Editorial: To Prevent Another Donald Trump, We Must Consider How We Got Here

On Wednesday, January 20, when Joseph Biden became the 46th president of the United States, Donald J. Trump’s presidency came to an end. If the results of the 2020 presidential election, including the record voter turnout, are an indicator, most Americans never want a president like Donald Trump again.  

When asked if he was the opposite of Donald Trump, Joe Biden crossed himself and said, “I hope so.” 

Most Americans never again want a president who makes them feel the fear, worry, anger, uncertainty, and chaos that Donald Trump constantly stirred up. They are tired of the constant stoking of division, and they wanted nothing to do with supporting Donald Trump’s autocratic tendencies. For four years, with each horrific, absurd, cruel, or corrupt action, deed, or word from Donald Trump, many Americans regularly thought, “Surely THIS time, he’s crossed the line,” and we were continually wrong. 

Leah Wright-Rigueur, associate professor of American history at Brandeis University, sums up Donald Trump’s presidency as “a case study in the naked, unadulterated pursuit of power and self-interest, at the cost of 400,000 lives and at the cost of the American union.” 

Over the years of Donald Trump’s presidency, we have chronicled here the many ways our 45th president has failed America. It was impossible to capture every falsehood, every act of corruption, every dangerous action and inaction, but in this blog, we have documented some of the more notable highlights of the time in our history known as “The Trump Administration.” 

Many Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, are hopeful and optimistic that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will be not only a soothing balm for our hurting nation, but also a strong voice in support of equality and equity for all Americans. Americans have great hope that under the Biden administration, the democracy that Donald Trump came so close to shredding can be saved. 

We must keep in mind, however, that 74 million Americans voted for Donald Trump in 2020. 

David Nakamura of The Washington Post writes that “Trump did not come out of nowhere — that his rise to political prominence behind a false birther conspiracy seeking to delegitimize his predecessor, President Barack Obama, is rooted in the Republican Party’s history of racial grievance politics and its leaders’ increasing willingness to embrace the far-right wing.”

Trump loyalists have been willing to hand Donald Trump everything he needed to become an authoritarian ruler. They refused to convict him during his first impeachment; they defended his every corrupt move before and after that impeachment, and they excused or tried to justify his attempts to ignore the checks and balances of the three branches of government, tear down the rule of law, and trample over the democratic process.

The mindset we now think of as Trumpism will not be going away, even if Trump himself fades away (and/or goes to prison). It was not enough to vote Donald Trump out of office. 

There will be more like Donald Trump, and they may be more savvy and sharp than Donald Trump; and thus, successful at overturning our democracy. Donald Trump may no longer be president, but he showed us how willing many Americans are to naively pledge allegiance to a corrupt, despotic leader. We must take this as a lesson so that when the next would-be authoritarian comes along, we’ll recognize the danger and quickly douse it. 

Many of us are exhausted from four years of Donald Trump in the White House. It’s tempting to “take a break” from the news. We expect to no longer wake up every morning dreading the next threat the president will have posed to democracy or human rights or the environment. Joe Biden’s presidency— any presidency, frankly— hints at being dull in comparison to the last four years. 

If we never want a debacle like the last four years to happen again, however, we need to consider how we got here. 

For decades, Americans as a whole have become increasingly complacent about the workings of government. We have written off an education in civics as dull and unnecessary. Many Americans have little knowledge of history; no understanding of how Hitler and other despots gained power, or what it looks like when a country approaches the edge of succumbing to authoritarian leadership. A lack of understanding of the world has caused many Americans to classify any ideology to the left of extreme rightism as Socialism, a term they use interchangeably with Communism.

As a result, they elected Donald Trump, who not only embodied this apathy and lack of awareness, he capitalized on it, and sold it as a virtue. 

Many Americans became engaged in politics and civics for the first time during Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and presidency. This is very likely what saved us from another four years of Donald Trump. 

More Americans learned how our government is supposed to work, because, in response to what we saw, they began to care. We became more curious about the U.S. Constitution, and we came to understand what “rule of law” means, and how the democratic process should work. And many of us saw, perhaps more closely than ever before, the racism, misogyny, and xenophobia that have always been with us; we have seen them at work, and we’ve seen how they’ve infiltrated a large segment of government. And maybe for the first time, we were disturbed enough to speak out about it, even if just with our vote. This is a part of Trump’s unintentional legacy. 

Citizens’ knowledge, participation, and interest… and passion for right,  are how a democratic country thrives.

“Here, right matters,” said (now retired) Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.

We must make sure that right continues to matter.

The 84 million who voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris breathed a sigh of relief on January 20 when they were inaugurated. If we assume, though, that the Biden-Harris years will be a time to “check out” of politics again, “relax’ from speaking up, or leave politics to someone else, our country’s current step forward could easily become two steps (or more) backward. 

4 Years of the Trump Presidency in 6 Minutes | NYT Politics [2020-01-20]

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris inauguration ceremony | Vox [2020-0120]

Editorial: The January 6 Insurrection: Extremists, White Supremacists, But Not Patriots

As rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, they claimed to be motivated by “patriotism.” Perhaps these self-proclaimed patriots’ “patriotism” would have been more credible if they hadn’t plundered one of the ultimate seats and symbols of American patriotism, the United States Capitol building. Perhaps they would have been more convincing “patriots” if they hadn’t been bearing symbols of hate and white supremacy that have nothing to do with patriotism.

The rioters repeatedly said they were there to “take back their country.”  Just before they marched to the Capitol building, Donald Trump himself told them, “You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength.” 

Take back our country from whom, exactly? Who were they saving it from?

The mainly white, male mob that stormed and desecrated the Capitol building was not there to save the republic from one of our foreign adversaries, or from some fringe mob who was, well… storming and desecrating a hallowed building of American government. They were there because for years, Donald Trump had stoked and carefully cultivated their anger and fear that they are losing the America that they know. That anger and fear reached a culmination when Congress moved forward with certifying the results of the 2020 election, which they believed was stolen from Donald Trump.

Though many showed up on that day with American flags, many others showed up with not only weapons, but Nazi flags, Confederate flags, and other symbols of violence and white supremacist dogma. Their emblems were clear indicators that they weren’t there to affirm a nation indivisible. They were there in a desperate, angry effort to clutch hold of an America they saw as being overtaken by “others” — people of color, “gays,” immigrants, non-Christians, women— who they saw as a threat to their perceived position as America’s dominant economic, cultural, and social force. 

Donald Trump has tried to characterize the insurrectionists, incited by Trump himself, as just a bunch of peaceful protesters whose zeal got out of hand. Others have characterized the angry mob as uneducated, unemployed, and generally down on their luck, implying that on some level, perhaps their anger was understandable. The economy, after all, has been one reason people claim for continuing to support Donald Trump. 

We can be sure that these insurrectionists weren’t simply a group of underserved Americans. It’s clear that this mob wasn’t simply upset that their man would no longer be in office to “save the economy.” 

Though many would likely say that they were there because they are tired of being “kicked around” or because they felt marginalized, the majority of them, though not all, were white males. Among the mob were college-educated professionals, along with business owners and blue-collar workers. At least some of them had flown in from across the country (at least a handful on a private jet), and could somehow afford to stay in Washington, D.C., hotels. They were not all destitute, homeless people to whom America had been unkind. 

A protester has the right to peacefully demonstrate, and to be angry. When a protester, or a mob of protesters, carry or wear Confederate flags or flags emblazoned with swastikas, however, the source of their anger is clear, and it’s not “the economy.” It’s not a “stolen election.” When a rioter wears a t-shirt such as the “Camp Auschwitz” t-shirt one rioter wore, we can be sure of the kind of “America he is interested in “taking back.” 

When extremist far-right hate groups such as the Proud Boys; the white nationalist Groyper Army; the pro-Trump, far-right, anti-government Oath Keepers; the white supremacist New Jersey European Heritage Assn.; and other such groups converge, as they did at the Capitol on January 6, we know that the America they profess to save is one where white people, mainly male, are in the majority, make the rules, and govern the country. 

As the nation prepares for a new president with the most diverse administration in its history, including the first female Vice President who is also of Black and South Asian descent, these Trump-supporting rioters appear desperate to hold on to what they think is rightfully theirs, and only theirs: America. When Joe Biden says he will have a cabinet that looks like America, they see that as a threat to their existence: America doesn’t look all white, or all male, or all Christian. They believe Trump’s false claim, too, that the Democrats, and those “others,” stole the election from them, thus stealing the country. 

“This is a response, and it’s not a new response,” says Lecia Brooks, chief of staff of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Every time there is progress in asserting civil rights, there’s a backlash. Confederate iconography is a means to reassert white supremacy when it is thought to be threatened.”  

We can see further evidence that this is the America the rioters are afraid of losing, in the “America First” language at Trump supporter rallies. At a recent rally in December, for example, Holocaust denier and America First organizer Nicholas Fuentes, who once posted on Facebook that  “a tidal wave of white identity is coming,” told the crowd, “It is us and our ancestors that created everything good that you see in this country,” Fuentes said. “All these people that have taken over our country—we do not need them.”

The crowd cheered.

“It’s time for us to start saying another word again. A very important word that describes the situation we’re in, yelled Fuentes. “That word is ‘parasite.’ What is happening in this country is parasitism.” 

Fuentes continued that Trump alone represented “our interests”—an end to all legal and illegal immigration, abortion, free trade, LGBTQ rights, and secularism. America Firstism, said Fuentes, “…is the American people, and our leader, Donald Trump, against everybody else in this country and this world.”

“Everybody else” includes the Democrats; Vice President Mike Pence, now that he has refused to go against his Constitutional duty of proclaiming Joe Biden as the lawful president-elect; and Republicans who acknowledge that Donald Trump lost the election, and/or who don’t give absolute fealty to Donald Trump. 

America First, a phrase adopted by Donald Trump, and a movement started by Fuentes, is a phrase that was first used in 1940 by American Nazi sympathizers who wanted to keep the U.S. out of World War II. Trump uses it to characterize his isolationist policies. Fuentes uses it to describe “a brand of white Christian nationalism that views politics as a means of preserving demographic supremacy,” according to The New Yorker’s Luke Mogelson. 

Incidentally, Fuentes’ YouTube channel was permanently suspended in early 2020 for violating YouTube’s hate speech policy. 

“Though America Firsters revile most mainstream Republicans for lacking sufficient commitment to this priority,” writes Mogelson, “—especially neoconservatives, whom they accuse of being subservient to Satan and Jews—the group’s loyalty to Trump is, according to Fuentes, ‘unconditional.’” 

Not surprisingly, then, in addition to the Nazi and Confederate flags and apparel, numerous AF (America First) flags were flying at the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. 

We have all been angry; many of us have lost livelihoods, loved ones, and even homes. Anger can be justified, but it is never justifiable to blame those who don’t look, act, worship, or speak like we do, work our anger into a destructive frenzy, and hide it under the guise of “patriotism.” That is the “patriotism” that, if left unchecked, will destroy America.

New Footage Shows What It Was Like Inside The Trump Mob At The Capitol | On The Ground | Insider News [2021-01-08]

The January 6 Insurrection Was A Last Gasp For White Supremacy | The Last Word | MSNBC [2021-01-16]