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Donald Trump has been a blight on American history

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(Image by Dan Jensen)

Donald Trump has been the worst President in the history of the United States.

The attack by his supporters on the Capitol was a capstone of his presidency — lawless, an attack on democracy, a U.S. counterpart of the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s.

It was a horror representative of his tenure.

Thank heavens and thanks to successful and hard political work, he will be out of office in a few days. And there must be criminal prosecutions on the state and local levels as well as the federal level which he’ll likely try to wrangle out of with a pardon. There must be consequences to his horrendous term in office.

An American Tragedy was the title of a piece by David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker magazine, right after Election Day 2016 in which he wrote:

‘The election of Donald Trump is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny and racism.’

There would be ‘miseries to come’ — and there have been.

Remnick warned against an ‘attempt to normalise’ the election of Trump:

‘Trump is vulgarity unbounded, a knowledge-free national leader... a twisted caricature of every rotten reflex of the radical right... a flim-flam man [with] disdain for democratic norms.’

The attack on the Capitol by the Trumpsters was an attempt at a coup to undo a presidential election in which a record number of voters came out to dump Trump and elect Joe Biden.

It was an act of insurrection incited by Trump. 

As he tweeted to followers on 20 December: ‘Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!’

Yes, and indeed it was wild.

And then, in a speech in front of the White House on Wednesday, addressing his backers who had arrived, said:

“We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue... and we’re going to the Capitol.”

He added:

“You have to be strong.”

His call was preceded by his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, proclaiming:

“Let’s have trial by combat.”

Giuliani, who took an oath to be an attorney and adhere to rule of law, represented Trump in many courts in challenges to his election defeat with claims which judges found totally untrue — but Giuliani opted instead, in violation of that oath, for “trial by combat”.

Remnick warned about an ‘attempt to normalise’ Trump, but so much of the media has engaged in “both sides-ing” the situation, as Julie Hollar of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has written.

When a person tells an out-and-out lie, there is no journalistic obligation to “balance” a story with a falsehood. And Trump, The Washington Post has recorded, has uttered more than 20,000 falsehoods in his term in office.

And then there have been the Trump disinformation machines led by Fox — about which Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels would smile.

But this is far more than a media problem.                 

Trump tapped into a vein of racism and other poisons in the United States.

He soon will be out of the White House but Trumpism, so horribly, will still be here.

George Packer wrote in the current issue of The Atlantic:

‘You have to summon an act of will, a certain energy and imagination, to replace truth with the authority of a con man like Trump.

 

Trump’s barrage of falsehoods – as many as 50 daily in the last fevered months of the 2020 campaign – complemented his unconcealed brutality.’

‘Two events in Trump’s last year in office broke the spell of his sinister perversion of the truth,’ he says — COVID-19 and a free election.

Packer wrote:

The beginning of the end of Trump’s presidency arrived on March 11, 2020, when he addressed the nation for the first time on the subject of the pandemic and showed himself to be completely out of his depth. The virus was a fact that Trump couldn’t lie into oblivion or forge into a political weapon — it was too personal and frightening, too real. As hundreds of thousands of Americans died... and the administration flailed between fantasy, partisan incitement and criminal negligence, a crucial number of Americans realised that Trump’s lies could get someone they love killed.

He continued: ‘The second event came on November 3’— the Election.

And that is what Trump and his followers who attacked the Capitol sought to undo. And, on the same day, Trump enablers in Congress were trying to undo it by having the votes of the Electoral College denied.

Packer concluded:

‘The election didn’t end his lies — nothing will... But we learned that we still want democracy. This, too, is the legacy of Donald Trump.’

Yes, most Americans still want democracy, but the history of authoritarian takeovers shows that a relatively small group of fanatics can beat the majority.

And we still are left with those toxic issues which Trump capitalised on.

Another component here is the enabling of Trump by all those Republicans.

Margaret Sullivan wrote a piece earlier this week in The Washington Post, headed: ‘We must stop calling Trump’s enablers “conservative”. They are the radical right.’

She wrote:

These days the true radicals are the enablers of President Trump’s ongoing attempted coup: the media bloviators on Fox News, One America and Newsmax who parrot his lies about election fraud; and the members of Congress who plan to object on Wednesday to what should be a pro forma step of approving the electoral college results, so that President-elect Joe Biden can take office peacefully on Jan. 20.

 

But instead of being called what they are, these media and political figures get a mild label: conservative.

 

Instead of calling out the truth, it normalises; it softens the dangerous edges. It makes it seem, well, not so bad. Conservative, after all, describes politics devoted to free enterprise and traditional ideas. But that’s simply false. Sean Hannity is not conservative. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama are not conservative. Nor are the other ten (at last count) Senators who plan to object [to the Electoral College vote]

She notes Politico correspondent Tim Alberta wrote:

“There is nothing conservative about subverting democracy.” He suggests “far Right” as an alternative descriptor. Not bad. But I’d take it a step further because it’s important to be precise. I’d call them members of the radical right.

 

Members of the radical Right won’t like this, of course. They soak in the word “conservative” like a warm bath.

 

On Jan. 20, we can still presume Trump will be gone from the White House. But his enablers and the movement that fostered him, and that he built up, will remain. That’s troubling. We should take one small but symbolic step toward repairing the damage by using the right words to describe it. It would be a start.

Journalist Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame, says Trump “will be in our history books as a dark, dark stain unlike any president of the United States”. And he investigated Nixon.

Karl Grossman is a full professor of journalism at the State University of New York. He is also an award-winning investigative reporter. Click here to go to Karl's website.

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