Has Trumpism really been defeated?

| December 6, 2020

The 2020 US presidential election campaign was perhaps the most divisive the United States has ever seen, laying bare the deep political divisions in America. The calm and calculated campaign of president-elect Joe Biden was in stark contrast to the loud and rambunctious campaign of Donald Trump. For many, the 2020 presidential election was a battle for the soul of a nation.

Donald Trump’s presidency was characterised by a firm push against the normalities of American governance and politics. Trump’s brashness, provocative rhetoric and unconventional style delighted huge swathes of the American public.

Soon after Trump was sworn in as president, it quickly became clear that American politics was going through a transformation. Adversarial politics took centre stage, as the Trump team relentlessly pushed an ‘us vs them’ approach, whether in the political sphere or with the incessant labelling of media outlets as “fake-news”.

When U.S Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s false statement about the number of people in attendance at Donald Trump’s inauguration, saying that Mr Spicer presented “alternative facts”, it became clear that this would be a very different kind of presidency.

The Dawn of Trumpism

Trump’s presidency brought a new political ideology to the forefront – Trumpism. Nationalism, populism, inflammatory remarks and hard-line immigration policies are cornerstones of a right-wing ideology which has captured the hearts of millions of Americans, many of whom have felt forgotten by the American political establishment for decades.

Trump wasted no time in setting his immigration policy. Shortly after he took office in 2017, President Trump issued an executive order which banned travellers from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, which came to be known as the ‘Muslim Ban’.

One immigration policy which drew widespread criticism, including within the Republican party, was the separation of children and infants from parents or guardians with whom they had arrived at the border. This policy was presented as a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to deter illegal immigration.

There was also the attempt to wind-down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA is a program which doesn’t offer a path to American citizenship (American citizenship), but allows some individuals with unlawful presence in America after being brought to the country as children, the opportunity to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation, during which they can become eligible for a work permit in the United States.

And this is not to mention the attempt to complete the border wall with Mexico, a key element of Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign.

Trump’s hard-line stance on U.S immigration (U.S immigration) was largely welcomed among his supporters and right-wing Americans, and met with dismay by his opponents. This sharp contrast in opinions is indicative of the divide which has festered in American society throughout the Trump presidency.

Undoubtedly, the Trump presidency led to an invigoration in right-wing politics in America. Unfortunately, the far-right has also felt emboldened in America over recent years.

Mr Trump’s response to the violence which occurred during the ‘United the Right’ rally, which included the death of a counter-protester, led to suggestions that Trump was a sympathiser to white supremacists. Trump said that there were “very fine people on both sides” as he responded to the violence, a remark which many white supremacists saw as evidence of the president’s support. One of the organisers of the rally stated that he was “really proud” of Trump.

Regardless of whether one believes Trump is a white supremacist sympathiser or not, it is clear that the politics of Trump has reached corners of American society historically antagonistic to the politics of Washington.

There has been an increase in hate crime in America since Trump took office. Statistics released by Statista) (Statistics released by Statista) indicate that hate crime in America is at its highest level in over a decade. In 2016 in the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency, the total number of hate crime incidents recorded by the FBI was 6,121. In 2017, the figure rose to 7,175, dropping slightly to 7,120 in 2018, before 7,314 were recorded in 2019, the highest number recorded in over a decade.

The 2020 Presidential Election Campaign

In spite of a number of controversies during the Trump presidency, including a legal case around Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the revelation that Trump avoided paying taxes for years and an immensely ineffective response to the coronavirus pandemic, leading to America being the country with the worst death toll from Covid-19 in the world, Trump still enjoys huge support and a cult-like status among many of his supporters.

Whilst Trump lost the presidential election, he still received over 74 million votes, which is over 10 million more than he received when he won the presidency back in 2016. At the time of writing, the Republican party still holds the most seats in the Senate and gained 14 seats in the House of Representatives election too.

Given this, it seems implausible to suggest that the 2020 presidential election result was a defeat of Trumpism. Evidently, the politics of Trump is far from removed from the American political discourse.

A Re-run in 2024?

Donald Trump has already hinted at running again for president in the 2024 presidential election. And, tellingly, he is receiving widespread support within the Republican party to do just that. Trump’s hold on the Republican party remains very strong and it has become clear over recent weeks that the GOP has no intention of turning its back on Trumpism.

Trump is a hugely popular figure in the party, and Republicans show very little interest in defying a president who transformed the party. Many Republicans have refused to recognise Joe Biden as president-elect, and few have gone against Trump’s baseless claims against voter fraud in the 2020 election.

Trump is receiving public support from some of the potential candidates who could seek the Republican nomination in 2024, adding further credence to the notion that Trumpism is now a permanent fixture in the Republican party.

As the options for Trump in claiming voter fraud narrow, the president told the Republican National Committee members that if his voter fraud claims fail, “I’ll see you in four years”.

It is without question that Trump still holds considerable influence and power in the Republican party. And, among his voter base, Trump’s support is as strong as ever, which GOP officials are keenly aware of.

The Power of Social Media

Social media’s influence in modern-day politics cannot be underestimated. Of course, Donald Trump himself is a prolific user of Twitter. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have become a major source of news and information for many Americans (and others around the world).

In 2019, a Pew Research Center study (study) found that 54% of Americans either got their news “sometimes” or “often” from social media, with Facebook being the most popular source. Another study (Another study) later in the year found that 18% of Americans said they get their political news primarily through social media.

The algorithms running social media platforms are designed with the principal aim of holding onto the user’s attention. For instance, if someone is watching videos on YouTube, they will be recommended videos related to the topics of the videos they are watching, with the aim of keeping the user engaged on YouTube.

When you consider the implications of what this means for someone who primarily gets their news from social media, the power of social media becomes abundantly clear.

Unfortunately, due to the design of social media, these platforms can quickly become echo chambers for certain political views. This can lead to biased and unbalanced opinions on political issues, where differing views on a topic are not seen or heard. Worryingly, a lot of the information in these echo chambers, and social media in general, can be misleading at best, and dangerous at worst.

These platforms can become fertile ground for conspiracy theories to flourish too. QAnon is one such conspiracy theory which began in October 2017. QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory which alleges that a cabal of Satan-worshiping paedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against Donald Trump, who is actively fighting the cabal. According to QAnon, Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton are two of the cabal’s members. QAnon conspiracy theories are mainly disseminated by supporters of Donald Trump through social media platforms.

Interestingly, since the election, Trump supporters have been flocking to alternative social media sites over claims of ‘censorship and deplatforming’ from Twitter and Facebook, as the social media giants clamp down on misinformation.

Regardless, social media platforms will, undoubtedly, continue to play a role in keeping the politics of Trumpism alive.

Trumpism is Not Going Anywhere

The 2020 presidential election result was a cause for celebration for many. But the politics of Donald Trump was not defeated in the election. Trumpism is still firmly in the American political discourse, and there is nothing to suggest that it will decline anytime soon.

The Republican party remains largely supportive to Trump, and his core voter base is still intensely loyal to the man who changed the face of American politics. The fight for America’s political soul is ongoing.