Trump voters after Trump | The American Conservative
In the grand narrative of the American presidency, the Age of Trump will prove little more than a temporary distraction, the equivalent of a wrong exit from a freeway. Within weeks of leaving office, his successor was already repairing the damage Trump had done to the nation and the world. In terms of material impact, it was a short-lived presidency: a lot of noise and excitement, but little lasting damage and practically no lasting success.
Even so, after last November’s votes, tens of millions of our fellow citizens remain willing buyers of what Trump sells. Before and after the elections, the MAGA crowds showed passion, zeal and amazing loyalty. If there were any doubts, the attack on the Capitol on January 6th resolved them.
While denied re-election, Trump received a whopping 74,222,958 votes, the second highest total number of any US presidential candidate ever. The importance of that number, which surpasses Hillary Clinton’s 2016 referendum by nearly ten million, can hardly be emphasized enough. It expresses the essential meaning of the Trump moment: what he did or didn’t do in office will soon be forgotten, but by tapping and unleashing long dormant forces, Trump has changed the landscape of national politics.
Observers rushing to anchor the Biden presidency as a welcome return to normal do not want to ponder what the 74 million mean and, in Mrs. Clinton’s infamous phrase, implicitly dismiss it as declining Yahoo or “deplorable.” Note that this writes off roughly half of the country’s politically active population.
By convention, Trump supporters are poor, white, illiterate, and mostly male. Their numbers include a sizeable cohort of unrepentant, gun-armed racists. In progressive quarters, that selfish notion of who’s in the 74 million plays well. But it’s at least misleading, if not downright wrong. Even in 2016, surprising numbers of women, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans voted for Trump. Four years later, Trump’s support in each of these demographic categories actually increased. For example, among white women who voted in 2020, 55 percent voted for Trump, up from 47 percent four years ago.
How can such voting behavior be explained? One way is to classify Trump supporters as Cretans. According to an angry professor of gender studies at the University of Southern California who writes for new York Magazine, women who vote for Trump, just sold out. These “wine mothers” willingly accept “second class status by gender as long as the Republican Party races them first and protects them”. From this perspective, the millions of women who support Trump are too stupid or too astute to act on their real interests. A similar judgment allegedly applies to anyone in the BIPOC / LGBTQ universe who disregarded the dictates of identity politics in the Trump election.
When I was young, commentators cited farmers, veterans, or Catholics as keys to an upcoming election. Today, especially in progressive circles, political forecasters cite tribal identity as the factor that will determine the outcome. When the African American journalist Juan Williams on the pages of the New York Times To announce that “the black voice is now defining American politics,” he gave his own tribe a dominant status. In fact, it makes no more sense to give prominence to black voters than to give similar status to women, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, or any other comparable group.
What proponents of identity politics miss is that ultimately the broad political center – which inevitably includes voters of all races, creeds, colors, and other distinctive traits – will ultimately determine the future of American politics. In that regard, Trump’s 74 million is likely to play a crucial role. If Democrats can pull out a dozen or so of those millions, they’ll own Washington. With the Republican Party consolidating and expanding Trump’s base, the GOP can recover from its current state of confusion and disorder.
The key question is: if the aging and beleaguered Trump himself inevitably disappears from view (or is pushed aside) and his followers come to be won over, who is going to corrode them? Who will claim this rich political harvest?
That it won’t be “Sleepy Joe” Biden is a sure thing. I say that does not mean disrespect for the president. As Trump’s successor, Biden is more of a transition figure than a transformation figure. He’ll fill potholes, repair fences, and distribute vaccines (faster please). After four years in which Trump despised the day-to-day work of governance, we should be grateful to have a CEO who actually does his job.
But Biden has neither the energy nor the intellectual sharpness to redefine the political center. He’s a past-his-prime sucker. His domestic political agenda has been warmed up over Obama and is therefore about as outstanding to this day as that of Adlai Stevenson. Regarding America’s role in the world, Biden recycles once fashionable bromides through America’s global leadership, a euphemism for ideological and economic primacy carried by military supremacy. For a brief period in the late twentieth century, that perspective seemed to hold in place, until September 11th swept it away by multiple economic crises, failed wars, the rise of China, the growing threat of climate change, and ultimately the coronavirus pandemic.
So Biden’s job is to act as a placeholder. If he can manage to hold things together until providence or fate, or the wisdom of the American people determine what is to come next, history will treat him generously. What comes next will result from a transformation of the political center that has yet to be done.
The center is rather boring. Political movements feed on the antics of extremes, left or right. Recent events have confirmed this truism. Madness flourishes at opposite ends of the contemporary political spectrum. In San Francisco, a proudly “lively” school board voted to remove the names of notable Americans convicted of past sins from public schools, including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. On the far right, the belief that a Washington, DC pizzeria served as the front for a child sex trafficking ring run by Hillary Clinton and other Democratic greats is gaining a huge following, leading one maniacal person to shoot the place.
I’m just quoting these bizarre episodes to illustrate how politics as theater has overshadowed politics as governance in recent years, a phenomenon that Donald Trump and the media who hate Trump have contributed to. A new political center that can win the support of a permanent majority will necessarily tend towards more substantive issues.
The place to start? Proposals taken for granted by Jettison that have evidently outlived their usefulness. These statements are not difficult to identify. As the mainstays of American politics since the end of the Cold War, and in some cases even earlier, they have been a major contributor to the current disunity and hardship in the country. A first step for any person, movement, or party seriously committed to getting the nation back on track is to:
- admit that the so-called unipolar moment has ended;
- admit that US military supremacy is a dangerous illusion;
- Recognize that the American “way of life” condemns large numbers of American citizens to life in need, misery, and emptiness;
- appreciate the insidious information technology that undermines real freedom;
- stop ignoring the underside of American materialism, which confuses more with better; and
- recognize the social disorder that results directly from abandoning traditional moral norms.
These six imperatives are inherently neither liberal nor conservative. However, I contend that they address issues that are more relevant to the crisis of our time than anything Trump has said or done as President. Only by facing the truths they testify will it be possible to break free of the stinking orthodoxy to which so many in the mainstream political continue to swear allegiance.
Reduce them all to a single pithy sentence and you get this: The American Century, the era of the supposed global primacy of the United States from World War II, is finally over, as is the post-Cold War reverie that contributed so much to it have to speed their rate demise. The handing over of the American century to the past is a prerequisite for restoring a sense of relevance and integrity to national politics. Pretending to revive it, as the Biden administration appears intent on dealing with the president’s endless assurances that “America is back,” is to commit a fraud.
To say aloud that the American century has ended is to remove a collection of lies and deceit that have far greater consequences than Trump’s outrage. This will allow honesty in the national political arena. Moreover, such an admission could resonate with the 74 million whose disgust for the establishment brought them to Trump in the first place and who will remain politically homeless if their champion is found to be permanently dethroned.
Anyone seeking a position of national leadership takes courage to say out loud that the American century is over. The first potential president to do this is likely to score some big hits. But he or she will do her country a great service.
So all of you patriotic Americans out there, however you voted last year, be bold and repeat after me: the unipolar moment is over; The supremacy of the US military is a dangerous illusion. The American way of life needs serious repair. Information technology weakens and corrupts; more is not better; and without a common moral code there is no decency or civilization.
Andrew Bacevich is President of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.