Joe Biden vowed in campaign launch video last month that if he’s elected president, he will return America to normalcy.
“We are in the battle for the soul of this nation,” the former vice president said, with the earnest conviction of a true adherent to American exceptionalism and a deep belief in the nation’s ability to rebound from a brief and disastrous Trump interregnum. “I believe history will look back on the four years of this president, and all he embraces, as an aberrant moment in time.”
But is that really so? I doubt it. Rather than being a deviant detour, I gravely fear that Trumpism won’t simply be course corrected with the election of an optimistic, avuncular Democrat. No, what Trump represents — what he is doing to the nation — is far larger and more sinister than who sits in the Oval Office. It is a phenomenon of global proportions.
The social, economic, and political forces that spawned Trump’s toxic rise to power appear to be common across many Western democracies, as they struggle against the pull of isolationism to counter dramatic demographic changes within their borders. And just as it is in the United States, white, male hegemony that has historically stood astride the globe is at risk of losing its unquestioned dominance.
As racial, ethnic, and religious minority groups grow in both number and political power, their presence seems to be triggering a rash of anti-democratic impulses around the globe. In short, they are the raison d’être that propelled Trump’s election and are the force preserving his power.
In an insightful essay published recently by The Guardian, Angela Saini, an independent British science journalist and freelance author, documents the rise of racist, far-right ideologies sweeping across Europe and the United States. Drawing on work by historian Barry Mehler, who has studied right-wing extremism in the wake of World War II, Saini wrote that Mehler discovered that “things ceased to be normal” at the war’s end.
Specifically, Mehler, who is Jewish, was alarmed to discover that even to this day, there lurks in the recesses of some white Westerners’ hearts and minds the perception of a threat to the “white race” from racial, ethnic, and religious minority groups living among them.
But what is far worse, Saini wrote, is “a well-coordinated network of people who [are] attempting to bring these ideologies back into mainstream academia and politics.” In a brief description, Saini paints a sobering portrait of the sweeping global nationalism conjoined with racism and xenophobia:
Things ceased to be normal. Far-right and anti-immigrant groups have once more become visible and powerful across Europe and the US.
In Poland, nationalists march under the slogan “Pure Poland, white Poland.” In Italy, a rightwing leader rises to popularity on the promise to deport illegal immigrants and turn his back on refugees. White nationalists look to Russia under Vladimir Putin as a defender of “traditional” values.
In the German federal elections in 2017, Alternative für Deutschland won more than 12% of the vote. Last year, whistleblower Chris Wylie claimed that Cambridge Analytica, known to be closely linked to Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon, was using ideas of racial difference targeting African Americans to figure out how to stir up support among white conservatives in the 2014 midterm elections. Since leaving the White House in 2017, Bannon has become a key figure for European far-right movements, and is now hoping to open an “alt-right” academy in an Italian monastery. This echoes “scientific racists” after the second world war, who, when they failed to find avenues in mainstream academia, simply created their own spaces and publications. The difference now is that, partly because of the internet, it’s so much easier for them to attract funding and support. In France in 2018, Bannon told far-right nationalists: “Let them call you racist, let them call you xenophobes, let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honour.”
Far from being merely the inspiration for amusingly foolish early morning tweet storms, the forces undergirding Trumpism are more common than Americans like Biden seem willing to admit.
Like the white nationalist Bittereinders during apartheid-era South Africa, the modern day, Trump-led Republican Party clings ruthlessly and undemocratically to power in a diverse, multicultural America. This epoch of their singular dominance over U.S. society is inevitably time-stamped for failure, but these GOP leaders will not go away easily or quietly. They will surely remain a viable threat to democracy even after Trump is no longer president.
To hear Biden’s simplistic campaign pitch, once Trump is out of office the nation will spring back, like a memory foam mattress, into its previous, comfortable shape. At a campaign stop last month in New Hampshire, Biden predicted Republicans in the Senate and Congress will have an “epiphany” after he defeats Trump and will be willing to work with him and Democrats.
“I just think there is a way, and the thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House. Not a joke. You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends,” Biden said. “If we can’t change, we’re in trouble. This nation cannot function without generating consensus. It can’t do it.”
Biden has scant proof to support his blind belief that rancorous political partisanship will magically evaporate after the 2020 election, whether he or another Democrat is elected. Truth be told, the evidence points in the opposite direction, back to when he was vice president in the Obama administration and GOP legislators blocked eight years of policies that came from the White House. Recall, for example:
- President Obama agreed in 2014 to the so-called Grand Bargain, which would have outraged Democrats for its provision of a partial abandonment of Social Security, something Republicans dearly wanted. Yet, Congress balked, fearing its call for higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for it.
- GOP Senate obstruction in Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who openly boasted about his ability to keep Republicans united against whatever Obama and the Democrats wanted to do, without consequence to the national good. “We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these [Democratic] proposals,” McConnell said at the time, lest they appear to be “bipartisan.”
Leave it to Late Night host Seth Meyers to make it not-so-funny, yet plainly accurate.
“Trump didn’t change the GOP, he turned them loose,” Meyers said in a recent monologue. “He’s like a therapist who tells a troubled teen to express his truth and then the kid drives his car into Jamba Juice.”
“Just because Trump is out of office, doesn’t mean Republicans are gonna go back to normal,” he added. “They haven’t been normal in a long time.”