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US Election 2020: The Trump Shadow Presidency Begins

CJ Werleman argues that Donald Trump’s politics will be felt like never before once he is forced to leave the White House

US President Donald Trump. Photo: PA Images

US ELECTION 2020The Trump Shadow Presidency Begins

CJ Werleman argues that Donald Trump’s politics will be felt like never before once he is forced to leave the White House

Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States, having won the second largest margin of votes since 1996 – a significant milestone given the ultra polarised nature of American politics.

Biden succeeded where 2016 Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton failed – recapturing the ‘Blue Wall’ states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, while flipping long-time red states Arizona and Georgia (most likely) and missing out only by the slimmest of margins in North Carolina.

If these were ordinary times, there would be no doubt that Biden would be sworn in on 20 January 2021 with a clear mandate and the popular will of the American people behind him. But these are not ordinary times.

Whereas outgoing presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama retired quietly into the background to write their respective White House biographies and allow their successor to faithfully carry out the people’s business and execute their respective presidential agendas, it seems impossible to imagine Donald Trump affording Biden the same politeness.

The ‘Make America Great Again’ President will leave office with his army of 200 million social media followers and near editorial control of the country’s most watched cable news network, Fox News – platforms he will likely use around-the-clock to second-guess, ridicule and undermine Biden. Trump was an attention-seeking television celebrity before entering politics and he will return to that role once out of the Oval Office.

“People need to understand that Trump was the first person since Ronald [Reagan] to convert his viewers into his voters,” former Republican Party chairman Michael Steele told the Sydney Morning Herald. “For 14 years, [Trump] was on national TV in people’s living rooms, firing people [in his role as the tough boss figure in The Apprentice].”

In the eyes of his millions of voters, Trump is the Republican Party and the Republican Party is Trump. To this end, Biden’s opposition party won’t be the GOP but rather Trump himself, who has made conservative political orthodoxy a relic of the past and his toxic brand of authoritarian-driven right-wing populism a force for the future, one which his stubbornly loyal supporters love him for.

“More broadly, Trump’s core appeal is the appeal of fascism: the pleasure of inflicting cruelty and humiliation on those one fears and disdains, the gratification of receiving the authoritarian’s flattery, and the exhilaration of a crowd freed from the normal strictures of law, reason and decency,” observes Vanessa Williams, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution. 

For those hoping to see the back of the most destructive president in US history, the next four years are likely to be as tough as the four that came before it as it is difficult to believe that the avalanche of lies, conspiracy theories and demagoguery Trump pushes will end any time soon.

It is more likely that Trump’s rants and rages will become measurably more chaotic and reckless, given that he will be out for vengeance against those he perceives to have wronged him, including the incoming White House administration. He will be on a mission to settle perceived and imagined scores, regardless of the cost to the country’s wellbeing.

From his home in Florida, which his supporters refer to adoringly as the ‘Southern White House’ because of the inordinate amount of time Trump spent there and away from Washington DC during his presidency, the former President will likely tweet conspiracies, falsehoods and disinformation to his tens of millions of supporters who will never accept the legitimacy of his defeat or the victory of his successor.

As was the case during the American Civil War of the 1860s, the country will be dragged into the mud and muck by an insurgent presidency located in the south.

The centrepiece of Trump’s disruptive behaviour will be false claims about the election being stolen from him, giving further life to ‘deep state’ and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that already heavily populate right-wing online communities, which he believes can help catapult him back into the Oval Office, having already reportedly told his closest aides that he intends to run again for the presidency in 2024.

“Like a horror movie murderer who just won’t die, the brutal reality of a Trump who refuses to go quietly always seemed like a certainty,” observes Rolling Stone magazine. “So now, before the curtain has officially dropped on the awful original, it appears a sequel may already be in the works.”

Then there’s Trump – Don Jnr, Ivanka and Eric – who have spent the past four years outbidding each other for their father’s love and attention. They will be as loud, obnoxious and ubiquitous in the months and years to come as they have been during his presidency.

All in all, Biden’s election won’t be the end of Trumpism. It will be only the beginning.

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