Now that Donald Trump has lost the election, it is important to do a forensic analysis of what went wrong with American democracy and, at the same time, acknowledge its “antibodies.”
Because although Trump has been definitively defeated, the caudillo continues to expand his attacks on democracy, denying democratic electoral procedures and promoting a kind of coup attempt, ridiculous and probably failed.
Specifically, Trumpism increases its possibilities for the future through what it has always done, denying reality and promoting the delegitimization of democracy in pursuit of the wishes and mobilizing myth of its leader. Thinking of his triumphant return, Trump presents himself not as the loser that he really is, but as a victim of treason. Propaganda wants to rewrite history through deliberate fiction, but fact-based history continues its course.
In this framework, we must not only ask ourselves what went wrong and what was right in the analysis of the antidemocratic phenomenon that this American leader represented, but also think from the past experiences of authoritarianism about the possible paths of Trumpism. In particular, what are his future chances in power, either through a new candidacy in 2024 or through “neo-Trumpism” in the future.
A losing battle should not be equated with a total victory. This was exactly what Hannah Arendt warned about in June 1945. The German-Jewish philosopher believed that fascism had not ended after her defeat and that the seeds of the fascist international were well planted globally and in South America in particular. . Arendt was able to clearly envision the continuity between classical fascism and the democratic reformulation of fascism that was populism.
From Juan Perón in Argentina to Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, populism left behind the constituent elements of fascism such as xenophobia, absolute repression, propaganda techniques and totalitarian dictatorship. However, the new populisms, led by Trumpism and closely followed by Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Viktor Orban in Hungary and Matteo Salvini in Italy, have taken up many of these fascist elements, with the exception of course of the dictatorial dimension.
Trumpism, like these new populisms, can be defined as the “post-fascist moment” in which the freedom to think was replaced by a mixture of freedom to shop, racism and xenophobia, fascist-style lies, free pass to ignoring their own health and that of others and being totally obsessed with the leader.
The costs of this conception were many, and often lethal. Trump’s years in office have been a disaster from the point of view of democracy, which has been deeply denigrated but certainly not destroyed in the fascist style.
It is true that democratic institutions are relatively stronger than in the past, and yet we must not assume that they are so formidable as to reject the return of Trump, or future Trumpists on duty, such as his daughter Ivanka Trump, or Mike. Pence or Senators Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton or Ted Cruz. With or without Trump, democracy will again be attacked from within. Despite its failures, Trumpism will remain a feature of American politics.
We must think that leaders like Trump were possible because democracy manifested itself to society as less participatory, contemplative in the face of injustice, and elitist. In other words, against extreme right-wing populism, democracy needs to be more just and representative.
Constitutional democracy must defend itself against fascism and Trumpism, but it must also expand, be supportive and be less unequal. Based on its recent history, it is possible to say that Trumpism proposes for the future a terrible and implacable opposition, neither deliberation nor dialogue: more lies and conspiracy theories, the mobilizing myth of an unjust and “false” defeat and perhaps, more militarization of politics and violence and the insistence on the cult of its leader as a redemptive figure who constantly needs to be redeemed from the electoral failure and future judicial processes against him.
Finally, let’s stop at this point.Will Trump be investigated for gross negligence in the line of duty, and even promotion of diseases in conditions of a national and global health pandemic, and also for the alleged cases of corruption and incitement to repression and violence?
It is too early to predict whether the future Biden Administration will not oppose these options to solidify democracy and provide a warning to future Trumpists.
The opposite case is Gerald Ford’s famous presidential pardon of Richard Nixon for his crimes not to be investigated, which seem tenuous compared to the legal muddles that Trump may face. One thing is clear, past histories of democratic reconstruction teach the need for the defense of legality and legitimate politics to go hand in hand.
Federico Finchelstein is a history teacher at the New School in New York. Doctor of Cornell University and taught at Brown University. He is the author of several books on fascism, populism, the Holocaust, and dictatorships. His new book is A Brief History of Fascist Lies.
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