Donald Trump destroyed his legacy, ended his political future and left conservative politics discredited

Democracy in the US will limp back to functionality, but the events set a terrible precedent that will encourage demagogues and dictators worldwide to undermine democracy and suppress will of the people

Sreemoy Talukdar January 21, 2021 16:18:57 IST
Donald Trump destroyed his legacy, ended his political future and left conservative politics discredited

Donald Trump and Melania Trump board Air Force One on their way to Mar-a-Lago. By Pete Marovich © 2021 The New York Times

As Marine One took off from the White House lawns on Wednesday with the Trumps in tow, curtains fell on a norm-busting presidency that may have changed America forever.

On Day 1 as president, Joe Biden took as many as 17 executive actions to turn back the clock including rejoining the Paris Climate Accord and World Health Organisation, but Donald Trump’s complex legacy will endure deeper than Biden’s pen strokes can ever reach and continue to shape US domestic and foreign policy for ages. Except that it won’t bear Trump’s signature.

Even in defeat, Trump garnered support from 74 million Americans — roughly the half of the voter population in United States but for the Democratic Party, its allies in the US media and beltway power brokers in Washington and New York, Trump had become the epitome of all evil. The sound of the chopper whirring away from the White House to Joint Base Andrews, to them, signified the end of an evil empire.

Trump’s opponents invested far more power in him than even the narcissistic 45th president believed he possessed, and all of America’s woes were laid at his door. Trump became the living, breathing signifier of America’s decline on global stage and the prospect of his reelection was deemed as the last straw.

As Eliot A Cohen, Dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine — the essence of American establishment — “a Trump victory would mark a sea change for the United States’ relationship with the rest of the world. It would signal to others that Washington has given up its aspirations for global leadership and abandoned any notion of moral purpose on the international stage. It would usher in a period of disorder and bristling conflict, as countries heed the law of the jungle and scramble to fend for themselves. And a second Trump term would confirm what many have begun to fear: that the shining city on a hill has grown dim and that American power is but a thing of the past.”

As the perennial outsider left the citadel of American power, it was easy to conclude that Trump’s departure alone will restore Washington’s moral leadership, end chaos, restore order and ‘make American great again’. It is as if the structural causes behind US decline do not exist. The delusion of grandeur is spectacular.

In the end, though, Trump destroyed his own legacy by seeking to overturn his electoral loss and ordering supporters to march on the US Capitol to stop lawmakers from certifying Biden’s victory — a move that ended up sparking a violent riot leaving five dead and America permanently scarred.

The pro-Trump rioters — some of whom were more comical than sinister in attempting a coup — dealt a body blow to Trump’s legacy, his political future and conservative politics everywhere. The tumultuous events on 6 January raised questions against the sanctity of US electoral process and ripped apart the sanctity of a political system that is increasingly finding fewer and fewer takers amid China’s remarkable success story.

Democracy in the US will limp back to functionality, but the events set a terrible precedent that will encourage demagogues and dictators worldwide to undermine democracy and suppress will of the people.

Still, amid this carnage, Trump dealt the biggest damage to conservative movement globally by turning himself into a caricature and validating the fanatical notions that leftists accuse conservatives of. In so doing, Trump handed over the right as well as the moral authority to his opponents to strip him of every achievement that he had made during his tenure at Oval Office.

As Greg Sheridan of The Australian writes, “Many things the left says about Trump are untrue. And many things they say about his record over the past four years are untrue. They have contributed more than their fair share to the poison running through American democracy today. But since 3 November, Trump has fully lived down to the worst expectations of his critics.”

The Biden administration has already indicated that it will continue with many of Trump’s policies. On India and China, specifically, the indications are of bipartisan support and continuity that is congruous with recent tenets of US foreign policy. Anthony Blinken, Biden’s pick for secretary of state, during his confirmation hearing in the US Senate, called China “the most significant challenge of any nation-state in the world to the United States” and “agreed with GOP senators about a series of issues ranging from Russia’s aggressive moves in Eastern Europe to the deals that the Trump administration brokered for Arab states to recognise Israel.”

He called Trump’s policy on India a “bipartisan success story”.

And yet, despite emboldening American policy and forging a bipartisan adversarial view on China, intensifying strategic cooperation with India, introducing three new peace accords in West Asia and signaling the end of America’s longest continuing war in Afghanistan, ending the free-riding of NATO nations, increasing pressure on Iran — policies that the incoming Biden administration are unlikely to change — Trump will be denied authorship or recognition for these achievements because, to quote from Wall Street Journal, Trump crossed a “constitutional line that he hasn’t previously crossed”.

There was never any doubt about the onerous nature of Trump’s character. But he understood power rather instinctively and wielded it as an outsider to break down or question the basic principles behind the bipartisan consensus that has so far driven Washington’s engagement with itself and the world causing an internal grievance that made possible his ascendancy to White House in the first place.

Trump also succeed in giving shape to the righteous grievance of so many Americans who were left behind, “disdained and discarded by a global elite that enjoys unimaginable power and privilege—and wields it for its own gain.”

This was a political masterstroke as long as it lasted. But just when it seemed that Trump may remain a political force to reckon with despite Biden’s narrow victory, he ended it all driven by a self-delusion that feeds on its own lies.

In the process, Trump left Republican Party shattered in his wake, and conservative politics discredited beyond repair in the short term.

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