Defeating Donald Trump might be the easy part.


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.

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