Decide whether you agree with these statements:
1) Both Trump’s detractors and his supporters are obsessed with Trump.
2) Both share the belief that everything that has happened is because of him.
3) His supporters believe his staying in office is crucial to the survival of the country. His opponents believe he must be removed.
4) Both are certain of these statements.
The problem, according to George Friedman in his Jan. 14, 2021 “Geopolitical Futures” letter, is that they are both misguided.
The editor-in-chief of “The Economist”, Zannie Minton Beddoes has a different take:
1) President Trump incited an insurrection.
2) He tried to overturn an election he inarguably lost.
3) He spread an enormous lie stating the election had been stolen from him.
4) After failing to bully state officials to override the vote, he whipped up a mob to intimidate Congress into giving him the election.
5) The Senate will vote to remove him from office because Trump stood by, refusing to come to their aid. There is nothing more treasonous.
Let’s contrast the two views to determine who is correct.
Friedman asserts that Trump is an effect of the angst of his conservatively religious white working class supporters, not a cause. Trump was surprised by his win in 2016. His wife wept upon learning the news. He beat his Republican primary opponents because they were indifferent to the pain of this group. Trump brilliantly discerned this and leveraged it to his advantage.
Hillary Clinton lost the election because she called Trump supporters “deplorables” (even though she said only half of them were). Clinton’s supporters saw her as unbeatable. No one in the Clinton camp understood how embattled Trump’s supporters actually were. According to Friedman, “It was inconceivable that such an abnormal man might be president; they were incapable of understanding how his supporters despised their [definition of] normalcy.”
Trump was and remains “ruthlessly opportunistic”. He became the hired gun for his disenfranchised supporters. They were content to give up their traditional moral viewpoint when it came to his sexual immorality. They rationalized his hypocrisy and lying because they felt that he fought for them. Now they are grieving and unable to accept the loss—especially those who stormed the U.S. capitol—just like Trump was unable to face reality. Trump will leave, but someone else will rise to replace him because he was only a symptom, not the cause. His supporters’ attitudes and the feelings of desperation and anger have not disappeared.
Joe Biden was elected because his job is to be normal, and he won’t disappoint. Trump is happy to leave office under the cloud of impeachment because he will look like a martyr to his followers. Trump will be able to draw attention to himself when out of office and play on the obsession of both sides. And so long as Trump’s supporters think Democrats believe them to be “deplorables” they will find another Trump clone: Ted Cruz, Jim Jordan, or Matt Gaetz who will likely be more competent and ruthless than Trump was.
That is Friedman’s take.
“Economist” editor-in-chief Beddoes represents the majority of Americans who have benefited from being in the dominant group and who support traditional morality and normalcy. Beddoes probably considers some of Trump’s supporters to be “deplorables”, a term recently co-opted by late night talk show host Stephen Colbert after the attack on the Capitol.
Trump will likely be convicted of high crimes and misdemeanors in the Senate trial. That is Beddoes’ take. Both Friedman’s and Beddoes opinions are mainly correct; each is looking at a different audience.
But my take, based on how Republicans voted in the House, may prove Beddoes wrong. 197 House Republicans voted not to impeach him. Trump’s voters are a key to power not easily ignored by ambitious, power-obsessed politicians. No matter whether Trump is convicted or not, the result will not stop him or someone like him from attempting to wrest power away from the majority of Americans in 2024.
Our Electoral College system protects the desperate Trump minority and gives them a chance to regain power as it did in 2016. Biden and the Democrats must find a way to meet some of their needs and desires. If this group continues to be ignored by the majority, the division and strife will continue.
Let’s hope Biden and the Democrats can reach out to Trump supporters to bring unity back to the nation.