On January 8 Twitter took the unprecedented decision to suspend US President Donald Trump’s account. It came after other social media giants went after Trump and his supporters, including conspiracy theorists, to reduce the chance of continued post-election violence. Social media giants have been interfering more in elections, ostensibly to stop interfering by what they see as dangerous or foreign elements.
The social media suspension of Trump’s account with 88 million followers reduces the megaphone that helped bring Trump to power. In essence these companies turned on the spigot and are turning it off. That’s not the only thing that made Trump, but it was a symptom of the era that produced him. Social media doesn’t fundamentally change people, the same conspiracy idiocy that existed before, about Bohemian Grove or the Trilateral commission or “false flag” attacks and Rothschilds, all existed before. In addition the right wing protesters who stormed the capitol in Washington on January 6 are both similar and different to past generations. They are different than the Tea Party or the Atl-Right movement of 2016, but they are also rooted in it.
Today’s American far-right has roots in the militia movements of the 1990s and extreme movements going back generations. It is no surprise that when Trump was first elected many drew parallels with the candidacy of Andrew Jackson. While some claim that the protesters in the US on January 6 were “traitors” or leading an “insurrection,” that was unprecedented in size since the war of 1812, one could also have drawn comparisons with the chaos of the 1960s in Washington, or previous eras like the clashes between corporations and workers in the 1890s. America’s standoff with Trumpism is no more profound than the Bonus March, now largely forgotten.
At the heart of what happened in Washington, an entirely predictable event considering the emotions unleashed over the last years, the empowerment of radicals by a US leader who sought to enflame them and may have thought they really would keep him in power, is the unveiling of what “Make America Great Again” really meant. Today Trump’s twitter is silent. His 59,500 tweets have come to this. With a click of a button it is all gone. Other authoritarians and their media are still free to use the platform. But this roller coaster in America appears to have come to an end, or at least closed a chapter.
What was this spell that was cast over the US for years? Trump tapped into a series of trends in America that came together in 2016. First of all, his “populist” uprising was actually not more popular than his adversary Hilary Clinton. He won because of America’s electoral system which means that winning by several thousand votes in a few key states gives one a “winner-take-all” that can make a minority of the popular vote, a majority. Nevertheless Trump did energize the “base,” the mostly white and working class voters who make up the Republican base. The Republican party is often derided as racists, ignorant gun loving, church going, people in red states or “flyover” country. It is also, in a seeming contradiction, accused of being the party of the rich. Nether is accurate. The Republican party appeals more to “white” voters in the US and more to men, but it is not really the party of the rich, anymore than the Democrats, when judged by who its donors are. Both parties have their type of rich person. One is the stereotyped “coastal elites” that blend celebrities and corporate power, and the other a different kind of elite. The Clintons made $153 million from speeches to big banks, for instance.
Trump led a “populist” uprising against the “swamp” but he was not from the “heartland” that his base supposedly consists of. He was an urban American from a wealthy family who channeled showmanship into success. Trump was a brand, more than a person, for many years. He was very New York. This didn’t seem like qualities that were electable and he was mocked as if. he was a kind of joke. But the joke became very real in 2016. Writers from abroad who had seen the rise. of Silvio Berlusconi warned America to take him seriously. He tapped into the anti-elite view of many who felt that Republicans and Democrats had betrayed them. One could argue that this was part of the “betrayal” of neo-liberal economics and America’s quest for a New World Order in the 1990s. A global economy wouldn’t necessarily help many Americans, it would make some rich, but it would ostensibly keep the US at the top of the world. Americans correctly sensed this was a charade. The US was declining in the 2000s. It had been outplayed by China and even by the relatively poor Russia. It appeared. to be signing unfavorable climate agreements and wasting funds on “endless wars.” This “new American century” and brief period of “imperial” power didn’t appeal to most Americans. On the left that meant the rise of Bernie Sanders. On the Right it meant Trumpism.
Trump and Sanders both came from outside their respective parties. In the end only Trump manifested himself. He understood the nature. of his campaign in 2016 when he joked that basically nothing could derail it. He surged forward on his brashness and his “strait talking” offensive methods. He was propelled by a public that was used to news from the Daily Show, rather than actual news, and by “fake news” online that had turned cat-video clickbait into more. toxic and nonsensical clickbait.
Trump won in 2016 by mistake. It was not some brilliant strategy, but a series of errors by his opponents and a certain genius for disregarding all political advice that helped Trump come to power. It was improbable. But then again, so was the rise of Trump in the business world, largely a mythical rise created by himself. Trump always seems to do his own PR and he was quite good at it. Washington was the next step.
The problem was that because the campaign was based on burning bridges and non-orthodox style of leadership, disregarding advice became the sine-qua-non of Trumpism. The chaos of the years in power became symbolic of that. Several secretaries of defense came and went. Trump seemed to listen to foreign authoritarians, such as North Korea’s dictator and Turkey’s Erdogan, more than his own staff. Chiefs of staff came and went, as did national security advisors. It was a revolving door of an administration. Trump leaned heavily on his family, like a New York mafia don, of the sort Trump would have been familiar with in the city growing up. Prior to the rise of Trump, when its antecedents like Ross Perot’s campaign in the 1990s, talked about “running America like a business,” there were hints that Trump’s concepts might work for America. The problem was that Trump’s business success was largely a charade, built more on showmanship. Trump was a big believer in just saying something and believing it and then making it come true. This sort of worked for several chaotic years in power, up until his election defeat.
Why Trumpism worked and how the Trump Doctrine even gained some success abroad was because the world is not governed by the kind of neo-liberal bureaucracy that thinks only it has an insight into how to craft policy. Trump, in essence, running the country like a kind of family estate, with a year spent on the golf course and transforming Trump hotel and Mar a-Lago into part of the presidential business, were not so different than some monarchies and dictatorships. So he found a way to deal with those countries that shared at least some elements with his own understanding of world order.
But in the end it failed him because his understanding of domestic politics was flawed. Trump instilled fear in all those around him, with many sucking up to him, or leaving. The results. of the bullying and fear of being “fired on Twitter” led many to become sycophants around the Trump. An acting naval secretary insulted and berated people to impress his boss, according to reports. No one seems to have stood up to Trump while being in his administration. Some departed, like McMaster, Mattis, Bolton. But there is no evidence they really stood up to him. They just left. Many were fearful also of the Trump twitter mob, accusations of being “traitors” to Trump. America in the last four years became more toxic with the use of terms like “treason” to describe every political opponent on both sides of the aisle. These are the kinds of heated words that. are used before civil conflict. With a radical right saying they wanted “civil war,” in some cases the left played into their hands. But the left had several things on its side. It had more. voters who were tired of Trump and it had social media giants. Trump was defeated in the 2020 election. He still energized his supporters, but demographics and other things were just. not on his side.
Yet Trump didn’t concede defeat. This is because he never really wanted America to be great. He wanted to be great and he wanted his family to be great. He filled the speakers podium at the Republican convention with his family. They ran things like the US had become a Trump business. Trump didn’t admit defeat because he likely had also read all sorts of bizarre right wing fantasies about how the electoral college vote could be hijacked or delayed. People believed that pressure on states could get state legislatures to overturn the vote. Trump’s allies tried for months to overturn Pennsylvania’s result and other states, such as Georgia.
Rumors claimed that Trump would bypass the state outcomes or use the Supreme Court, with a newly appointed justice, to overturn the results. Using the Covid crises or protests and chaos, “Trump institutes a curfew in traditionally Democratic cities. He invokes the ‘Insurrection Act’ and declares Martial Law,” some claimed he might do. Calling out the protesters on January 6 when Congress was supposed to finally confirm Biden’s victory, appeared like the last act of trying to stop the train on its tracks.
Trump said “we will never give up…We will stop the steal, this was not a close election, we won by a land slide.” He mocked Joe Biden’s 80 million votes, claimed they were done by a “computer” and that the US election was similar to a third world country. “Their elections are more honest, it’s a disgrace.” He said he wouldn’t let the election happen this way. “All Pence has to do is the right thing and we won the election…States want to re-vote.”
But Trump approached this in the same incompetent way that he had other things, not a professional systematic attempt to overturn the election working through enough lawmakers to have an impact, but rather personal haphazard bullying phone calls, and using his family and a few trusted friends to try to litigate things. In the end the protesters who got into Congress didn’t even know what to do. Meanwhile Trump and his lawyer phoned Senators to get the vote delayed. The protesters didn’t come with a plan to occupy Congress and when confronted by more police, they left. They ransacked a few offices, broke windows and took selfies. In the end the selfies were like the Twitter presidency, less substance, and more self-indulgence.
The degree to which Trump bought into the conspiracies that underpinned his supporters, like “QAnon” is unclear. These conspiracy theorists used social media to push the most ludicrous conspiracies. But they have real-world ramifications. They talked about secret messaging in Trump videos, secret orders, the “storm” and “General Flynn.” But the degree to which this can have real-world consequences is clear in things like the “pizza gate” conspiracy. What starts online doesn’t end there. Many thousands or millions of Americans are radicalized and feel disenfranchised. That was a toxic lend that has led to violence in other countries. US counter-insurgency policy general warns of these types of situations.
For Trump the real story is that this movement he unleashed, “MAGA” never really made anything. Much like the charade that underpinned Trump’s business “success” there was a charade under the last several years. Trump’s promises about America “winning” didn’t really come true. Instead foreign authoritarians were. emboldened and every Trump misstep could be used by adversaries abroad to mock the US. From Iran to Turkey, Russia and China, they all grew in power. Even when Trump challenged them, they return stronger. Most had a read on Trump, they understood his bragging and bullying and catered to it. In the end they knew it didn’t have systematic. follow through. US officials, diplomats and generals would do the opposite of what Trump wanted, plodding along or even convincing foreign leaders to wait out his administration. Western democracies, the sort that critique the US but also expect its leadership, are much. more weakened in the wake of the US isolationist agenda. Europe has been working closely with China and many seek to appease Iran, Turkey and Russia.
Trump didn’t make America “great” at home either. Generally the economy was good, but handling the Covid pandemic was chaotic. Even when America succeeded, it only did so amidst the chaos. The final act of sending protesters into the US capital was a stain on US history. That was not a “great” America. Gone was the grandeur of previous eras. That isn’t because America hasn’t almost self-destructed before. It is a chaotic unique democracy. What the US called “exceptionalism.” But Trump in the end was not exceptional. He led on his supporters to dark places and didn’t try to build them up and have them do positive things. This reactionary agenda didn’t end well. Because it was not about “great” but about Trump. he indulged his ego and would prefer the Republican party implode if he can’t lead it. Then he can say after that they can’t win elections without him. The brooding American Achilles didn’t bring greatness, but almost brought ruin.
It now turns out that the US President called Senators who were fleeing the mob he helped incite and tried to get them to postpone the decisions they would take to finally confirm Biden as president-elect. It’s unfathomable what this person went to in order to overturn this. Awful. And he had people doing this with him. America has a process for elections. It is not supposed to involve officials trying to bully state legislatures to overturn results and get Senators to postpone a vote with a mob at the door. Remember when the GOP was for rule of law and conservative values…how did it come to this? How did a party that cared about law and order and processes and tradition come to this, Senators being called under lockdown hiding from a mob by their “dear leader” to get them to postpone results? How did it come to this that a party that cares about state rights had a “leader” who tried to pressure states to bully them? Awful. And the number of former “law and order” folk who got drunk on this binge of power is equally grotesque, we don’t need to name names, we know the former general, the former mayor, the well known lawyer, and others who went along. How could they do this? Not a hard question to ask, some of my FB contacts think this was fine. Because secretly the right wing “conservative” movement always had a bunch of people in it who only like “law. and order” against others (minorities, dissidents, kind of like Erdogan’s Turkey which they also worship). Their excuse for the riots is that “the left did it to”…as if the answer to arsonists is not to send the fire department and prosecutors, but to simply send more arsonists.”Arsonists are burning down the foundations of democracy”…well “let’s send our own arsonists.” That’s the answer of the extreme right today. The old right, the ostensibly conservative one cared about institutions. Institutions make strong countries. Eroding them weakens the state. How can you make it “great again” if you destroy it? Because it was never about “great” it was about one man’s ego and his golf game and family. And millions were suckered. He fed off their despair and anger and sadly they were misled by this into conspiracies and idiocy. They deserved better.There are many tragedies of the Trump era, but one tragedy is also what befell his supporters. Some of them worship him with God-like adoration…I saw one former “conservative” Israeli commentators become such a “Trump First” person that the commentator is leaving Twitter…claiming they joined just because fo Trump. What the hell happened? How did one man do this to people. How did he take hundreds of years of tradition and skew it into a Trump-cul-de-sac of idiocy? I never spoke out much about the Trump problem because I figured it would run its course. But tragically it ran the train right off the rails. It poisoned so many minds…so many people on the Right who had a chance to contribute to their country have railroaded themselves. Their worst nightmares of the “woke” takeover…ironically has been empowered by their ripping apart their party…and ruining its ideological underpinnings and eroding institutions. Now they just shout “the government and institutions are the deep state, run by the elite”…well if you don’t even learn how to play chess then yes it will be dominated by other people. They gave up and followed a false God.
Donald Trump, like François Fillon in France, was a surprise in his party’s primaries. They both benefited from Putin’s “friendship”. But, in France, Fillon was found to have committed fraud. Also, the French were able to show early on that Putin tried to interfere with the presidential vote against Macron.