In 2016, I was happy when Donald Trump won the election. It wasn't so much that I liked him, it was more that everyone else was so repugnant. Sure, Trump lied, but he was transparent in his lying, whereas regular politicians lie and sanctimoniously pretend otherwise. Moreover, by 2016 I had paid attention to politics long enough to know that on certain key issues, the two parties in the US were in total agreement and thus the population would never get an opportunity to vote for a true alternative.
From all this I deduced that the president actually didn't have much power at all. I imagined that it was mostly the unelected, entrenched bureaucrats of the deep state that would make the key decisions and present the president with a limited range of options on any given issue. This is the same sense in which Eisenhower referred to the military-industrial complex. I think it is a correct but incomplete picture.
Trump certainly had the intended effect of being a disruptor. Had voters had any other means of making themselves and their disillusionment with traditional politics heard, I think it would be preferrable. Unfortunately, Trump was the only option available, and he had to be locked in for four years and preside over a pandemic, as bad luck would have it. But disruption did occur. History will look on the Trump presidency as a pivotal moment for the two American parties, which will now remake themselves in a new image. It is to be determined what that image will be for each party.
In response to Trump, however, the progressive wing of American politics and society completely lost its mind. Not only have they not backed off from the "basket of deplorables" comments, they have doubled and tripled down in the last four years. Trump supporters are routinely caricatured by the left as racist, sexist, homophobic hicks, their concerns and motivations not to be taken seriously.
American media, with few exceptions deeply steeped in the progressive agenda, have completely lost all credibility as neutral conveyors of facts. During the last four years, we have gone from one manufactured Trump outrage to another, and one after another, they proved to be of no substance whatsoever. We now know that there was no Russian interference, that Cambridge Analytica was mostly a scam, that Trump did denounce white supremacy on numerous occasions, among many other daily, weekly, monthly scandals that have now been forgotten. Journalistic standards were sacrificed at the altar of dethroning Trump. Unverified and wildly exaggerated stories of unproven (and later disproven) scandals abound in the media coverage of American politics in the last four years.
At the same time, not only did Donald Trump prove to be an utterly incompetent, sociopathic narcissist and fool, but the GOP showed a spinelessness in checking his power that is unbecoming and unprecendented even for the slimiest career politician. The most atrocious showing, obviously, has been in the response to the pandemic. America was at war for nearly 20 years because Osama bin Laden killed 3000 people. But in 2020, two hundred thousand have perished and we're supposed to accept it as an inevitability.
Trump's incompetence and repugnant presentation should have made this election an easy win for Democrats. It was anything but. The GOP will most likely retain control of the senate, and the Democratic majority in the house will shrink. In other words, the American voter has fired an incompetent narcissist but also emphatically rejected the agenda of his enemies. In this way, I think this election showed not only that American democracy is working but that it's thriving.
Now that the bull in the China shop is gone, the two parties have a chance to remake themselves and their policies for the future. Unfortunately, I think Democrats have already made up their minds in this regard. For the last four years, they have hallucinated a battle between the forces of good and evil, with themselves cast as a hero going up against a white supremacist tyrant. They have shown in the process that they understand neither racism, nor tyranny. I, for one, have no confidence that they will see the results of the election as anything other than victory. They will not learn a single lesson from the fact that after four years of screaming about Trump being racist and bigotted, he got more votes from women, minorities, immigrant and LGBTQ communities than any Republican in recent history. The crazy wing of progressives, the intersectionalists, the postmodernists, the identitarians, and the critical race theorists, may have an opportunity to run amok with the party.
The Republicans, however, have an opportunity to cast themselves as the party of the working people of all backgrounds. This election has shown that the traditional notion of immigrants being by default Democrat voters is clearly untrue. I, for one, think immigrants tend to come to Western countries, and America in particular, for the same promises that America makes in its marketing. It is the land of opportunity and the place where you can succeed if you work hard, regardless of who you are. Progressives can scream all they want about inequality and try to recast American history with bigotry at its core. I think immigrants know better than anyone that this is nonsense, and Republicans have a chance to redraw the traditional lines of who their base is. I hope they take it.
Much like 2016, this election has left people asking "how could 70M people still vote for Trump!?". Let me offer two silver linings to the Trump administration that I'm not optimistic a Biden administration will get right: pushing back on the woke movement, and being hawkish on China.
The single best thing Donald Trump has done in the last four years, as far as I'm concerned, is to sign an executive order banning critical race theory-based diversity and inclusion training in government and government contractors. Critical race theory is an inane and dangerous theory that puts people's racial identity, as opposed to their individual character, at the core of their worth as people. Since the killing of George Floyd, critical theorists, like Robyn DeAngelo to name just one example, have been raking in big sums of cash delivering speeches and training seminars, where they tell their audience such nonsense as all white people are innately racist, or that white supremacy is at the core of western civilization. Outside of the novel coronavirus, this strain of thought is now the most dangerous virus sweeping across western society, and it's one virus that the Trump administration has taken at least nominal action on. It's doubtful that a Biden administration will get this right.
On the other hand, traditional neoliberal politics and bipartisan support for globalization, precluded presidents before Trump from seeing US-China relations for what it really was: not as a way for the US to export democracy, but as a way for China to export its authoritarianism. I don't mean to imply that Trump's hostile stance on China was principled or reasoned out in any way. That would be giving him too much credit. However, it had positive effects and was validated even more by the pandemic, where Americans realized exactly how dependent they were on a not-so-friendly foreign power. Pre-Trump politics put globalization and free trade as the top priority in relation with China, to the detriment of a long-term national security or geopolitical strategy. That free trade stance has not been reciprocated by China, and it has been exploited to export Chinese authorianism to the west. Many people don't realize, for example, how easily Chinese censorship extends beyond Chinese borders. To name one trivial example, scripts for Holywood movies have to be pre-approved by the CCP if the studio has a chance of screening it in China. Effectively, that means none of us get to see a film that may draw the ire of
Winnie the Poo Xi Jinping. I'm a free-market capitalist, but even I, in this case, see a need for government intervention. Will a Biden administration take on this task, or will it revert to the safety of well-known, but ineffective, policy?
The truth is there really is a need to make America great again. Ironically, that need is a lot more severe today than it was four years ago, but to get here took a concerted effort. The pathologies of Donald Trump, American media, and the radical elements of the left wing all conspired to put American society in a four year psychosis. The traditional ways of America's two parties are no longer adequate to meet the needs of its electorate at home or internationally. The gargantuan task facing the next president is to not just heal the patient but to set it up to thrive in a new world where continued American dominance is far from guaranteed and ideologies opposing core principles of liberal democracy are on the rise both domestically and internationally. Let's wish him well.