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Regardless of whether Donald Trump will start again in 2024 or disappear from politics, his enigmatic influence on tens of millions of Americans will be a lesson for the next demagogue. Much is learned from Trump’s successes in manipulating large segments of the public and also from his failure to translate his autocratic desires into practical power.
The very fact that 72 percent of Republicans tell respondents that they believe Trump’s discredited claim that he won the 2020 election is a sign of his perverse success in selling the Big Lie. His oversized personality, ridiculous claims, gross and abusive talent for channeling resentment felt by masses of estranged citizens left him so above reproach in so many minds that his apparent corruption and damage to reputation and the national security of the country had no influence on being engaged. After four years of untruths, incompetence and immorality, it won eleven million votes more than in 2016 (from 63 to 74 million).
He has skillfully played the dual roles of tough guy and victim, boastful bullying and haunted prey. This is a skilful embodiment of the desires and fears of the millions, mostly white working class, who feel marginalized and dishonored as they yearn for the wealth and strength that Trump appears to possess. He has given them the dignity that many have rejected from the liberal, urban, multi-ethnic society that their country is becoming.
Despite his serial inventions, his lack of moral boundaries made him appear authentic and undescribed. He was a paradox: an outsider but a spoiled part of the corporate elite, a non-politician whose every move was politically calculated for his own benefit, a drainer of the “swamp” wallowing in corrupt self-dealing. He was right when he said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose voters.
But because Trump failed to understand the government and angered the relevant authorities, he was often hampered when trying to dictatorially rule the law. He grossly attacked the secret services, the military, the FBI and other centers of power, the very ones that an autocrat under his control would have to muster. His impatience and incompetence prevented many of his efforts to shorten the due process built into the regulatory system.
He succeeded in realizing the goals of the Conservatives of dismantling many protective measures for the rights and safety of workers, consumer health from harmful chemicals and pollution, and natural environmental assets. And the hostile atmosphere that he and his henchmen created drove many skilled experts from academic, legal and diplomatic positions. However, the courts blocked his attempts to enforce or reverse regulations by revising the legal requirements for waiting times, public comment and impact assessments. And its inability to massage Congress into significant legislative changes has resulted in the law’s landscape not being extensively overhauled in the short term – though long-term ramifications will be felt through its numerous appointments of Conservative federal judges.
Given this record, a sophisticated budding autocrat could adapt accordingly. Large swaths of the American public have proven remarkably gullible, as if the batteries were dead in their nonsense alarms. You are ready to believe the most absurd conspiracy, to fall in love with the most transparent scammer and join the most unhealthy personality cult. In a Gallup poll, Trump was registered as the Most Admired Man of 2020. This amid a pandemic, largely due to Trump’s botched reactions.
A dire question arises from the fact that Trump’s worship continued after Russia created false identities online to spark America’s divisive politics: How much cooperation would an invading enemy enjoy? It seems like a crazy thought, but some European countries learned hard lessons during World War II. An aspiring American autocrat might be smart enough to notice.
A next Trump, a successful Trump, is likely to be a skilled supplier of empty dreams and encoded hatred. He or she would be a polite authoritarian populist who instilled fear of internal enemies. Rough, trump-like edges would be smoothed out. The platitudes would flow off your tongue like honey. The utter misogyny that fended off many female voters would be concealed, and thinly encoded racism would mask explicit bigotry and invite soft applause.
In order to gain autocratic power, this future Trump would not show every whim of outrage online, but rather hide malice behind a screen of adequacy. Much can be done in secret, as American history has shown. So our hypothetical president would have to be an even better actor and entertainer than Trump, who is stealthy and gives a deceptive impression of openness to followers who value iconoclastic rulers.
In addition, and perhaps most importantly, he or she would be smart enough to co-opt, not alienate, the centers of government power. Trump attacked her and mocked her. The budding dictator would cultivate them and the intelligence and covert operations of the CIA and FBI, the formidable surveillance tools of the National Security Agency, the investigative machinery of the IRS, the clout of the Justice Department prosecutor’s office, and perhaps the ultimate threat to the military.
Impossible you say We need to look no further back than the 1970s, when decades of domestic espionage, harassment and political persecution against dissented citizens came to an end after being investigated and exposed by the committee chaired by Senator Frank Church. It is worth reading the report.
From the start of the Cold War to the Vietnam War, authorities turned against civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr., trade unions, anti-war activists, and others who challenged the status quo. The government used surveillance, disinformation, dirty tricks and politically motivated prosecution to counter the constitutionally protected freedom of speech. An effort is depicted in the new film “The Trial of Chicago 7” about protest leaders who were wrongly arrested in 1968.
The FBI routinely requested tax records on activists, and the IRS screened citizens and groups “mostly dissident or extremist,” an internal memo said, including the American Library Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NSA intercepted millions of private telegrams, and the CIA secretly opened and photographed nearly 250,000 high-quality letters. Phones were tapped without warranties, houses were broken into in secret, and the FBI even sent anonymous letters to Black Panthers women alleging infidelity that destroyed at least one marriage. The FBI compiled a list of some 26,000 “suspicious” Americans who should be rounded up in the event of a “national emergency”.
Upon investigation, Congress passed laws to prevent such abuses, but some restrictions were circumvented or watered down in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Given what the United States has learned about itself over the past four years, it seems, under the right circumstances, one day some form of repetition may be possible: a “national emergency,” a conforming and fearful public, and a charismatic demagogue who the rule of ignoring law just like President Trump but with a skillful hand on the levers of power.
Former President Obama told Atlantic Ocean’s Jeffrey Goldberg: “I’m not surprised that someone like Trump could gain a foothold in our political life. It is a symptom as well as an accelerator. But if we had a right-wing populist in this country, I would have expected someone a little more appealing. “
The next trump card could be more appealing and therefore more dangerous.