I combed the literature released by academics and journalists, discussed with my friends and colleagues, listened to endless talk shows, visited websites, and social media for answers to the question. Christine Amanpour summarizes my confusion adequately — “At the end of Trump’s term, what I’ve learned is that I really don’t understand America well at all.”
Let us face the reality of the elections results. Joe Biden received 81,012,489 poplar votes (52.3%) and Donald Trump, 74,113,538 (47%). President Trump’s disastrous mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic probably cost him re-election. Yet it seems mind-boggling that he still won more votes than any incumbent President in American history. Will Wilkinson, the notable investigative journalist offers an explanation for understanding America. He highlights that to the dismay of Democrats, Trump's strategy of ignoring the pandemic mostly worked for Republicans. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/27/opinion/trump-democrats-coronavirus.html.
Given these contending views, I present a collage of opinion on this matter for your consideration of possible answers.
Resentment trumps Reality
In Barack Obama’s recently released biography, A Promise Land he hinted to “resentment” flowing from his 8 years as a major reason for the virulence of Trumpism. Nate Silver the renowned US pollster in a post mortem four years ago confirmed this view noting that Donald Trump won in 2016, partly by tapping into this resentment, of rural people and white nationalists and tapped into anti-establishment sentiments. Although Biden won 6 Million more of the popular vote than Trump, Democrats' majority in the House dropped by 9 seats in a 222-209 split and could at best achieve a 50-50 composition in the Senate, depending on the results of the January runoff of 2 seats in Georgia.
White Nationalism prevails despite Black Lives Matter
The Black Lives Matter movement sparked by the killing of George Floyd in the summer demonstrated that institutionalized racism through violent dehumanization of Black people cannot be ignored in this country. While it triggered multiracial support both in the USA and globally, the counter narrative promoted by Trump highlighted riots and looting that became associated with the protests. By promoting law and order and protection of property rather than defunding of the police attached to the demands of BLM movement, he stigmatized Democratic “radicals’ among his supporters. These tendencies were further inflamed by blaming everything related to bad economic times on immigrants and foreigners that rolled into Trump's promise of restoring greatness. These factors according to interpretations in post electoral surveys, appealed to white nationalist sentiments and attracted sizeable support of white women, even among those who voted for Hilary Clinton in 2020.
Racism associated with Trumpism: a revival of an Old time reality
When Trump entered office in 2016, the nation knowingly or not elected to return to the struggles of the 1980s. An elaboration of the revival of racism deeply rooted in Trump’s psyche is illustrated by his stand in the New York culture of white urban racial violence, racialized assumptions about crime, widespread homelessness and decaying infrastructure. Crimes were committed by young white men who thought black people didn’t deserve to be in “white spaces.” Meanwhile, Trump was silent on these crimes, but took out a full-page ad demanding the execution of The Central Park Five — black youth who were proven to be innocent. The spill over of race and politics dates to over 200 years, but the contemporary version according to Obama's interpretation, started with the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 by President L.B. Johnson that led to the South abandoning the Democratic Party and political gerrymandering, which fortified the playbook adopted by Nixon and Regan and more glaringly dramatized by Trump. Efforts at voter suppression and the blatant attempts through legal challenges to disenfranchise black voters are among the crass and blatant manifestations of racism associated with Trumpism.
The Trump Alternative Reality bolstered by complicit Republican leadership
It is with alarm that most self-respecting citizens would have witnessed how Trump's alternative reality could not have been sustained without the collaboration of other Republican Party leaders, especially in the Senate. This resulted in failure to check his abuses of the Constitution resulting in his impeachment and dangerous post-election behaviour. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who in 2016 described Trump as a “xenophobic, race-baiting, religious bigot,” recently lobbied Republican Secretaries of State in Georgia and Arizona to see whether they might be able to disqualify any votes cast in Democratic areas. Chris Patton, Chancellor, Oxford University writing in Project syndicate (November 25, 2020) best illustrates this complicit behaviour as "the fifth column" under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky as its commander, determined that the Republicans retain control of the Senate, following two run-off elections in Georgia in early January. Hence he does not want to do anything that may deter Trump supporters there from turning out to vote.
Truth trumped by Lies, Propelled by Social Media - Lethal
The digital marketplace of ideas where most people now get our news, is pervasive, subject to infiltration by sources intent on interfering with the electoral process and purveyor of falsehoods that go viral while facts go begging. An extensive MIT study of Twitter posts, published in Science in 2018, found that fake or otherwise misleading news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than truthful ones. Accordingly, in the 20th century, propaganda came from the top down. Tyrants would seize control of radio, TV and other mass media to broadcast their poison to the public. In the 21st century, propaganda is a bottom-up phenomenon. Trump fully understands that falsehoods seeded from the White House tweets circulate through the public’s own posts and tweets. Without far-reaching institutional, educational and legal remedies, lies will continue to trump truth.
The Push for Equity and the Contortion with Socialism
It is almost a consensus by creditable sources that Trump’s GOP tax cuts benefited only the wealthiest, leaving the middle and working classes behind. This justifiably prompted the push by the so called ‘radical left' of the Democratic Party for equity. Its platform is no different from that of the Obama's in 2008-2009 that pivoted around a crumbling infrastructure exacerbated by climate change; and an ever-widening gap between those with stable access to a living wage, education for their children, and proper nutrition and health care. Both now, as it was then, the call for greater equity is erroneously promoted as an attempt to erode the economic gains.
Most commentators are of the view that the populist and anti-establishment of Donald Trump’s candidacy and presidency exposed a rift between partisanship and patriotism. They also increased the toxic polarization and exploited racism for political advantage. They demonstrate that nothing is inviolable.
As I examined the collage of opinion by a cross section of respected analysts, recently released polls, show that approximately 75 percent of Republicans believe that Trump won the 2020 elections. Trump's alternative reality prevails. I am regrettably back to square one. Like Christine Amanpour, "I really don’t understand America well at all.”
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.