• He’s Gone

    So, despite false claims of voter fraud and rigged elections (a strategy for which he had prepared the ground before the polls opened); despite repeated recourse to the courts; despite his refusal to concede; and, despite his incitement of his supporters to violence, Donald Trump has joined the ranks of those whom he has in the past contemptuously disparaged as “suckers and losers”.

    The American people have at last come to their senses, and pulled their country back from the brink – back from becoming a “failed state”. A malignancy has been cut out of their body politic; it is now Joe Biden’s task to restore it to full health.

    But Trump’s defeat still leaves the question as to how so many Americans supported such a dangerous charlatan and would-be autocrat. The answer is perhaps easier to discern than it may seem.

    One of the weaknesses of democracies is that voters can too easily see party politics as akin to a team sport, and see themselves as players in and supporters of their team, so that they close their eyes to any malfeasance by “their” man. Republicans – as long as Trump bore the label “Republican” – were unwilling to disown him, however insupportable his words and actions.

    And, he had the support of an openly partisan, Rupert Murdoch-owned media, who took his side, no matter what. For Fox News viewers, the nation-wide celebrations at Trump’s defeat would have come as surprising evidence of the unsuspected depth of his unpopularity.

    And, voters in democracies are susceptible to “personality” politics – and no society is more susceptible in this regard than the American. Their culture is one that has grown up with, and derives its values from, what they see on their television screens. They are accustomed to watching supermen, heroes and celebrities – and Donald Trump offered them an instantly recognisable and even exciting image and a larger-than-life personality.

    And Trump had a further advantage – he had originally introduced himself to the American public as a television personality, through hosting the television show “The Apprentice”. He had already entered their homes as a familiar and friendly face, apparently authoritative and successful, long before he became a politician.

    The USA is, of course, not the only country to experience “personality” politics. Boris Johnson in the UK was, arguably, a beneficiary of the same syndrome – and we might, at a stretch, regard our own election in a similar light. Jacinda Ardern is of course a far more estimable personality than Trump or Johnson, but who can doubt that her landslide victory owed much to her “star” quality?

    No other world leader, though, can match Trump for sheer vanity and narcissism. Who can forget the pleasure he showed when he recently declared that he was the most famous person in the world, conceding only that he might have to accept second place behind Jesus Christ.

    The irony is that Trump seems not to realise that the platform afforded to him as President has not enhanced his standing and reputation. Quite the reverse – it has instead simply ensured that his failings and weaknesses have been given global publicity. He has been reviled and scorned in every corner of the globe.

    If he had not entered politics, he might still be regarded as just another (supposedly) successful businessman and entertaining television personality. He would have avoided the spotlight which has revealed – to the world’s horrified scrutiny – all his reprehensible qualities and inadequacies.

    The question now is how much influence he and his acolytes will wield in the post-Trump era. His self-image, after all, demands that he convinces his “base” that he was not legitimately defeated, whatever the election outcome, so that they still believe whatever he tells them. Will he set out to encourage them to frustrate Joe Biden’s task of rebuilding and uniting American society?

    The rejection of Trump (the right description of an election when Trump was the only issue) at least offers some hope. The margin may have been a slim one, but a significant majority of Americans rejected the politics of division and prejudice.

    History will judge Trump harshly. Let us hope that we won’t hear from him again. Long live democracy!

    Bryan Gould
    10 November 2020