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What is Trumpism?


I love Brian Klaas’s column in the Washington Post. Its headline explains the premise: “November is our chance to wipe out Trumpism, not just Trump.”  It argues that “Trump losing is not enough.” What is required to get rid of Trumpism is an historic landslide that will sweep Republicans from power in the presidency, Congress, and state houses and legislatures for a generation.

Of course, we all hope for a Democratic landslide, a Blue Wave. Klaas’s point is that a narrow Biden victory—say, 279 electoral votes—while it would get rid of Trump would still allow for the survival of Trumpism. But what exactly is Trumpism? We need to define it, outline its parameters and recognize it, so we can crush it whenever and wherever it arises in the future.

The BBC accurately, but not particularly helpfully, quotes a Republican operative as calling Trumpism “what the president believes on any particular moment on any particular day about any particular subject.” We could, by that definition, talk about Bushism or Clintonism or Carterism. Along these generic lines is this definition from “an outrageous or idiosyncratic statement made by Donald Trump.”

But Trumpism is something more fundamentally evil in its specifics. Klaas outlines some of those particulars in his WashPo column: “A deranged, racist conspiracy…racial dog whistles…authoritarian agenda…bogus claims.” But we need to go further. One of the earliest analyses of Trumpism came in The Hill, and actually predates the 2016 election; by January, 2016, enough was known about Trump for The Hill to define the “four characteristics of Trumpism” as celebrity, nativism, the outsider and populism. But we know so much more now than we knew then. Other traits that should be added are pathological lying, racism, xenophobia (these last two may be part of nativism), homophobia, anti-science bias, rage tweeting, encouraging foreign interference in U.S. elections, megalomania and an absolute ignorance when it comes to foreign affairs.

A more psychological analysis of Trumpism was on the website, Vox. It defined Trumpism in terms of Trump’s ardent followers, correctly describing it as “a cult,” similar to The Moonies of yesteryear. Among the elements of the Trump cult are (1) an “authoritarian pyramid structure,” (2) “a leader…who has access to the truth,” (3) “brainwashing,” (4) the “malignant narcissism” of the cult leader, (5) a “lack of empathy,” (6) the tendency to “lie without hesitation,” and (7) “sociopathic tendencies.” We see, in Trump, these malevolent and horrifying  characteristics clearly.

Perhaps the scariest aspect of Trumpism was described in a scholarly article in the European Journal of American Studies, published after Trump had been in office for only six months, but long enough for European analysts to appreciate Trump’s danger. The author of that study found “meta-violence” to be the essence of Trumpism. European political analysts view American politics, quite rightly, through the lens of their own history: centuries of war, death, revolution, social advancement and retrenchment, with fascism always sticking its nose into the tent. Examining Trumpism, the author found “extreme emotions, social antagonisms, and international tensions” marking the Trump movement. The “violence” she referred to includes, not just the physical violence Trumpism sparked in, say, Charlottesville, but “cultural violence” where “religion and ideology, language and art…can be used to justify or legitimize direct or structural violence.” This is, of course, reminiscent of the desire of rightwing anarchists, like Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, to “let the whole thing [i.e. America] burn down.”

No words can better describe this violent aspect of Trumpism than Trump’s own. This is from a Fox News interview he gave in 2014: “You know what solves it [i.e. America’s problems]? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell, and everything is a disaster, then you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be, when we were great.”

Let that sink in. It’s already happening: Trump and Trumpism have indeed allowed America to begin to crash and burn to cinders, and have brought us to the brink of civil war. I don’t think it’s too late to reverse course, though, starting on Jan. 21, 2021, when Joe Biden is sworn in, the Senate and the House of Representatives both are controlled by the Democrats, and we begin the process Speaker Pelosi described last year: putting Trump “in prison.”

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