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Trump is done. But Trumpism isn't going anywhere.

Brian Wong| EJ Insight

2020年11月14日

Sighs of relief reverberated across the globe, when the Associated Press call came through for Biden. As of November 12 2020, Joe Biden has clinched the 279 votes out of the electoral college that he needs, and has (all but officially) defeated Donald Trump, in his bid for the White House.

The past year and a half have seen some of the most turbulent scenes in American electoral history. From an unprecedentedly packed field of contenders for the Democratic nomination, to the incessantly vitriolic debates and assaults exchanged across the aisle, to Trump's unrelenting attacks on science, democracy, and truths (even half-truths), to fears over Biden's purported senility and state of mind – nothing about 2020 has been ordinary, and this election season was no exception.

Trump's presidency is finished. For all intents and purposes, despite his tyrannical wailing and infantile fetish over not yielding his seat – he's done. Most major news presses have called the race in favour of Biden – including traditionally conservative and right-leaning outlets, such as Fox News. Biden's forecast to lead Trump by at least over 70 votes in the electoral college, and (not that it matters) won 77 million votes against Trump's 72 million when it comes to the popular tally. Even the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, had to ambiguously and taciturnly admit that he was all but joking when raising the prospects of a smooth transition into a second Trump term, though his frivolity does not render his words any less chilling.

But Trumpism isn't going anywhere. Over 72 million folks – that's the second highest in American electoral history – cast their ballots for the man. A man who has flagrantly defied the advice of mainstream science and scientists; a man who has openly flagellated and framed refugees as the source of America's plight; a man who wants to go to war with China, with little to no preparation; a man who has no personal dignity or public decency – and yet is firmly convinced that he is, always, right.

It is tempting and easy to dismiss these individuals as merely the 'deplorables' – after all, Clinton did just that, and it clearly worked out very well for her (hint: it did not). It is also tempting to attribute their voting proclivities to the fundamentally racist, Islamophobic, exclusionary, and white-supremacist values embodied by the Deep South and the rural countryside. Yet the phenomenon of Trumpism is far, far more than that – and it would be rather disingenuous for us to reduce the problematic into merely the superficial, to collapse the symptom into the disease.

There's the rather popular explanation – that Trumpism caters to the losers and victims of globalisation. Globalising trade, mechanising labour, and an increasingly bifurcated 'M-shaped' society have left behind individuals who struggle to adjust to the times. Millions of these folks cast a vote for Trump in 2016, securing for him the critical states amongst the Blue Wall and the Rust Belt. Millions of these folks, still, voted in favour of Trump in 2020 – as recently as late October, the candidate had still held a 60-34% amongst whites without a college degree. These voters lost their jobs, mortgages, and more in face of liberalising trade and corporate takeover. Or so we are told to believe.

Yet there is surely more to it. For decades, the Democratic Party has embraced a brand of lip-service, cursory identity politics – it lacks the fundamentally radical confrontationist edge that folks like Malcolm X or Audre Lorde championed; yet it also fails to appeal to the very demographics that – in virtue of the essentialising nature of Identity Politics – it must inherently repudiate: the cis-het, white men who fill the ranks of the WASP ruling and governing elite in the States. What notably worsens this is the fact that the Party seldom walks the talk – Clinton and many others of her ilk are exceptional when it comes to leveraging identity politics, yet for the downtrodden and disenfranchised, words do not suffice; solve their problems, words simply can't alone. Hence this near-paradoxical juxtaposition between the flamboyant speech and absent action has given rise to, understandably, sentiments of anger – anger projected towards the elite, anger towards the system, anger towards the DNC Establishment and the Wall Street bankers with whom they have been associated.

The most poignant point about this, however, is that the RNC is realistically no better. Trump is himself a millionaire – a profiteer, a beneficiary of the Wall Street booms, and someone who is shielded from Wall Street's worst. He's gone through bankruptcy plenty of times, yet succeeds in spin-doctoring himself into an ostensibly successful business legend. He's been through multiple marriages, yet frames himself as a conservative family man. His dog-whistles about the Chinese and abortion get him far – not his policies, whatever those would look like.

Hence the last piece of the jigsaw is complete: we cannot account for Trump's rise, or his enduring influence, without taking a long and stern look at the media – a media environment that rewards sound-bites, that favours bombastic rhetoric and empty slogans, crafted with bells and whistles that render them no less empty, but certainly more emphatically arousing. Barthes once described Trump's performance as analogous to a boxer's: the boxer may have been KOed, but the stench of his blood, sweat, and tears remains in the White House.

Looking ahead, Biden has a difficult task to accomplish – he must find a way to bridge the gap, to bridge the divide, whilst seeking to manage a bitterly divided Senate (it is possible for the Democrats to secure 50 seats after the run-offs, which would land them 50% of the seats, with the tie-breaking vote going to the Vice President); yet above all, he must seek to heal and to hand out judicious sentences concurrently. To heal requires forgiving, but in order to be judicious, there are sins that one cannot, and should not, forgive – such as the racist haranguing of persons of colour, or the vindictively entrenched police brutalities, or the unbelievably botched COVID-19 response. We can only live in hope.

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