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What will America do, after Trump?

No matter what happens, America will have to grapple with the toxic legacy of Donald Trump’s hateful, conspiracy-driven campaign


 

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Donald Trump is a man without substance, but he has plenty of depths. Whenever it appears he has reached the nadir of his crass and hateful campaign for the White House, the New York billionaire sinks further. Often, several times in a single day.

As his presidential hopes plummet following the emergence of a 2005 tape where the then newly remarried 59-year-old bragged about sexually assaulting women, the Republican nominee has made it his mission to drag U.S. politics down with him. When nine women came forward with allegations that he had made unwanted advances, kissing and groping them, Trump called himself “the victim” and suggested his accusers are either hungry for fame, or not attractive enough to be credible. “Believe me, she would not be my first choice,” he said of one, to laughter and applause at a North Carolina rally. He announced a Third World-dictator-style plan to seal an election victory by appointing a special prosecutor to probe his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified emails, and regardless of the outcome, promised to put her in jail. Then during a Florida speech, he accused the former first lady of holding secret meetings with international bankers “to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich” her friends and donors—echoing, surely purposefully, the language of hoary anti-Semitic conspiracies.

The lies and distortions that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign have now given way to paranoid delusions. Over the course of just one week, he proclaimed that every mainstream media outlet in America—and almost all of the pollsters—are colluding to ensure his defeat. He declared war on his own party, denouncing Republican leaders like Paul Ryan as “disloyal,” saying they made “sinister bargains” with his opponents. He suggested that Clinton is taking stimulants to pump herself up and demanded she undergo a drug test before their final TV debate. And from both the stage and his Twitter bully pulpit, he made repeated claims that the coming election has been “rigged” against him. “Of course there is large-scale voter fraud happening on and before Election Day,” Trump posted on social media. “Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!”

MORE: The final debate was presidential—almost

If one believes the polls—and judging from Trump’s behaviour, he certainly does—the reality-TV-star-turned-politician has already lost the Nov. 8 election. Clinton’s slim advantage in early September has widened to a yawning gap in mid-October, with some national surveys having her out front by as much as 12 per cent. On a state level, Republican bastions like Arizona, Georgia, Alaska and Utah are suddenly in play. The Electoral College tally is shaping up to be the largest Democratic victory since that of her husband, Bill Clinton. And if only either women or minorities had the vote, it would be a Hillary Clinton landslide.

MORE: Why Trump appeals to angry, unemployed men

Donald Trump: 73 per cent of Republicans agree that the election may be ‘stolen’ from Trump. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images). (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

Regardless of the outcome, however, Trump will leave behind a toxic legacy for American society. His campaign stew—two parts naked xenophobia with border walls and Muslim bans, a couple of cups of class resentment over trade deals and the economy, an unhealthy helping of sexism and a dash of “law and order” winks to white nationalists—leaves a bitter aftertaste. Republican legislators, divided amongst themselves, will find it harder than ever to reach across the aisle, ensuring four more years of Washington gridlock. And average voters, having grown accustomed to the months of insults, fantastical claims and conspiracy talk, now seem ready to believe the worst. To whit, a new Politico/Morning Consult poll showing that 41 per cent of all respondents—and a whopping 73 per cent of Republicans—agree that the election may indeed be “stolen” from Trump. (Little matter that he has never demonstrated the capacity to win it. Or that general elections in America are overseen by the states and administered by city and county governments, many of them Republican, making a national pro-Democrat plot awfully hard to organize. Or that a comprehensive study of one billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014, conducted by a Loyola University law professor, turned up just 31 instances of “potential” voter fraud.)

Barack Obama, who has endured eight years of attempts to undermine his presidency from zealots who question his birth and religion—Trump chief among them—seems to despair for the future. During a speech in Ohio last week, he spoke about Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas, who sent out the National Guard to observe a U.S. military training exercise last year on the basis that it just might be a dry-run for a gun-control takeover. “This is in the swamp of crazy that has been fed over and over and over and over again,” said the President, anger rising in his voice. And he blamed the Republican establishment for indulging such fevered fantasies in their quest for votes from the far right fringe. “Riding this tiger,” made a Trump run for the White House possible, Obama said. “If your only agenda is negative—negative’s a euphemism, crazy—based on lies, based on hoaxes, this is the nominee you get.”

University of Utah historian Bob Goldberg, the author of Enemies Within: The Culture of Conspiracy in Modern America, says there’s a long tradition of angst and apprehension in U.S. politics. “Conspiracy thinking is not unusual, not bizarre, not a matter of the extreme, but is rather mainstream and part of an American experience,” he says. Whenever the public’s faith or trust in authorities and institutions plunges, their belief in malevolent forces—from outside or within—rises. “It leaves you susceptible to what I call the Paul Reveres of American society, who are crying out ‘The dangers are here! The dangers are coming!’ ” says Goldberg.

The 35 per cent of voters backing Trump live in a parallel media universe. (Evan Vucci/AP)

The 35 per cent of voters backing Trump live in a parallel media universe. (Evan Vucci/AP)

While there have been a number of politicians who have trafficked in conspiracies in the past—Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt against American communists in the 1950s is a prime example—Trump is the first major party presidential nominee to embrace the darkness. Goldberg says it might have been an inevitability after decades of wars and scandals—Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction—steadily eroded public trust. (In the 1950s, 75 per cent of Americans said they believed their government would do what was right all, or most of, the time. Today the figure is 19 per cent.) But he wonders what comes next. “We have these real chasms, these gaps of wealth and race and ethnicity and religion. And they are not being bridged in any way. I don’t think that Hillary Clinton will be able to bridge them either. There’s so much hostility,” he says.

In that context, Trump’s claims that the fix is in when it comes to November’s vote could prove particularly dangerous. “If the basis of American democracy is compromised, you are in a situation where the people opposed to you are not simply wrong, they have committed treason, they are betraying the country,” says Goldberg. In some ways, it reminds the historian of the period just before the Civil War.

Related: In Donald Trump they trust

For foreign observers, one of the great mysteries about Trump is why he still has any supporters at all beyond white supremacists and women-haters. The months of revelations about his creepy personal past, his questionable business dealings and sham charitable activities would make him a political untouchable in most countries. (Canada’s tendency toward smug superiority should be tempered by two words: Rob Ford.) But the 35 per cent or so of American voters who are willing to go down with the SS Trump aren’t consuming the investigations and exposés that have enraged Democrats and fascinated the rest of the world. They’re living in a parallel media universe.

Breitbart, the “alt-right” website run by Trump’s campaign CEO Steve Bannon (he’s on leave for the duration of the campaign), is filled with stories that back up the Republican nominee’s narrative. “Rigged: Record number of Central Americans migrate into United States in 2016,” was one recent headline. “Putin denies meddling in U.S. elections, claims ‘U.S. spies on everyone,’ ” read another. Infowars, a conspiracy warehouse overseen by Trump-backer Alex Jones, is even less subtle, featuring claims like “Hillary called black servant the N word,” and “Bill Clinton’s rape victims fear for their lives if Hillary wins.” (Jones is behind the recent spate of protesters shouting rape allegations at Clinton rallies, having offered a US$5,000 “prize” for anyone who can get on TV for at least five seconds.)

Since the beginning of the campaign, Trump’s stump speech has featured a section where he complains about the “dishonest media” and invites supporters to boo the “horrible” reporters that he has corralled in the centre of the hall floor. The jeering provides a kind of catharsis for the crowd, à la pro wrestling. But lately, as Trump has pushed his allegations of bias, the anger has become real. CNN and NBC have hired security guards to watch their employees’ backs. And after a recent rally in Cincinnati, replete with chants of “tell the truth,” and middle-finger salutes, the press corps travelling with Trump had to be escorted to their bus by riot police.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump takes the stage for the third presidential debate at University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016, for the third presidential debate. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump takes the stage for the third presidential debate at University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016, for the third presidential debate. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

America’s mainstream media is overwhelmingly for Clinton. As of mid-October, she had collected 147 endorsements from newspaper editorial boards, many of them staunchly conservative. In comparison, Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson had six, and the Republican nominee just two. There is no conspiracy, however, just a shared, evidence-rooted belief that Trump is spectacularly ill-equipped—intellectually, temperamentally and ethically—to hold the most powerful job in the world. Clinton remains deeply unpopular, viewed unfavourably by half the electorate. And the Russian-aided WikiLeaks hacks of Democratic Party emails have raised questions about campaign tactics and her own transparency. But few fear that she might launch a nuke in a fit of pique over an insulting tweet. Or oversee a genocide.

Related: Donald Trump in the time of terror

If Trump has a strategic plan for the final three weeks of the campaign, it’s impossible to discern. His daily rants about the women who have accused him of groping, and the unfairness of the media who insist on taking them seriously, keeps the focus firmly on his alleged assaults, rather than any promise or policy. And his contention that the election has already been stolen seems as likely to sap the spirits of his supporters as drive them out to the polls. Maybe he’s just stirring up anger and hoping for chaos. A transition from “only I can fix it,” to “I told you so.”

Trump is now globally famous, but his brand, once associated with aspirations and excess, has been drastically altered. No one is going to buy a steak, or bottle of cologne, or cheap Chinese-made tie with his name on it in hopes that it might make them appear classy. The same goes for condo developments. A planned golf course and residential complex in Dubai has already been scrubbed of his name and image. Bookings at Trump Hotels were down 60 per cent in the first half of the year. In September, the company quietly announced a new, Donald-less brand, Scion. Maybe it’s time to revert to the original family name—Drumpf.

What Trump is still able to deliver, however, is ratings, attracting millions of viewers whether they like him or not. This week, the Financial Times reported that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been meeting with investment firms to try and drum up money for a Trump TV network. And while he might have difficulty finding sufficient backing for a cable competitor to Fox News—the start-up costs could be as much as $800 million—Trump could always create his own web empire, or simply syndicate his show to existing outlets. It makes a fair amount of sense, providing Trump with a way to maintain his celebrity and to influence American politics without the small paycheque and hassles of the presidency.

Could Trumpism survive with him trying to lead from the sidelines? The racial-nationalist strain of populism that the billionaire has been peddling has deep roots in U.S. politics, notes Michael Kazin, a professor of history at Georgetown University, rising during times of heightened inequality and economic fears. (Trump’s promise of an “America First” foreign policy parrots the slogan of an isolationist, anti-Semitic movement that flourished at the beginning of the Second World War.)

But Trump’s “movement”—as he likes to call it—has never been as well-defined as his predecessors’. The people he claims to champion don’t really have a “coherent, emotionally rousing” identity to rally round, says Kazin, just a shared anger. “Trump’s a showman. It’s unclear if he’s committed to the policies he talks about,” he says. Yet even if Trump fades, the broad concerns that drive his voters, like prosperity and immigration, are unlikely to disappear, at least in the short term. “These are important issues, and more popular, in some ways, than Trump himself,” says Kazin.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump signs autographs for fans at a rally at the Fort Worth Convention Center on February 26, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. Trump is campaigning in Texas, days ahead of the Super Tuesday primary. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump signs autographs for fans at a rally at the Fort Worth Convention Center on February 26, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. Trump is campaigning in Texas, days ahead of the Super Tuesday primary. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The United States is deeply divided. In his book, The Next America: Boomers, Millennials and the Looming Generational Showdown, Paul Taylor, the former executive vice-president of Washington’s Pew Research Center, talks about the rise of “alien tribes,” who “disapprove of each other’s lifestyles, avoid each other’s neighbourhoods, impugn each other’s motives, [and] impugn each other’s patriotism.”

But changing demographics will soon make selling those divisions less politically profitable. The country is rapidly becoming better educated, less religious and more diverse—by 2044, non-whites are projected to be in the majority. Trump’s campaign has sent the Republican Party even further down a dead end, appealing to an ever-shrinking base of white, conservative, and older voters, while actively repelling women, Hispanics, Asians and blacks. “This is a party that is facing a real reckoning going forward,” Taylor said in an interview with Maclean’s.

In fact, the Democrats are facing problems, too. According to the latest U.S. Census figures, there are now more Millennials than Baby Boomers. And while they skew liberal on almost every issue, Millennials are far less partisan than their parents, or grandparents. “They have grown up in an America where affiliation is not part of their identity,” says Taylor. A generation that holds high ideals, but places its faith in technology and each other, rather than greying leaders. “They simply don’t look to the political realm to solve problems,” he says.

Washington as it currently exists—gridlocked and constantly warring—therefore risks becoming more and more irrelevant to the lives and concerns of America’s citizens. Taylor figures the partisan fever has to break, sooner or later. “Political parties don’t commit suicide: they adapt or die.”

Could a Trump loss be what finally breaks the logjam? The beginning of the end of the politics of division? The 70-year-old has crossed so many lines, and broken so many taboos, that it’s hard to envision a future major party candidate pushing deeper into the swamp.Then again, it wasn’t that long ago that Trump was unimaginable too.


 

What will America do, after Trump?

  1. I strongly suggest a standard national school system based on science and reason.

    • I’m not sure America can wait that long. The problem is the people who are already of voting age.

  2. “What will America do, after Trump?”

    I didn’t know he lost the election. There’s still 3 weeks and Wikileaks isn’t finished yet.

    • I strongly suggest a standard national school system based on science and reason.

      For Canada too.

      • Never happen either in Canada or the US without drastic changes in both constitutions- remotely possible perhaps but unlikely.

        • Well it’s either that or the country dies.

          Would you prefer death to change?

      • Says the person who doesn’t believe in a free press and their job to do critical analysis of world events including the government’s record corruption that is stripping the taxpayer purse.
        You only believe in “reason” if it happens to arrive at the same conclusions you have drawn. A free country celebrates debate. Debate and free thinking results in innovation. Elon Musk believes we are living in a unreal computer generated fantasy world and yet he has developed the most innovative car thus far. Steve Jobs was not a “rational” man in many ways but he was an innovator as evidenced by his product visions. Science is based on hypotheses and method. Many times the intrepretations of the results are proven false. Such was the case with diet and the bee colony collapse theory, not to mention gmo’s. Also, the theory of Vitamin C that won Mr. Pauling a Nobel prize and then was completely debunked by further scientific enquiry.
        What should be taught in schools is curiosity and critical thinking and a love of life long learning. Nothing is static in science or in the world. As the saying goes the only constant we can count on is that change is inevitable.
        I trust your desire to remove culture, art and spirtuality from education does not extend to First Nations education…

        • No religion is what it’s about.

          That’s what is scrambling your brain right now.

          PS Elon Musk did not invent the electric car, and Pauling did not win a Nobel for Vitamin C.

          The rest of your post is babble.

          • http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/pauling.html
            Pardon me, 2 time Nobel prize winner Pauling didn’t win for his now debunked Vitamin C theory and I never said Musk invented the electric car, I said he was the most innovative of the inventors of the car, which is true.
            I know you are talking about religion but you distinguish between different cultures and their spiritual beliefs. You would never dismiss the importance of spirtuality in school or elsewhere to indigenous students. Even Wayne talks about as a child his ability to play creatively on pond with a bunch of kids and says that is the only way to instill creativity into the professional game of adults. Children have to be free to be creative, innovative and play and spiritual should they so desire. Rationality and science is fine but if we want creators and innovators, we need to encourage thinking outside what is apparently already proven possible.

          • When I say Wayne, I mean Wayne Gretzky…the most creative and innovative hockey player ever.

          • As for religious scrambling my brain…hahaha. That is quite a leap you are making there. I have no religious inclinations but I also have no desire to repress anyone else’s inclinations.

          • Gage….look these things up BEFORE posting them

            I am anti-religion…..ALL religion. Everywhere.

            Religion does not instill creativity…..it suffocates it

            Our country has to be based on the truth…and science. Not what some hockey player says. Jaysus

            PS You are quite religious. I am not.

          • I am quite religious??? Huh? In what way? Atheism is a type of religion because you worship at its hallowed halls. I only be and let be. If it gives you comfort to be an atheist, I say great. If it gives a First Nations person comfort to go in a sweat lodge, I say great. If gives someone else comfort to pray to Zeus, I say great. I don’t care because it is none of my business. It isn’t my thing but it can be your thing. Sometimes, it is a gift because it gives a person comfort in times of loss. It certainly gives you something to hate so hate on and enjoy yourself doing it.

        • Gage….a fish does not realize it lives in water.

          You do not realize you live in a religious world

          Non-belief is non-belief

  3. The author is surprised that Trump thinks the media is leftist partisan. He should read what his left leaning pen just wrote!! I’m not a Trump supporter but Hillary scares me to death. She’d probably launch a nuke against Putin and lie that she did it. Since she is so blatantly dishonest and untrustworthy, I’m not surprised that Trump thinks she’ll fix the election not unlike Jack Kennedy did for his son. And why is anyone upset that he called her a “nasty person”? After all, she called Willy’s bedmates sluts, trailer trash and pigs-that’s pretty nasty and sure says something as well about Willy’s taste in women!!

    • The author did not express “surprise” that Trump believes the media is against him. Try reading.

      Unfortunately, only conspiracy nuts believe that overwhelming media opposition to Trump is “leftist”. In reality, media outlets have reasonably concluded that Trump is completely incompetent, bordering on mentally ill, and unquestionably dangerous to the US and the world.

      That doesn’t make them “leftist”. It makes them informed, rational and sensible.

      • you are absolutely correct. Jerome is drinking the wacko juice of the donald and is not based in reality.

  4. Trump is horrible indeed, but in the White House will be a lying President H. Clinton who has poor judgement (Russian Reset, Email scandal …) and who knows that she is above the law.

    Those who wanted real change, not higher taxes and public debt, will still be there too.

    • Clinton is a fairly average politician. Trump is a mind-boggling nutcase who needs to be in a secure mental institution. Pick one for president.

      • If she’s an average politician there must be some other reason why she’s the least liked Democratic contender of all time!! And don’t tell me it’s because she is a female. It’s because she has so much scandal ridden baggage and reeks of entitlement.
        Trump is a very egotistical self centered individual but most of his policies make more sense than Clinton’s. With her you’ll just get 4 more years of Obama like lacklustre performance with ever increasing debt. I doubt she can bring anything to the table to really tackle ISIS or the worst race relations in the US since the 60’s.

        • Turning the election into a popularity contest is juvenile.

          The only person who is less competent, less rational than Trump is a Trump supporter.

        • The fact is Obama has been one of the best presidents ever. The economy has grown and despite the lies of Trump and his ilk the country is in better shape than it has been for years. Four more years of that would be a good thing. Four years of Trumps fear, hate and divisive policy would be very destructive not only for the US but for the rest of the world.

  5. I think the toothpaste is out of the tube now and it’s not going back in. USA has become as partisan as a Caribbean island, with a ruling class that is just as blatantly corrupt. Hillary pays thugs to cause mayhem at Trump rallies, is in bed with nefarious players like Soros and the Saudis, and is protected by a compliant mass media that for all intents and purposes is just another arm of the Democrat party. A lot of people have been woken up as a result of everything that has come out this election cycle, and that’s not just gonna turn off once the orange-skinned buffoon has been kicked to the curb.

    Her policies on trade on taxes will reflect the wishes of her corporate paymasters on Wall Street, no matter what her “public position” says. Her foreign policy will reflect the desires of the Saudis so expect further destabilization of the Middle East, not to mention the spread of Wahhabism in the US. The mainstream media will seek to run interference for her, but the internet is a game changer. The people aren’t gonna just blindly swallow whatever crap CNN tells them anymore, they’ve been busted too many times this election.

    The USA needed a viable alternative to the corrupt political money clique, unfortunately they got that good Trump. I feel that we are in the age of the decline of America as the world’s superpower which is not good news for us Canadians because we’re gonna go down with them.

    • You are absolutely right!!

      • don’t tell me you play a banjo and have 2 teeth? Does your victims squeal like a pig as well?

    • Those who rage against the “elite” are mostly those who have never accomplished anything, and probably never will. They are professional victims who use the successful as excuses for their own failings.

  6. There is no “after”.

    Trump is NOT going away. There will be Trump media in some form.

    The people who are voting for Trump are NOT going away. Go read Hillbilly Elegy. by J.D. Vance

    The people who voted for Sanders are NOT going away. The millennials will still be living in their parents basements with trillions of student debt playing video games and waiting tables or serving coffee or beer. (The Obama recovery)

    Obama and the Fed have been buying time with massive money printing, and large deficits, and media manipulation. The economy and state of global affairs are dire.

    Humpty-Dumpty cannot be put back together again. Trump and Sanders are Asimovian “mules” who have fundamentally disrupted the two-party system. The genie is out of the bottle.

    Fortunately or unfortunately, Hillary is a neocon warmonger, so she is likely to take us into a nuclear confrontation with Russia, so the Mad Max World she brought to Libya and Syria will be coming to a neighbourhood near you before you have to worry about the aftermath a Trump defeat.

    • So in a country so proudly capitalistic and so proudly rich……you’re saying that ‘poor white trash’ is taking over?

      • So the Occupy movement was “poor white trash”? I recall you being thrilled with them challenging the 1 percent and the elite and now you have decided the anyone who is fed up with the elite is a hillbilly. I don’t believe the people who wanted Bernie Sanders as president were hillbillies. They too were fed up with the status quo and many were some of the most influential people in the United States. Susan Sarandon, poor white trash….wow….

        • You have no idea what you are saying. This is why I don’t bother talking to you.

          Go away.

          • Struck a cord did I? Awe, you forgot about the occupy movement and how in love you were with them and how they pretty much disdained the same people as the Bernie Sanders and Trump followers do. Put a ipad in those voter’s hands and put them in a tent on Wall Street and there you have it: Occupy 2016.

        • ‘Occupy’ has nothing to do with ‘white trash’

          Two very different topics.

          Were you born confused or did you fall on your head?

          • The haters of the elite (Bernie Sanders followers) are not Hilliary’s followers. They are still out there. They aren’t happy with Hiliary and they certainly aren’t uneducated. They may vote for Hiliary because they won’t vote for The Donald but they aren’t satisfied with her as a candidate.

        • Again….you have no comprehension of the topic

  7. Donald Trump as an individual has an uncertain future as we all do.
    But make no mistake. He has given rise and popular voice to a large disaffected segment of the population.
    The torches and pitchforks are being prepared and the result will not be pleasant.

    • There are no pitchforks and torches. Just a lot of hot air.

  8. I wonder if Mr. Gatehouse is watching the same election as I am. First of all Donald Trump does not represent a toxic legacy that will somehow disappear when he is gone, presuming he does, in fact, lose the election. The writer has the situation all backwards. The rise of Trump is a direct result of a totally divided nation, preyed upon by a totally corrupt political process where politicians are bought and paid for by powerful financial interests. While the ordinary American has had no real increase in income for a generation, cannot afford sky rocketing health care premiums, where the labour participation rate is lower than it was 30 years ago. This means that countless millions have no jobs, but are not counted as unemployed. These ordinary people are fed up and want change. No matter what happens to Trump , that resentment will only grow and manifest itself in some other way. Two thirds of Americans would not trust Hillary Clinton as far as they could throw her
    Perhaps the writer should take off his rose coloured glasses and view the world as it really is. !!!!!

  9. Trump will be measured based on how well the American Market does. If the market fails he will have failed. So far you and the rest of the pundits have been wrong about Trump’s success. Two years of flat growth has signalled the bankruptcy of the current government. Let’s hope your wrong about Trump.

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