Will Trump be remembered in history?
Donald Trump will have left the White House this Wednesday, which is one of the best news of the year. Hopefully his presidency will be remembered for a long time: never since the Second World War has one of the great constitutional states in the West come so close to a coup d'état or civil war. For a long time, Western democracies saw existential dangers, especially abroad. Trump has shown that these are currently lurking mainly domestically. His ascent and chaotic presidency are a modern warning against autocracy and have revealed five flaws that can push even an established rule of law to its limits.
First: the poison of propaganda. Trump did not lay the foundations of his presidency himself; America's right-wing riot media did that for him. For years they have ruined the state of the country, the integrity and competence of its rulers, and have constantly conjured up alleged existential dangers. So the disgust for "the system" grew, and with it the longing for a law-and-order guarantor who finally really cleans up. It was primarily Fox News, as the Republican Party's propaganda machine, that invented the supposedly broken America that needed to be saved by the populist Trump.
Appeasement doesn't work with egomaniacs
Second: the attraction of rule breakers. The Republican party leaders long believed that an angry outsider like Trump could only win over a fraction of the party base. But when larger parts of the people feel politically abandoned or treated unfairly, they are susceptible to egomaniacs and rule breakers. Many Republicans were disgusted with the Bush years wars and the financial crisis; the black President Barack Obama finally embodied their loss of control. So they looked for security with Trump, despite - or perhaps because of - his shamelessness and racism.
Third: the office does not always subdue. A widespread misconception was that Trump would change in office. Either he would give up the election riot himself, or advisors, cabinet and parliament would tame him. But Trump preferred to stay true to his formula for success of spreading chaos and discord. It is true that advisors, members of parliament, and sometimes also judges, have long succeeded in keeping Trump on the ground. Many sensible people stayed in the government apparatus, less out of loyalty to Trump than out of concern for their country. But after the lost election at the latest, Trump got out of control, beleaguered election officers, violated the constitution. The silent tolerance of his party friends in Congress, who had been silent about his excesses for years out of opportunism or fear, was embarrassing.
Fourth, the truth can die. Trump has presented himself in a fascist manner as the sole holder of the truth. Above all, he used the irresponsibly managed and inadequately regulated Twitter platform to spread thousands of lies, misinformation and abuse. Trump then hammered the tale of the stolen election into his fans for months via this tried and tested channel. Millions of Americans today are convinced that the recent election went unclean, even though every court has refuted this allegation. The supporters of Trump, who stormed the Capitol on January 6, then saw themselves as part of a mission to recapture their country - with fatal consequences.
Racist and anti-democratic currents flow in every democracy
Fifth, violence is not taboo. Anyone who comes to power as a despiser of the system knows no inhibitions about the destruction of "the system". Trump started attacking the media and the judiciary, eventually discrediting the electoral system (the US is not the only example of a party democratically seizing power and then undermining the rule of law from within - see Poland and Hungary). Of course, Trump did not shy away from glossing over, approving or even encouraging violence in the end. Had he insisted on winning the election and deployed the National Guard against any protesters, the US would have come very close to civil war.
So if you want to sketch how even a stable democracy can drift into autocraticism and finally break, you don't have to look far back into history. Trump has provided a perfect case study on this in the present. The ingredients are the same as always: egomania up to complete ruthlessness, a constant fire of lies and hatred, a torn community with a weakened immune system. Racist and anti-democratic currents also flow in well-aged democracies, the energy of which can be tapped and reinforced via social media by those who are shameless enough for it. If all Democrats are now sharpening their senses and also believing the impossible to be possible, then Trumpism has been a useful lesson after all.
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