better, than those on the left.
Here’s a pertinent extract from a column I wrote in October:
While, ideologically, I should detest Trump for a litany of reasons – his racialism, narcissism, sciolism, egotism, misogyny, megalomania, vainglory and mistrust of science, to name a few – I struggle to muster hatred for him, in all honesty. Unlike many on the left, I’m not afraid to admit that Trump has some characteristics and tics – if not necessarily policies – that speak to more secluded parts of my belief system. It would be wrong to deny that fact.
I err with Trump on certain scintillas of law and order, traditionalism, patriotism and self-motivated enterprise. However, in this regard, it could be said that I agree more with an iota of Trump’s undergirding proclivities – self-sufficiency, social responsibility, freedom of expression – than with the xenophobic, autarkic, parochial and meritocratic policies they typically spawn.
In continuum, for all the liberal handwringing, Donald Trump does have some empirical utility, but it is all too frequently diminished by the extent to which he pushes his more plausible positions to ridiculous and incendiary extremes. Trump sees populist decency as a transient portal to egotistical omnipotence. The president will occasionally propose something that seems reasonable, but there is always an ulterior motive to his journey across the aisle. Whenever he lurches to the left, mixing with the mainstream, there is usually an insidious cause buried underneath the rhetoric.
Trump rarely espouses views I explicitly concur with, but the net effect of his phenomenon – the unspoken zeitgeist of his serendipitous iconoclasm – certainly makes me think in unconventional ways. Somewhat strangely, the bluster with which Trump operates makes more inclined to misread the actual content of his worldview. This is the Great Man myth of leadership. It is the Erdoğan fallacy of strength. It is evocative iconography masking political ineptitude, and true willpower is required to avoid the mesmerising force as it attempts to brainwash you.
Indeed, when attempting to craft Trump’s legacy, people often brand him racist, misogynistic, xenophobic and fascist. Ultimately, though, I think we have been – and we continue to be – guilty of giving him too much credit. In short, I do not think he has even half the intelligence most people bestow upon him. Therefore, to me, Trump’s most startling legacy may be one of overachievement, due to his sheer intellectual vacancy. He is so blank, so monosyllabic, and so utterly stupid that digging below the surface becomes a zero-sum game of unending frustration. We are underminingly verbose in describing a laconic chameleon.
To that end, for all the talk of Trumpism as a cogent, preconceived ideology, we must remember that, up until 2016, Trump’s views were a hodgepodge of capricious whims. He did not stand for anything, really. Trump was a gullible, dumb canvas onto which the right-wing media – led by Steve Bannon, Roger Ailes and Sean Hannity – foisted its agenda. Trump did not so much author his own doctrine as become the glitzy face of an improvised project. The divisive ethos and chest-thumping oratory was construed around him, not vice-versa. Trump was not clever enough to conceive populist maxims; he gradually ingested them, losing all grasp of boundaries in the process.
Accordingly, though it is chic to repudiate Trump as the worst president of all-time, I do not think that is necessarily correct. However, Trump is undoubtedly the most unqualified and least capable person ever to occupy the Oval Office. When all was said and done, he just did not meet the minimum thresholds of knowledge, vision, dexterity and decorum required to fill such a post.
Of course, that brings us to the most recent Trump scandal: his second impeachment, linked to the way he supposedly incited a vengeful mob to ransack the US Capitol building while protesting election results. While those riots were plainly egregious and despicable, I’m not entirely convinced Trump has the strategic acumen to incite anything. Meanwhile, to suggest his clumsy and ill-fated speech before the riot was the worst thing a president has ever done is pure hokum. Some people should read a history book. Or, better yet, maybe they should read the transcript of Trump’s actual remarks, in which he urged people to protest ‘peacefully and patriotically,’ hardly the prose of sedition.
Fake news and the loss of truth
Nevertheless, even this kind of wilful ignorance is a symptom of Trump, who ultimately became a victim of his own nihilism. More than any leader in modern times, Trump pandered to falsehoods and peddled conspiracies. For all his venting about ‘fake news’ and the ‘lamestream media,’ it was Trump himself who used ‘alternative facts’ as weapons of political expediency. The resultant loss of truth in daily life came back to haunt the president, however, because his opponents used similar shades of duplicity to boot him out of office.
Accordingly, some will say Trump’s dénouement is the fitting end of the fake news epoch he helped create; that his attempts to delegitimise Joe Biden’s win are the last fraudulent strains of an embellished age. That may well be true, despite Trump raising some valid concerns about American democracy, but we currently inhabit a world whose most powerful leader is banned from dozens of social media platforms merely for sharing his opinions – even if they are often provocative, contentious and simply misinformed. I fear that, pursuant to Trump’s own perceived incitement of violence, the rise – and the complete ineffectiveness – of such illiberal liberalism may be the lasting residue of his time, leaving us all in a partisan bind.
You see, there is no one-size-fits-all ism that accurately describes Donald Trump, and in a culture that yearns for instant gratification, such uncertainty makes us anxious. And so, duly stoked by the polarised firestorm, people push to the extreme poles of their entrenched camps, eager to find appropriate hashtags and labels. Hence, people calling Trump a domestic terrorist. Hence, people calling Trump a white supremacist. Hence, people calling Trump a dictator. In reality, he is just a very dim, very rash and very unpredictable whirlwind whose uncompromising style occasionally energises people. Nothing more, and nothing less.
In continuum, that mesmerising modus operandi also makes Trump one of the best dealmakers of all-time, and his significant efforts to broker international peace should not be expunged from the record books. Trump promoted detente between Israel and several of its Middle East enemies. Trump destroyed Islamic State as a cohesive force, killing its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. And, contrary to all the panting conjecture about impending World War III, he even became the first sitting US president to set foot in North Korea. Not bad for a ‘divider-in-chief,’ huh?
Of course, Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, before going on to sanction more covert drone strikes – often resulting in civilian deaths – than any president in history. In 2015 alone, Obama’s drones killed more civilians in Yemen than al-Qaeda did, while his efforts in Cuba and Iran were undone by his failings in Israel and Saudi Arabia. Still, to question Obama’s fitness for the award, and to merely posit Trump as a potential candidate for it, is to commit sacrilege in the court of hipster opinion. Yet, in reality, if you read the redacted foreign policy legacies of each respective leader without bias, Trump would perform better than most people appreciate.
When Trump was elected in 2016, for instance, uninformed prognosticators were quick to predict carnage, with hypothetical wars against China, Iran and maybe even Russia deemed ‘inevitable’ by the cynics. Four years on, however, and Trump has yet to embroil America in any new international conflicts. For generations, few US presidents have been able to say that, but the achievement will likely be defaced by vindictive debunking from the left.
Covid-19 and the troublesome economy
If 2020 never happened, Trump would probably have secured a second term. However, the key pillars on which he built a strong base between 2016 and 2019 – urban renewal tied to the repatriation of major industries, plus a booming economy underwritten by free enterprise – were caught in a perfect storm of turmoil, tumbling to the ground as his re-election campaign went up in smoke.
To date, America has reported more than 24 million coronavirus cases, while over 400,000 citizens have died after contracting Covid-19. More than 12 million people are unemployed, and the economy is slowly recovering from its deepest crash since the 1940s. Biden has already unveiled a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package, speaking to the dire financial future facing many Americans, and it is chic to blame the outgoing president.
However, the pandemic was not Donald Trump’s fault, and he should not bear sole responsibility for the damning statistics. The virus originated in China, and its devastating effects on society are the result of policy failures and philosophical oversights spanning multiple presidencies, including those of Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton. With regard to a global health emergency, America’s unpreparedness was a legacy of bipartisan, multigenerational stasis. Trump undoubtedly contributed to that, but he was not alone in leaving certain places and demographics exposed to this cruel invisible enemy.
While blame can be apportioned to bygone leaders who allowed racial and economic inequality to fester, thereby worsening the impact of a potential epidemic, the scandalous response to coronavirus once it came ashore is Trump’s cause de célèbre. There is no way to adequately explain his woeful handling of this crisis, which has ranged from the bizarre – comparing Covid-19 with flu – to the outright dangerous – suggesting doctors study bleach injections as a possible cure. The death and trauma caused by Trump’s pandemic intransigence is incomprehensible, and it will likely remain the gravest blot on his presidential copybook.
What are Joe Biden’s priorities as president? What will he do in the first 100 days?
In this regard, the overarching theme of Biden’s presidency should be to heal, unite and resuscitate, but it will probably be side-tracked by calls to repeal, reveal and recriminate. Biden acquiesced to the radical left to boost support among cancel culture zealots, and he is unlikely to deviate from that path in the White House.
As we have already seen with illogical urges for Mike Pence to invoke the 25th amendment, and with the latest rushed impeachment, Trump continues to distract Democratic functionaries. That may derail their hopes to take America forward, with symbolism replacing action as the currency of reform.
Most importantly, of course, Biden must regain control of the runaway pandemic and safeguard American families from its physical and financial consequences. He must find a way to intensify the coronavirus vaccination program, and there must be a huge drive on jobs once people reach the other side. Chronic inequalities need to be addressed, with showcase moralism giving way to tangible change. Only then will America rise again.
Ultimately, though, Biden is an interim president in cognitive decline. He is a custodian, a caretaker. There has never been an older commander-in-chief, and Biden will be 82 at the next inauguration, surely incapable of continuing the world’s most stressful job until the age of 86. America needs him to reset things and restore baseline levels of respect, compassion, mutuality and cohesion. That may seem fairly straightforward, especially for a moderate democrat, but Biden must avoid becoming a puppet for the voracious woke militia.
Where does America go from here? Anticipating life in the post-Trump world
It does not bode well that, on the day America anoints a new president, the outgoing leader has been censored by a vast swathe of media organisations. Indeed, Parler, an entire social media platform, has been wiped off the internet because the folks at Amazon Web Services felt it posed a ‘very real risk to public safety.’ Of course, Parler gained traction among conservatives as a portal of free speech, which made it a prime target for the liberal elite, so incestuously embroiled with big tech.
Pursued in the name of tolerance, encouraging such homogeneity of opinion is decidedly intolerant, and it contradicts the traditional values of progressive activism. The left preaches about social mobility, appearing to empower the everyman, yet the ironic result of their censorship makes us all beholden to a handful of analogous entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley – Messrs Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Cook controlling what we can and cannot see, say, think and build.
Once the cradle of internet expansion, America is thus in danger of piloting its destruction, too. Created as an information superhighway, designed to bring people and their ideas together, cyberspace is now a sorry microcosm of our malfunctioning society. The suppression of unorthodox thought – using social media as a fulcrum – is now an accepted part of daily life, and that does not augur well for future harmony.
Civilisation needs free speech to operate and expand, because it is only through courteous discussion and constructive disagreement that we can learn, grow and change. Democracy, liberty and progress rely on the marketplace of ideas, which should be stimulating and unfettered. Just as profit motives lead to technological innovation, and just as objective experimentation leads to scientific advancement, the free exchange of opinion drives human growth. I may not like your ideas, but hearing them will improve my understanding of life. By contrast, simply dismissing each other creates useless echo chambers of brainwashed anger.
This, then, is the choice that faces America in the post-Trump universe: it can either embrace difference, promote individuality and enhance debate, or it can devolve into a super-woke, ultra-sensitive, revisionist snowflake enclave where people simply delete those with whom they disagree.
The Capitol riots were a pertinent example of this dichotomy. Yes, Trump sought to undermine the legitimacy of Biden’s government, and his infamous speech may have been unnecessarily aggressive, but the left whipped this into a frenzy that does not allow America to move on. The bitterness, vitriol and emotive hyperbole displayed by these woke vigilantes has blown the entire event out of proportion, while the expedited impeachment showed similar contempt for due process.
This obsession with symbolism erodes pragmatism, the catalyst of action. The left undermines its own mission by embodying similar levels of recklessness to that which they condemn. The Democrats campaign for diversity, yet their tactics are indiverse. They claim to be guardians of democracy, but their use of powerful regulatory instruments is often undemocratic, as evidence by the latest hurried articles of impeachment.
Moreover, what is impeachment, if not the reductio ad absurdum endpoint of cancel culture vogue? The bar for thwarting a president is now set so low – with the stilted interpretation of mere words adjudicating high crimes and misdemeanours – that the very future of democracy is threatened. The left and right wings are overwhelmingly similar in this regard, and their endless cloistered sniping will soon make it impossible to form consensus.
If telling people to peacefully protest while using the figurative language of combat is now enough to impeach a president, passionate political activism is essentially over as a means of effecting change. What would contemporary wokedom have done with Malcolm X, for instance? How would modern virtue-signallers have dealt with Che Guevara? The left says Trump wants to kill democracy, but the reaction to his unhinged machinations limit the political arena to tripwires and stumbling blocks. The erosion of American sovereignty is thus cyclical in causation, with both sides cast adrift in a sea of half-baked semantics.
Where does the GOP go from here? How does the right recover from Trump? And who are the Republican presidential candidates for 2024?
Such is the merciless drumbeat of leftist revisionism, solid opposition is imperative to the preservation of common sense. In times of vast division, where Biden will likely crumble to his left pole, the Grand Old Party (GOP) has an important role to play in solidifying the core American values of strength, expression, independence and ambition. Despite the Democrats controlling both houses of Congress and the White House, rumours of Republican demise have been greatly exaggerated. In sharp repost, the right must harness its energised base for the greater good, positioning itself to capitalise on the inevitable disaster of Biden’s administration.
In many ways, Trump and his wealthy backers hijacked the GOP as a conduit to implementing a radical, disruptive agenda. Now, with Trump removed from power and facing the prospect of a permanent ban from public office, Republicans face an existential debate about their future direction. They do not necessarily need to discover the next president, per se, but they must find somebody who can unite and resuscitate the party at large.
We increasingly hear that the GOP must now choose between serving as the party of Trumpism, lurching to the extreme, or becoming the party of a refined conservatism that appeals to this new wave of disenfranchised, muzzled intellectuals. However, contrary to popular wisdom, Trumpism is not entirely bad, and elements of these movements can be interchangeable, given adequate leadership. For instance, echoes of Trump’s iconoclasm certainly have a future in conservative thinking – they just have to be filtered through a diplomatic gaze. The GOP is a big tent organisation, and it would be wrong to exclude supporters of the cause from shaping its future.
Some people are keen to talk about splinter groups and breakaway factions on the far right, but the mechanics of American democracy render such notions impractical. Furthermore, the hypocrisy of cancel culture has shattered the general perception of the left as inherently good and the right as intrinsically bad, creating opportunities for conservatives to regroup and recalibrate. In this regard, the GOP must challenge its overwhelming reputation as the party of gun-toting, Bible-loving, feather-wearing patriots. By the next general election, it can promptly become the party of a young, enthusiastic, robust cognoscenti - if it makes the correct decisions.
Conservatives must dispel the prevailing assumption that change, modernisation, equality and compassion can only be delivered by the left. That is not true, and the next cabal of GOP leaders must succeed in rewriting such fallacies. Indeed, this new form of conservatism must apply its base tenets to pertinent problems in a nuanced manner, making the best parts of hard-line traditionalism – such as the right to pursue a better life and the freedom to love one’s country – more accessible to everyday people. To win back power, the GOP needs to democratise conservative views, in other words, finding transformative equipoise between the delusional left and the antediluvian right.
We have already seen Trump allies rush to disassociate with him, fickle journeymen acting in self-preservation against the revisionist mob, which is hellbent on retribution. Comically, though, even Republicans who disavow Trump try to position themselves as the beneficiary of his work, their eyes bulging at the prospect of inheriting his base. To that end, Trump garnered 74 million votes in 2020, the most ever for a GOP candidate. Many people who had never previously entertained conservative politics were energised by Trump, and that is a gift Republicans should always remember before they criticise the outgoing president. He made the GOP relevant again, and with prudent oversight, it can continue to grow in popularity.
Of course, to do so, the Republicans must put an acceptable face to its future. It must find a more skilled operator – a politician, not a talking head; a triangulator, not an ideologue; and a mediator, not a chief executive. Moving forwards, the best parts of Trumpism mixed with the least absurd elements of wokery will be a powerful ethos – the kind that can propel the GOP back to respectability.
In terms of Republican candidates for 2024, somebody like Ted Cruz may fit the desired profile, while Marco Rubio must surely be a frontrunner, as well. Mike Pence may be an effective bridge between staunch conservative rigour and the wilds of Trumpism, with Tom Cotton vying for contention, too. Could Greg Abbott take a step forward? Will Mitt Romney attempt one last hurrah? Only time will tell, but the need for cogent vision is paramount.
What’s next for Donald Trump? Where does the defeated president go – and do – from here?
Regardless of how the forthcoming impeachment trial is decided, Donald Trump will remain a powerful figure in conservative politics, and his endorsement will carry a lot of weight. Many Trump supporters are fiercely loyal – often to a fault – and they will look to invest in the defeated president as a passionate barometer of Republican resurgence. Accordingly, even if Trump is banned from holding public office, his voice will not fade anytime soon. Likewise, his financial clout – though depleted and disputed – will be of considerable importance to future GOP hopefuls.
In this regard, the prospect of Trump continuing to reign by proxy – by building a political bloodline akin to those of Kennedy, Bush and Clinton – remains highly probable. Donald Trump Jr. is particularly active in political circles, often kickstarting rallies for his father, and he may have what it takes to put a contemporary spin on the family doctrine. Ivanka Trump, Donald’s daughter, also has broad political aspirations, and coordinating a bid for her to become the first female president would likely intrigue MAGA grandees.
Of course, there are some who say Donald Trump never intended – nor even wanted – to become president, and that his likely retreat into reality television will be something of a relief to all involved. To that end, plans for a Trump TV network will probably be revisited, maybe featuring loyalists such as Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Piers Morgan and Bannon in some form of pixelated revolution. I also wonder if, given his recent censure, Trump may explore creating his own social network. There would certainly be a large captive audience, and such a move could catapult Trump back into the entrepreneurial ascendancy.
A slew of corporations and events have distanced themselves from Trump since the Capitol riots, and that could hamper his attempts to revive mothballed business projects. Universities have stripped Trump of honorary degrees. Banks have paused political contributions. Even the PGA Tour stripped the Trump National Golf Club of the right to host its headline championship in 2022. Trump’s firm has also seen major New York City contracts rescinded, as the campaign to stifle his future gains momentum.
Ultimately, though, the outgoing president is defined by his ability to mutate, survive and reincarnate – something he has done innumerable times over the years, traipsing from bankruptcies to lurid scandals with peaks and troughs in between. That story will continue to evolve, as will the complexity of his character. Few forces have carved such a monumental footprint into the conscience, discourse and landscape of America, and that impact will likely never end. Donald Trump divided opinion and courted hate, but he will loom in history as the most discussed, studied and reported leader of our time. Even if people do not like it.
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