After four long years, and a lot of delusional LARPing on both sides, President Donald Trump will be leaving the White House on January 20 to make way for America’s next astroturfed czar of centrism, Joe Biden.
Trump supporters don’t like to admit it, but it’s clear that something went very wrong with the administration that was supposed to drain the swamp and turn Washington, DC on its head.
A fond farewell to Donald Trump’s Twitter feed
With unilateral censorship of a sitting US president, Big Tech has proven it’s more powerful than any government
The canal-sized cracks in the administration have been apparent for years and, despite the denials of “Trust the Plan”sycophants, couldn’t have been more obvious than during Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.
Gone were the populist chants, outsiders, and hopeful policies that made the New York billionaire stand out so much in 2016. In were the slogans against ‘socialism’, China and Iran. In were the empty gestures, moderate advisers, a more establishment agenda and a terrible track record. Though the media placed his odds at next to zero in 2016, those of us with a semi-decent intuition knew at the time that Trump was going to win. The energy was apparent.
However, 2020 was a different story. There was no popular energy left to be felt. Trump could still attract more supporters to his events than all of the Democrat candidates (excluding Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders) combined, but something just felt off. Flat.
They were two completely different campaigns, but in more-or-less the same shell. It was like some extra-terrestrial had come along, completely vaporized all substance, and then zipped itself up in the remaining skin suit.
Even following its defeat, the Trump administration has not been able to stop itself from raving like a madman about China and Iran. Screaming allegations against countries on the other side of the world when the enemy was always within – in Trump’s own White House!
The truth is that the Trump administration spent the past four years droning on about China and Iran because both countries were – and are – more effective and successful nationalist states than the United States under President Trump ever was.
China bends Chinese corporations to its will. The United States under the Trump administration defends corporations to its own detriment, even when they have a habit for turning around and stabbing the country in the back.
Last year, the Trump administration threatened France for proposing a Big Tech tax on America’s Silicon Valley monopolies. Mere months later, the president of the United States was banned from communicating with the American people through Facebook, Twitter and pretty much every other online platform.
Iran is universally hated in the West for serving its own interests in the Middle East. The Trump administration did assassinate Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, but the country as a whole is still standing – and standing strong.
The United States under the Trump administration, on the other hand, spent the past four years accommodating Israel’s every whim. It was a great time for Israel – another successful nationalist state like China and Iran – but it wasn’t great for America. It was a waste of time and money, and for a president who billed himself as America First, it made very little sense. Months after Trump’s gracious gifts to the country, when he was at his most vulnerable following his loss in the 2020 presidential election, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his gratitude by becoming one of the first world leaders to congratulate Joe Biden – a man he has history with.
One leader got what he wanted from this relationship, and you can’t blame Netanyahu. Israel is a nationalist state. It exists to serve Israeli interests and the Israeli people, not to express loyalty to Trump at its own detriment. American presidents come and go.
Ironically, one of the very few world leaders to show some loyalty to Trump during this time was Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador – a testament to Trump’s ability to make deals, to give the man credit, and something that next to no one would have predicted back in 2015 when Trump was warning about Mexican “rapists” and calling for a wall along the southern border.
Trump did not build that wall. Nor did he significantly bring back American manufacturing, invest in infrastructure, investigate Hillary Clinton, or take on lobbyists. The list of broken promises is substantial.
Another failure of the Trump administration was its choice of personnel. A man is only as good as the people he surrounds himself with, and this is doubly true with a character like Trump, who revealed time and again that he had little ideological consistency, and that his personal views at any given time were essentially whatever personal views the latest people in his favor held.
Officials like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and adviser Jared Kushner were never on the same ideological page as Trump’s supporters. Both used their time in the White House to advance their own personal agendas, none of which were “America First.”
When Trump’s earliest supporters, like Ann Coulter, tried to hold the president to account, they found themselves reviled and exiled by a cult of personality which maintained – right until the bloody end – that Trump had a plan. He was playing a Sherlock-style game of four-dimensional chess, and a big twist would be revealed at the end, a la John Kramer getting up from the bathroom floor in the finale of ‘Saw’. Of course, this was never true, and the vacuum of inner-circle criticism led to an absence of good lobbying and feedback. Trump was criticized, frequently, but only by other parties when he failed to follow their desires. Without the same from those with his movement’s best interests at heart, there was never any incentive for Trump – a man, remember, of little ideological drive – to rectify his mistakes and change his habits.
So where does the MAGA movement go from here?
The president may be toast, but the populist energy he channelled in 2016 still lingers – even more so, perhaps, than before.
Trump supporters may not have a wall, or a repeal of Section 230, or really anything beyond tax cuts for the rich and a strained relationship with liberal relatives, but things are better in many ways.
America is split, that much is true, but the boundaries have also changed drastically, and the genuine parts of the left and right have – in some ways – become closer than ever.
A new generation of socialists and other leftists have become disillusioned with the Democratic Party and see through the hollow promises of the seductive liberal tongue. On the other side, a new generation of Republicans now see through the lies of America Last free market conservatism and feel comfortable criticizing capitalism. Americans on both the left and right also now see the dangers of Big Tech monopolies plain and clear, and the desire for free speech has grown – even if it may not look like it on social media.
Cancel culture went mainstream and woke up a sizable chunk of the population to the moral dilemmas of unpersoning, and the Republican Party will never be the same again. Though many in the commentariat seem to think that Trump’s annihilation will herald in a new era of Bush-Cheney Reaganomics, there just isn’t that much appetite for such a platform anymore.
The Republican Party – at least for the near future – will have to publicly remain populist and protectionist if it wants the Trump base to vote. As it did under Trump, the GOP will likely continue to function as it always has done – that is, working as the lackeys for multinational corporations and foreign interests – unless something drastic happens from within, but they’re going to have a harder time doing it out in the open.
There is a future for American populism, but it won’t come in the form of Trump’s children, Matt Gaetz, or an old, shriveled up Rudy Giuliani.
To be successful, the next populist movement will have to be a coalition between disenfranchised factions on both the left and right. Clear, principled and firm, it will need to have zero tolerance for corporate apologism, counterproductive foreign policy, nepotism, and other dust-ridden artifacts from administrations and campaigns gone by.
It will have to be willing to criticize its leader, and even yank him off the stage if need be, though a strongman figure (with a brain) is also a necessity for any movement to take off and gain power. The failed campaigns of Sanders and former UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn are prime examples of figures who had the booksmarts but not the balls.
We won’t know who it is, or when they’ll show up, but where there’s demand there is also supply, and the growing American populist movement isn’t going to vanish overnight.
By Charlie Nash, journalist, author, and commentator from the United Kingdom. He has written for The Spectator, CounterPunch, Mediaite, The American Conservative, and Front Porch Republic, among other publications. Follow him on Twitter @CharlieNash