Uprooting the toxic movement he represents could take decades
By Paul Rosenberg
Despite the deep hole he’s in, Donald Trump could still win re-election, as we are constantly reminded. If he loses, some observers warn, there could be considerable trouble, even violent resistance. But perhaps the biggest problem facing us in the medium-to-long term is what happens if Trump loses. In particular, what do we do to undo Trumpism? Not just to counter the destruction Trump has wrought, but the decades-long preconditions that made his election possible, if not almost inevitable.
This question was raised recently by Foreign Policy in Focus editor John Feffer, whose 2017 book, “Aftershock: A Journey Into Eastern Europe’s Broken Dreams” I reviewed here. That book was deeply steeped in the difficult challenges of rebuilding democratic culture and, unsurprisingly, Feffer’s recent column cited several historical signposts to illuminate the challenge we face — the end of the Confederacy, Nazi Germany and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. All those efforts to rebuild were “flawed in various ways” he wrote — the first and last most dramatically. But learning from them “might help us avoid repeating the mistakes of history.”
The thrust of Feffer’s argument is twofold: First, that Trump is backed by an amalgam of forces, including “the bulk of conservative civil society,” and even if he’s defeated, Trumpism — the particular articulation he’s given to those forces — will survive the election and continue to be an existential threat. It “could succeed in finishing what Trump started — disuniting the country and destroying the democratic experiment — unless, that is, the United States were to undergo a thorough de-Trumpification.” In fact, he notes that “a post-election insurrection is not out of the question.”
Trump himself may be expendable, from the far right’s point of view, but Feffer writes that “Trumpism — which lies at the intersections of racial and sexual anxiety, hatred of government and the expert class, and opposition to cosmopolitan internationalism — is not so easily rooted out.” In part, that’s because it’s “a political chimera with the head of an establishment machine and the body of a radical social movement.”
Second, Feffer argues that we must learn from the examples of the past, flawed though they might be in many ways, in order to do better. While I agree with Feffer’s core argument, both his choice of past examples and the lessons drawn from them are less satisfying. That’s not a reason to abandon his approach, but to pursue it more robustly.