Many predict that U.S. President Donald Trump will be a kingmaker, however, there is more than ample reason to suggest that his brand is dying. Exhibit one is the million MAGA march in Washington DC on Saturday November 14. Attendance at this event was more than 980,000 short of the million people the White House had hoped for. The administration lied about attendance in even more spectacular fashion than they lied about crowd size at Trump’s inauguration.
Trump’s legal options are dwindling as his baseless allegations of electoral fraud are being dismissed by the courts. Similarly his hopes that the electoral college will flout the democratic will of the electorate has not materialized. Even as election officials contradict the president’s false narrative, Trump continues to attack the integrity of America’s democracy. Trump’s motives for casting doubt on the election and failing to concede may simply be a way of avoiding responsibility for his failed presidency. It may also be yet another installment of his rampant corruption. “These lawsuits purportedly challenging the election are a huge money-making opportunity for the Trump campaign,” Elie Mystal writes in The Nation. “If you read the fine print on the new fundraising e-mails Trump’s campaign is sending out to supporters, they say that ’60 percent of contributions’ will go toward retiring campaign debt.” Now that disclaimer has increased to 75 percent. This call for cash is yet another one of the president’s grifts. It will be diverted to a Super-Pac and ultimately to Trump personally.
Trump’s deception has not been challenged by many Republicans and this could be due to several reasons including their own corruption. There is no doubt that many fear that Trump could drive a wedge between them and their constituencies. Another reason may be that the GOP may not want to call out Trump’s lies out of fear that the fate of their party may be in the balance. Some seem to be bowing to pressure which may suggest some kind of kompromat. For some senior Republicans both rationales may be in play. Senator Lindsey Graham who donated a half a million dollars to Trump’s legal fund, explained that the president shouldn’t concede because, “if Republicans don’t challenge and change the U.S. election system, there will never be another Republican president elected again.”
Republicans may be acting out of fear and self interest but very few are genuinely loyal to Trump, whose authoritarian aspirations do not inspire real loyalty. Many have dagger in hand and will readily plunge it into the wannabe dictators back when the moment is right. Trump has already been abandoned by constituencies that traditionally support the GOP. This includes veterans and conservative groups.
Before the election powerful Republican donors and strategists Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah withdrew their support for Trump. After the election GOP mega-donor Charles Koch dropped a bombshell in a WSJ interview when he announced that he was walking away from both Trump and the GOP. Koch said he regrets his decades of partisanship and now wants to focus on bridging the political divide.
Bringing Americans together will be difficult but there is reason to believe that climate action and COVID-19 may help to drive us towards a shared understanding or at least a shared reliance on science as the best method we have of parsing the facts. However, to bridge the political divide we will need to combat disinformation.
Trump’s disinformation has galvanized a hateful protest movement that rails against real and imagined adversaries. This is a movement that gives vent to our basest instincts, it is xenophobic racisms seeks to resurrect the dying monolithic caricature of white America from a bygone era.
Fostering unity is about pushing back against this denial of reality. It is about helping people to seek out facts. This is the opposite of the kind of cherry-picking that has become so common. Education can play a key role by helping us to see beyond our silos of belief. It can inspire an attitude that respectfully considers diverse points of view without subscribing to the view that everything is equally true or that our understanding of reality is entirely subjective. We navigate this labyrinth by subjecting hypotheses and theory to rational scrutiny and this can lead us toward shared understandings of the known facts.
However, there is no denying that Trump reveals a troubling sub stream in American consciousness and although some of his supporters make valid points (eg concerns about neoliberalism and globalization), most of their views are wildly inaccurate and contradict the core values of what America stands for.
If we are to return to fact-based policy we will need to confront the chief purveyor of disinformation and understand the mechanics of deceit. We must also understand the ways that social media is used to game the system. Trump depends on disinformation to manipulate his followers and if this goes so too will his role as a kingmaker. If we can dispel the lies and conspiracy theories that drive disinformation Trump may very well languish in the same kind of obscurity that plagued former president Richard Nixon at the end of his life.
Even if efforts to confront disinformation are successful we have to acknowledge that there are some who are so deeply imbedded in their silos that they are beyond the reach of reasonable measures. So while Trump will continue to command millions of conspiracy theorists, far right nationalists, and white supremacists, this does not mean he will be a kingmaker.
Trump is facing a wide array of financial and legal issues. This includes $300 million in debt which is coming due and if he loses his case with the IRS he may have to pay and additional $100 million in back taxes. Trump also faces a legal reckoning once he is no longer president and any one of the 9 major cases pending against him may very well see him incarcerated.
Trump’s brand is dying even if many of his supporters don’t realize it yet. According to Trump’s own lore, he does not like losers, and he is losing big time. Once the reality of his loss sets in he will not command popular opinion. As illustrated by his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, those associated with the Trump brand are now social lepers. As reported by Vanity Fair “everyone with self-respect, a career, morals, respect for democracy, or who doesn’t want their friends to shame them both in private and public will steer clear.” Christian evangelicals, like the GOP and all who quietly or explicitly supported Trump will have to contend with a social backlash. Even those who thought they were using Trump as a “blunt instrument” will find that they have been irrevocably sullied by association. With more than a quarter million dead and counting, this is a stain that will not wash.
Trump’s presidency will end as it began revengefully and chaotically, but it will end. Whether Trump loses graciously or is escorted out of the Oval Office does not matter, the constitution is very clear, president-elect Biden will take the oath of office on January 20 at noon. The institutions held and this attack on democracy has been defeated. Generations to come will look back on the rejection of Trump as a defining moment, not just in the U.S. but in the history of the world.
The Biden administration will engage in fact-based policy informed by science. It is not improbable that historians will see the failure of Trump’s presidency as having paved the way for a new golden age of progressive policy. It is karmic irony that Trump may well have helped to create the right preconditions for a historic reset that alters the course of human history.