A new presidency is now well underway in an America still deeply divided from the last. The transition process since President Joe Biden officially won the state of Pennsylvania has been marked by increasing tumultuousness, highlighting the extent to which some Americans are willing to go to fight for certain politicians.
On January 6th, Trump supporting insurrectionists descended on the nation’s capitol in an assault that befuddled the nation.
The tendency was to believe that something like this occurring was improbable despite a long trail of messages put out on social media by far-right extremists proclaiming that this is exactly something they planned for.
The escalation of Trumpism has completely rearranged the American political structure. A media presence that fueled his political rise, and whose rhetoric was without restraint, Trump and his ideology took root in voters and American democracy.
Dr. David Edward Tabachnick, a professor of political science, wrote in The Hill that there were four distinct components of Trumpism. Namely, the celebrity factor, nativism, and the outsider appeal. The last factor he defined generally as populism which entailed a listing of things like unspecific speeches about improving the middle class, practicing overt patriotism, and participating in economic intervention.
His sheer unconventional and uninhibited demeanor, for some, stoked passion. Many breathed a sigh of relief that they had found someone who wouldn’t play Washington’s game. To his credit, Donald Trump managed to strike a chord with millions of voters with his temperament and oration. He became a champion and icon to Republicans who vigorously bought all his merch and held onto his every word. MAGA hats hit their 1 millionth sale in late 2019 and, according to the New York Times, that number does not account for the thousands likely sold at rallies and in unconventional settings, let alone those sold since.
It is normal to support politicians, but the level of devotion that some politicians are shown, most notably the former President, is excessive glorification. Throughout his presidency, countless journalists have interviewed Trump supporters and rally goers all finding a commonality: an unflinching loyalty to their President.
Trump himself once said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”
That quote is difficult to disprove in its entirety. A poll conducted on Republicans by Reuters/Ipsos found that 61% believe the election was stolen through systemic voter fraud. The poll was conducted on Jan. 20 and Jan. 21, 2021.
Immediately after losing a free and fair election, Donald Trump said that he had actually won a “landslide victory” and that it had been stolen from him. The Trump legal team had 61 lawsuits rejected by courts, and yet, many of his supporters did not bat an eye and still follow the conspiracy.
Even more astonishing, while Trump faced some outrage from Republican lawmakers following the riots at the Capitol, he faced almost none among his devotees, and in the end, was acquitted in the Senate for his second impeachment. In some conservative circles, there is even speculation that Antifa disguised themselves to instigate the riot at the capitol.
The complete and utter disillusionment of certain Republican members, both within Congress and within the general public, must serve as a warning to the rest of American democracy to resist ever promoting a leader so completely that we lose touch with reality.
The development of polarizing, vociferous political leaders did not begin with Trump and will certainly not end with him. The level of candor and fierceness displayed by some in the progressive-populist sector of the Democrats, while distinctly and notably different than Trump, still carries inclinations that the level of worship and praise given to this past President could resurface in the opposite party with the same potential for damage.
A great example of this would be the extremely fast-paced rise of the aspiring Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Whether one agrees or disagrees with her policy points, it is undeniable that her rapid rise is in part due to her focused utilization of the media, running a playbook not all too different than how Trump himself rose to prominence: by dominating headlines and garnering immense people power. Many forget that Trump too was shunned by the Republican establishment, but he invigorated people and they coalesced around him in numbers too great for the establishment to ignore. It appears AOC is doing much of the same on the Democratic side.
The lesson in the Trump era is to never again idolize politicians. Politicians are public servants working through the people- the people must never reverse this role.