By Themba Mkhize
On a number of occasions during the past four years I have found myself pausing, taking a deep breath and wondering “What is Donald Trump thinking right now?” At no point did I ever feel sure.
But I have always been sure that it would be trouble getting him out of the White House, regardless of how many terms he spent there.
People say they hate to kick a man when he’s down. It is graceless in victory. But I suspect that Donald Trump will struggle to find an abundance of such pity after making life uncomfortable for so many people.
Throughout his term as President of the United States, Donald Trump has proven himself to be a survivor and a divider. Though his luck seems to be running out, he remains an image of stubborn perseverance and a master of organized chaos.
For many, he has helped to readjust the lens through which America is viewed, with recent images showing the American socio-political landscape to be an eyesore. The country is fractured and its states are divided, and nobody is totally sure of what to expect next from either side of the aisle.
Depending on your news source, the Republican Party is portrayed as the party of the working-class white American, though what that means can vary widely. Such a person could be a gun-owning, evangelical Christian nationalist living in the Rust Bucket, or a selfish isolationist with little education, spewing conspiracy theories and racial prejudice, or a family oriented businessman whose interest is preserving the homogeneity of his community, or someone else, totally, or all of those persons combined.
Comparably, a Democratic Party member might be a social justice advocate with a socialist leaning, or pseudo-idealist corporate elitist who cannot identify with the value system of the poor rural Americans and so defaults to mainstream “democratic” values, or a college educated, urban capitalist who wants to dictate to everybody else how America and the rest of the world should be run, or, again, somebody totally different.
It’s an ugly, disharmonious mess in an increasingly spasmodic society.
What will it take for such diverse, and, in some cases, divergent groups to unite and avoid tearing the country apart? Can the Biden-Harris administration pull it off, or at least begin a substantial process of reconciliation? The American society is built on largely under-addressed traumas and denial. Perhaps this will be a moment with a superficial resolution that temporary kills the scent, which will slowly rise again over the coming decades.
The US’s image as an impregnable democracy has been permanently tarnished, and it is something that is hard to unsee once you’ve seen it. This means America’s long contested authority to police the world has lost some more of its legitimacy.
But I think it is hasty to say that the Trump presidency has done irreparable damage to America’s brand of democracy and politics. I doubt we are seeing the end of America.
I suspect most people expect that under Biden and future presidents the status quo will rebound. America will step up to the fore of everything global, with an unchanged message from the past about its role as the world’s patron nation. Like a forgiving partner who is still in love, the world will forgive them for their misadventure and accept them into our homes again.
It is the way of things. Power dictates, and China, Venezuela and Turkey are none the more powerful as a result of the riotous behaviour which Donald Trump inspired among his base. In my estimation, all they will gain is a slightly raised platform from which to scream at the United States, “You are a hypocrite!”. They have also gained an additional opportunity to remind everyone who believes that that democracy is clean and voluntary is untrue. Systems of democracy are enforced, either by the threat or use of force.
But it probably won’t change much internationally. America’s brand will rebound.
So then, I think by far the most interesting thing that remains to be seen is how many of the Trump-era policies, many of which were lamented by opposition, will be rolled back under the Biden-Harris Administration, and how the policies which replace them will look – that is, how they will treat with institutional inequities, resolve the foremost challenges of our time and “Make America great again”.
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