President Donald Trump may have lost the election, but Trumpism is not going away any time soon. Trump and his cult of personality have forever changed the Republican party and its base, laying the groundwork for a culture of abrasive incivility and unabashed bigotry. Trumpism is the right-wing political movement based on Trump’s personal brand of reactionary, America First politics. First and foremost, Trumpism is a movement of grievances, the core tenets of which largely center around nationalism, anti-immigration policies, an aversion to social justice reform, and an all-out rejection of mainstream media.
Ever since he first announced his candidacy in 2015, Trump has used racism and cultural resentment to his advantage. From disparaging Mexicans to referring to white supremacists as “very fine people,” Trump has not shied away from using divisive rhetoric to rile up his base. Through non-stop campaign rallies and the constant use of his personal Twitter account, Trump has inundated his supporters and the world with messages of rage and resentment, attacking Democrats, Black Lives Matter protesters, the media, his political opponents, and anyone else who dares to disagree with him.
As a result, many of his supporters have adopted this same language and behavior and applied it to their own lives. It’s not just that families and friends have fallen out and blocked each other on social media or that neighbors have stolen each other’s political yard signs. Hate crimes have gone up dramatically in the past four years and Trump’s supporters are among the first to engage in both verbal and physical abuse against anyone who doesn’t look like them or subscribe to their way of thinking. While America was divided long before Trump came along, his unchecked bigotry and penchant for saying whatever comes to mind has given many of his supporters the green light to say and do as they please.
Over the last four years, many of his supporters have gleefully participated in “lock her up” chants, cheered him on as he encouraged police officers to use excessive force, and defended his administration’s zero tolerance policy before it was eventually repealed. Just within the last few months, Trump supporters disrupted early voting by protesting and blocking the entrances of polling places across the country and surrounded a Biden-Harris campaign bus on a Texas highway, causing a minor collision. Trump encouraged this behavior after the fact, retweeting a video of the incident and commenting, “I LOVE TEXAS!”
Even now that Trump has decisively lost the election, Trumpism still persists.
While some have claimed that President-elect Joe Biden’s victory was a repudiation of Trump, what has occurred in the days leading up to and after the election has proven otherwise. Conspiracy theories, election denialism, and hatred have run rampant among Trump’s most ardent supporters. Doubling down on their movement’s inability to coincide with reality, thousands of his supporters held a “Million MAGA March” in Washington D.C. last Saturday to protest the results of the election, which they falsely claim was stolen. Among those in attendance were the Proud Boys, the western chauvinist group Trump told to “stand back and stand by.” During the march, Trump supporters punched and stabbed bystanders and counter-protestors, resulting in the arrests of at least 20 people. Towards the end of the night, Trump encouraged police officers to engage in violence against those protesting the march, tweeting, “DC Police, get going — do your job and don’t hold back!!!”
In essence, Trump has spent the last four years fostering a culture of cruelty, the effects of which will not fade away overnight. He has opened up the floodgates, ushering in an era of open hostility to other ways of thinking and being. Trump has used fear and white identity politics to get people to vote for him, and vote they did. More than 73 million people voted for Trump—more votes than any presidential candidate had received prior to this election—and while he lost the election, it was not the landslide many Democrats had hoped for. Despite all he has said and done, Trump’s conservative agenda and particular brand of politics is still popular among all too many Americans.
While Trumpism places the current president at the center of its philosophy, it is not necessary for him to remain in power for the movement to persist. Trump will still have access to his Twitter account and he has already indicated that he might run again in 2024. And in the off chance that the man himself fades into obscurity, he has nevertheless given his base and conservative politicians like Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham the tools to fight for political power by any means necessary. While Trump may have lost, Trumpism has won. Fixing what Trump has normalized will take much more than simply electing a new president and putting out vague, one-sided calls for unity.
Featured Image is Pro-Donald Trump rally in Washington, D.C., by Ted Eytan