By Megan Hill
The honeymoon phase of Biden’s presidency is drawing to a close and we must now address the elephant in the room: is Trump’s reign really over?
20th January 2021 was a day to remember. Democracy prevailed as Joe Biden was inaugurated as President of the United States with VP Kamala Harris at his side. The world watched as Trump’s reign of terror drew to a final close, but the 25,000 National Guard Troops patrolling Washington, DC for the occasion left an ominous scar on the celebrations.
The newly dethroned Trump is free to scupper off to Florida and enjoy his retirement, plagued only by international scrutiny and the consequences of his history-making second impeachment. Mr Trump will lose his entitlement to a $200,000 annual pension, $1 million annual travel stipend and extra funding for his future staff. Yet, although Trump’s real net worth remains up for debate, it is fair to assume the financial implications of impeachment will be more devastating to his ego than his bank account. The real question then is not what will become of Trump’s finances , but of his legacy.
Public figures the world over have belittled Trump’s legacy to one of shame, corruption and baseless conspiracy. In the aftermath of the violent act of domestic terrorism that we witnessed at the Capitol, even some of his most fervent supporters were forced denounce his name. Yet Trump himself assured us “There’s never been anything like it”. Whilst I’m sure we can all agree on that, ever the controversialist he continued, “The belief that a nation must serve its citizens will not dwindle but instead only grow stronger by the day”. Many have scoffed, certain that Trump’s influence will diminish the day he leaves the Oval Office – I’m afraid I don’t feel so optimistic.
The loss of a leader
74,223,251 individuals voted for Donald Trump and though a shunned minority, the now infamous mob that stormed the Capitol was amongst them. Trump has reintroduced a rightly marginalised movement back into mainstream society. Luring white supremacists, anti-establishment militia and, new entries, Q-Anon conspiracists out of the shadows to unite all factions of the far-right against a common cause. During his presidency Trump safeguarded, excused and encouraged the growing threat posed by far-right extremists, letting it safely fester into a force to be reckoned with today.
Trump may now be exiled from high society, mocked by the media and even swamped by criminal charges, but could that inadvertently serve the right-wing agenda? In losing their leader they may have gained something far more powerful; a martyr. Whilst I am not insinuating Trump is noble enough to die for his cause, the only execution here is that of his pride, might his supporters not interpret Trump’s fall from grace as the ultimate sacrifice?
Alternatively, Trump’s departure could leave his followers disorientated and unfocused. Allegiance to the Q-Anon movement is already faltering after ‘The Plan’, that promised Inauguration Day would be a day of reckoning for the ‘Deep State’, failed to come to fruition. Following the fiasco, believers re-grouped on alt-right friendly Social Media site, Telegram. Some users remained defiant as they desperately revised the conspiracy to make sense of this new development, assuring others that Biden’s victory was fabricated and that Trump would return to office for a second term. Whilst others could no longer surrender to the illusion: “I am so scared right now, I feel like nothing is going to happen.” Other far-right splinter groups, like The Proud Boys, were quick to prey on the moment of weakness, luring disillusioned Q-believers into their neofascist organisation.
Rebuilding US politics
Whilst the acephalous alt-right lament their latest defeat online, Biden is using his first days in office to begin healing divisions that defined Trump’s presidency, revoking the travel ban from predominantly Muslim countries to the U.S. and lifting the ban on Transgender people joining the military.
I expect members of the Republican party have also been busy-reprimanding themselves for facilitating the chaos that has slandered their reputation and working tirelessly to re-establish themselves as a party based on principle, far removed from the pomposity of Donald Trump. Unfortunately, restoring the Republican reputation won’t be possible without collateral damage, the more distance the GOP put between themselves and Trumpists, the more alienated the latter will become. Isolation makes people feel vulnerable and vulnerability can induce a fight or flight response. After witnessing the events at the Capitol, we can assume the far-right have chosen to fight.
But how hard did they have to fight the Exposed the fragility of democracy?
An institution that once seemed all-powerful and entirely impenetrable is now, in their eyes, weak and easily undermined. As the US Capitol Historical Society said following the insurrection on January 6th, “The US Capitol is more than a building-it is the embodiment of American democracy and our way of life”. If that is so, has democracy itself not just been compromised? If Trump did not inflate his followers’ grotesque sense of self-righteousness and invincibility enough then swanning in and taking an undeserved seat in the very home of democracy sure would have done.
What happens next?
Biden will, of course, want to bring the perpetrators swiftly to justice. He must make it explicitly clear that this behaviour and the seditious conspiracy it was fuelled by will not be tolerated under his leadership, or as a matter of fact, under that of any future administration. I still cannot quite believe the U.S. has reached a point where they must reiterate that fact to its citizens.
What Trump does next is of little concern, his reign is indeed over. But he left his best trick until last, an intangible enemy- his legacy.
Graphic courtesy of Nahal Sheikh