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March 22, 2021

Moving beyond Trump

March 22, 2021

The name Federico Klein is unlikely to be recognised by many. However, he worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign. He was an aide in Trump’s State Department and was recently arrested for participating in the January 6 attack on the Capitol. He apparently “physically and verbally engaged” with the police.

Klein’s arc, stretching from being a Trump campaign lackey, to official, to violent insurrectionist, perhaps is symbolic of the entire Administration: – from enthusiasm, to power, to riot, to fall. It also makes clear that it was not just Trump. It was never just Trump: he represented a period when anger ran riot and people had licence to be their worst selves.

We live in turbulent times: we ride along waves of constant change: social, political and economic. A mere generation ago, I would have to write this article on a typewriter, only able to correct mistakes with an eraser. I would have put it in an envelope, placed stamps on it and posted it to a newspaper, whose cellars rattled with the sound of printing presses and smelled of ink. But I also would have had less knowledge of the world at my fingertips. I would have had less knowledge of how women lived elsewhere. My career options would have been more limited. The downward pressure to obey the strictures of a patriarchy would have been much harder to bear.

In contrast, we are now bombarded with information and opportunity; I have in my pocket a device which can access vastly more material than was ever stored in the Library of Alexandria. I can apply for a job with the same apparatus. I can message a friend in Australia. This ease of communication is driving an ever-faster rate of change. What is trending today will not be there tomorrow. Amazon is up now, next week it may be Shopify.

America was always on the bleeding edge of change: it is no coincidence that many of the avatars of change are based in the United States. These are Apple, Google, Facebook, to name a few. They have a vested interest in acceleration. They fuel it. But many are left behind in the process.

This is where Trump comes in. There were and are people for whom change is scary. They live in towns in places like Ohio and Michigan which relied on factory jobs to provide a middle-class lifestyle. This has disappeared, chewed up by the Information Age and globalisation. Yet, they also had a sense that, unlike their globalised, connected counterparts in the glittering cities on America’s coasts, they were the ‘real’ Americans – still keeping time to an older, slower rhythm. This sense was reinforced by the numbers of their offspring and relations who joined the military to escape their situation: they fought in America’s wars, their injured participated in parades on Memorial Day, and their dead are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Trump told them what they wanted to hear: that they were the ‘real’ Americans, and their fellow countrymen were the enemy. The ‘elites’ adherence to the new had destroyed the old and had taken away all they had. They had let Mexicans do labour, they had undermined the homily of family and tradition, they had destroyed the certainties of the past. Their ordered view of society was also threatened by Muslims and transgender people. Not being economists nor philosophers nor even journalists, this screed was believed. Furthermore, anger was stoked. This led to Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania voting for Trump in 2016.

Did America become, to cite Trump’s slogan, “great again”? The economy coasted on Obama’s achievements, boosted by a sugar rush coming from an unaffordable tax cut. But did that make life move any more slowly? Did it make change any more acceptable? Did it restore what once was? Perhaps a clue lay in the increasingly shriller messaging that came out of the White House: anything that they disliked was due to “bad actors” in the system, “enemies of the people”. Those who were emotionally invested in Trump believed this and resorted to conspiracy theories like those proffered by QAnon to find further justification. Trump attacked his foes on Twitter; his virtual mob picked up their digital pitchforks.

From discontent, to power, to disappointment, to rage. The apogee of discord was reached when Trump claimed that the election was being stolen from him, despite all the proof to the contrary. The continuing rage of his followers seems to be more than just about the election; rather, they regard it as the triumph of those they were told to detest.

Joe Biden won the election. There is no doubt. For example. votes in Georgia were counted, re-counted, hand counted, machine counted. The lawsuits that Trump’s lawyers filed were by and large dismissed. Mathematics strangled Trump’s last hopes, not fraud. Now we live in the shell-shocked aftermath, a world traumatised by this four-year explosion of anger and its effects.

Biden represents a calm contrast to Trump’s splenetic era. He is not in the headlines every day, nor does he say outrageous things. His image is of a man bent over a desk, deep in thought and working. His very normality may remind enough Americans that, as difficult change can be, trying to violently overthrow it is worse. Some, nevertheless, will tread the same path as Federico Klein, from initial enthusiasm to rage, and perhaps remain unrepentant.

How does America bind up these wounds? They may not be stitched together by any medicine other than the healing properties of time: no doubt, 20 years from now there will be some individuals in Ohio and Michigan and elsewhere who will display a Trump 2020 banner. The best that can be hoped for is that these people will be mere eccentrics, and future generations will have to be reminded about who Trump was.

The writer is a practising solicitor in England.

Twitter: @shahjhan_malikk