IO – After Donald Trump leaves office this coming January and Joe Biden is sworn in as America’s new president, Trump will be remembered for many years as one of the more if not most controversial and disruptive figure in the history of American politics.
For his critics, Trump will be remembered as a vulgar and offensive president who divided his nation and turned people against each other. He will also be remembered for his chaotic leadership style, for his midnight tweets and outrageous statements with no basis in the facts. And for a large number of Americans, he will be remembered for horribly mismanaging the Covid-19 pandemic.
His supporters, which number over 70 million voters, have had a different take on the man. Although many would admit Trump is unpresidential, they have liked him for the fact he was never a part of the political and cultural elite establishment. They have felt betrayed by conventional politicians who, in their own minds, are responsible for their being left behind while «others», namely immigrants and minority groups, have been favored.
Both sides have decent arguments. But rather than obsessing about the man, his strengths and weaknesses, it is worth taking some time and pose the question, what did the Trump presidency reveal about America itself?
One big truth that has been revealed for everybody to see is America›s democratic system and norms are much more fragile than we thought. Before Trump, those outside America looking in believed its democracy was a shining example for others to emulate. Americans believed this too, and countless presidents before Trump championed liberal causes such as democracy and human rights abroad.
Then came Trump, and he showed us how wrong they were. Constitutional checks failed repeatedly to control Trump. Party loyalties mattered more than the norms followed by generations of presidents before him. Congress and the judiciary, put in place by America›s founding fathers to act as a check on the powers of the presidency, were often at a loss on how to contain Trump›s authoritarian streak. What eventually held Trump back from turning a bad situation into something worse by his attempts to have the armed forces enter American cities and undermine the election were precisely the people serving in the military, in the courts and in the electoral bodies. Without those people who happened to care about America›s democracy and were willing to use their powers, Trump could easily have left America›s democracy in tatters.
It will now behooves Joe Biden to return America to normalcy. But one should not be overly optimistic about the future of America› s democracy just because Joe Biden occupies the White House. What Trump revealed to us is the constitution is not enough to safeguard America›s democracy, even with all its checks and balances. More Trump-like figures could easily appear in future presidential campaigns and tap into the beliefs and passions of those who followed Trump beforehand. America, llke many other countries now being challenged by democratic backsliding, will continue to need to be on its guard.