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January 14, 2021

Undoing Trump’s legacy

Opinion

January 14, 2021

The writer, a Chevening scholar, studied International Journalism at the University of Sussex.

The images of the storming of the Capitol building by an enraged mob of Trump’s supporters beamed across the world on the fateful day of January 6. Not just Americans but the world was also left befuddled at the live feed of the symbol of American democracy being desecrated on their TV screens.

The unprecedented scenes of invasion, arson, and violence, disturbing as they were on so many levels, were a copycat from a traditional playbook of settling power feuds in a third-world country where the only path to establishing political dominance often lies in fostering a culture of mobocracy and violence.

The founders of the United States of America would not have visualized even in their wildest dreams that the republic they founded would, one day, come to represent the very values that were in complete violation of their ideals.

While there is a renewed push for President Trump’s impeachment days before the end of his term in office and the condemnations do not seem to be abating, it will take the United States’ political leadership across the party divide and the country’s institutions some time before they can begin to fathom the exact measure of the damage done to their country’s prestige and honour the world over.

It may not be fair to apportion whole blame to President Trump for the rock bottom that the US has hit, nonetheless, his presidency will be remembered as being pivotal to accelerating the process of rot and decay of American politics. Thanks to his shenanigans, he has earned the notoriety of being a poster boy of destruction.

A lot has already been written on how Trump’s four years in the White House have diminished America’s influence in the world, damaged its long-term partnerships, and ignited a new cold war with China – monumental changes in their own right.

These are certainly formidable challenges for a new administration to take on. A clear foreign policy vision grounded in the lofty ideals of the founding fathers and informed by the reality of a multipolar world can still control the damage.

An area where the United States has actually suffered an irreparable loss, relates to the deepening of unprecedented polarization in the socio-economic fabric of the polity.

While the distrust in the ability of the capitalistic democratic model to provide for Americans on the lower economic rung dates back to how the system has been worked over the decades, President Trump certainly hastened the process of disillusionment by amplifying the fears of the marginalized communities through his simplistic and self-styled interpretation of complex processes.

The events on January 6 proved in no uncertain terms the power of words in winning over a large segment of the populace around an anarchist, divisive and violence-inducing narrative.

What President Trump has been enunciating through his speeches and Twitter posts in the last four years and beyond has taken the form of a political ideology that is subscribed to and believed in by a large number of American people, a fact corroborated by his garnering of millions of more votes in the recent elections than in 2016.

Trump may have been dismissed as an ignorant populist living in his own make-believe world by Washington’s elite, but missing in their political calculation was the impact that incessant indoctrination and weaponization of political discourse can create among the target audience.

A country is strong as long as the institutions that underpin its fabric are robust. Over the years, Trump leveraged all the political capital at his disposal to undermine American institutions, including American political norms and conventions. His relentless attack on the media was marked by a belief in the potency of his message to shape an alternate reality of America that was on its way to “regaining its lost glory”.

The mobbing of the citadel of American democracy, described differently as a coup, an insurrection, and a revolt against the constitution by different political leaders, is nothing short of a determined effort to reimagine the country in the image of popular nationalism.

Trump’s stewardship of the US had already made foes and friends rethink the nature of their relationship with the world’s sole superpower. The cascading nature of the events that culminated on January 6 will further deepen the feeling of distrust in Washington’s ability to navigate stormy waters. America’s traditional partners in the EU and the Middle East, in particular, have their work cut out and will increasingly be wary of entrusting their security to the US.

The world at large will continue to grapple with the question of how a democracy as strong as that of the US can transform itself into anarchy, a process powered by the fast-paced militarisation of US politics.

America’s pushback under Trump against the concept of economic globalization is offset by a new realization, induced by the failure to act in unison on the Covid-19 challenge, that a more divided world stands to lose considerably. China is now leading a global effort to revive globalization as the governing principle of the rules-based international order.

As more and more countries join Beijing’s vibrant economic initiatives such as BRI, a development spurred by a weakening faith in the leadership of the US, it signals a significant erosion in America’s influence as well as its ability to win hearts and minds through the employment of soft power.

The last four years in general and the events of January 6 in particular have provided fresh impetus to the efforts to work for a world order that has several centres of power. The US will surely be an actor with considerable influence in the post-American system but it will not be the sole power strutting around unchallenged on the global landscape.

January 6 has also highlighted that the trillions of dollars spent on senseless wars and the so-called ‘nation-building’ missions overseas cannot provide you security when a significant chunk of the population has been radicalized in a manner that its faith in the institution of democracy has been fatally shaken.

Those who rushed to attack the Capitol building were secure in the thought that the institution and what it symbolizes has failed to hear them adequately. In their view, American politics has been rendered incapable to address the rising concerns of a large segment of society. Those who claim to speak on behalf of the people are perched in their ivory towers, not able to notice how the specter of inequality and increasing costs to access health and education have eaten into the vitals of public confidence.

Trump has also presided over the slow but sure demise of the Republican Party as an effective platform of diverse opinions, and ideologies, and approaches to governance. It has largely been reduced to a party of yes-men ready to do his bidding. No democracy can function optimally when an opposition party and that too in a two-party system is hamstrung by the absence of fresh vision around an alternative agenda.

Trump will leave office on January 20 but Trumpism will continue to reshape American in ways more than one. President-elect Joe Biden faces a moment in history, given the internal and external challenges facing his country. He needs to embark on this mission by leading a dialogue at home to undo the perniciousness of Trump’s legacy.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @Amanat222