Euan McColm: Trumpism still speaks for millions who believe in crazy stuff

Donald Trump’s greatest hits show is compelling stuff, isn’t it? As the US presidency began slipping out of his grasp last week, his erratic press conferences and increasingly deranged Tweets saw him run through all of his classics. There was victimhood, lies, anger, and all the other smashes that the American President’s supporters so enjoy. Most of them know the words and many enthusiastically joined in, parroting his crap about a conspiracy to steal the presidency from him.

US president Donald Trump arrives to speak in the briefing room at the White House. Picture: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
US president Donald Trump arrives to speak in the briefing room at the White House. Picture: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The remarkable level of support for Democrat challenger, Joe Biden, with millions more popular votes than the Republican incumbent, saw others sing different songs. Biden’s backers reckoned the results in states across the country showed it was time for change in America, that a divided nation could unite behind a new president.

This is a jolly notion after four years during which Trump has utterly debased the office he holds but I fear it is naive.

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Biden may have won millions more votes than his opponents but the results don’t show the repudiation of Trumpism that many hoped for. Indeed, Trump won more votes than he took in 2016.

Democratic presidential candidate former vice-president Joe Biden. Picture: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

And so not only does America remain deeply divided but future Republican candidates know that there is a huge constituency out there for a politics of hatred and division.

Voters who believe that all politicians are liars are the easiest ones to lie to. Trump understands this. He built his political career by telling those who believed politics was broken that they were right and that he was on their side in the battle to put things right.

Those of us who like to base our views on things like evidence may smirk at the nonsense that Trump spouts but the bleak truth is that rather than his being a lone voice, howling into the void, he continues to speak for a lot of people who believe a lot of crazy things.

His refusal to accept the direction in which the political wind is blowing across the USA may seem little more than delusional but almost half of American voters continue to think he is right. And every time he makes another claim about the theft of this election, he confirms in the minds of his supporters the idea that they are all being cheated.

The Trump era may be drawing to a messy close but, over the past four years, the American President has shifted the line of what is acceptable in political life. There is no longer the need to try to unite.

Trump has shown that many millions are perfectly happy with a politics that divides. Many millions are happy with a politics that amplifies rather than challenges racism. Many millions are happy with a leader who’s been accused of dozens of sexual assaults.

It would be naive to think that the Republican Party will start to row back from the place to which Trump has taken it.

Sure, there may be those who wish to see the GOP retreat from its current position, who see the grace with which candidates such as John McCain and George Bush accepted defeat and believe those are men to emulate but others will look at what Trump achieved and reckon the quickest way to win the Republican nomination next time around is to go low and stay there.

Imagine a candidate who took all the stuff Trump’s supporters love – the racism, the claims of conspiracy against the ordinary man or woman – and ditched the more problematic stuff such as describing fallen soldiers as losers. Wouldn’t that person have an excellent chance of becoming the president?

We are, I think, frequently guilty of seeing UK and US politics as being broadly similar; the Republicans are their Tories, the Democrats their Labour Party and so on. But Trump’s rise brought into sharp focus the huge differences in our systems.

There were no checks and balances in the Republican machine to stop him.

Once he decided to enter the race for the nomination, long-serving Senators and members of Congress could do nothing to slow him down.

In a system that cuts out the middle man and leaves the decision on who should win the candidacy to voters, the rules we are used to in the UK dimply don’t apply.

And so while some Republicans have already distanced themselves from Trump, criticising his response to the result of the election and urging unity among Americans, others will be planning to employ the tactics he used to win in 2016.

There has, quite rightly, been much criticism of Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

His reckless complacency has, surely, seen that the death toll in the United States is much higher than it might have been.

But while we might see that, it is pretty damned clear that his supporters don’t. Hundreds of thousands of Americans may have died of the virus in recent months while he downplayed the seriousness of coronavirus but, still, he won the support of half of voters.

An especially bleak irony is that the circumstances that helped him win last time – the sense among many voters that they had been forgotten and left behind – will be even more ripe for exploitation by a gifted populist in 2024.

The impact of coronavirus on economies around the world is only going to get more severe and, four years from now, there will be an abundance of American voters who feel abandoned.

Donald Trump may be politically wounded, thrashing around, trying to salvage his presidency but this election has shown that Trumpism will, I’m afraid, live on.

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