Comment Writer Robbie Sweeten discusses the impact of Trump’s time as president and the meaning of his return to politics
Although Donald Trump recently announced his ‘return’ to politics by confirming that he will be re-running for presidency in 2024, we should not forget that he never truly left politics in the first place. Trump radically changed American politics, to the point that even in his official absence, echoes of his language and policies have rung loud over the past two years. In this article, I will show that Trump’s four years in office were so destructive to American politics, that he need not run again for presidency in 2024 for his legacy to be felt for a generation yet to come.
Trump’s four years in office were littered with consistent lies, incitement of violence, racism, and misogyny, among many other forms of prejudice and hate crimes. But Trump’s biggest assault on American politics and society was the creation of his own cult of personality, which ensured that all these forms of hatred were consistently repeated by Trump’s supporters.
Research has shown that Trump’s popularity in 2016 can be linked to his non-political background, his aversion to political correctness and how this openness and lack of filter made a lot of closet racists feel validated and empowered.
Trump made a lot of disgruntled white Americans, across all classes, feel free to express themselves in a world of politics which was becoming increasingly diverse and politically correct, from even George Bush’s time in office to Barack Obama’s. The result of that was a support base that brazenly defended and obeyed Trump at all times, with no better example of this than the insurrection of Capitol Hill on the 6th of January 2020.
But as much as Trumpism has enamoured the average American citizen, it has also come to revolutionise the politics of the Republican Party. This can be seen in how Republicans have increasingly attacked the voting process across the country.
Donald Trump’s repeated accusation that the 2020 U.S. presidential election was stolen, in what he has incessantly labelled the ‘crime of the century’ has undoubtedly influenced the recent Republican focus on the voting process. For example, in 2021 state legislators proposed more than 566 voting restriction bills, of which 93% were proposed by Republicans. Of the 52 that passed, 45 were proposed and enacted in Republican states and included restrictions on limiting the time voters have to request and submit their ballots, voter ID restrictions as well restrictions on who is allowed to cast mail-in votes.
Further, Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Oklahoma passed nine election interference laws in 2022. Among them was the criminalisation of election officials who encourage people who rely on voting to then vote by mail, for instance elderly or disabled people.
As much as the voter ID laws and restrictions surrounding requesting and submitting ballots are not new, the prosecution of election officials is. And the source is Donald Trump.
Trump called out election officials, including Richard Barron, former Executive Director of Elections, at a speech in Georgia. In response, Barron claims to have received at least 150 voicemails of death threats which contributed to him resigning.
Equally, Trump called out former City Commissioner in Philadelphia, Al Schmidt, for covering up election fraud in the city which is said to have cost Trump the city in the 2020 election.
Al Schmidt has shown some of the letters and messages sent to his home, where one detailed that his three children will be ‘fatally shot.’
Donald Trump infamously also asked Georgia lawmakers to “find” extra voters and stressed the 11 780 votes, which he apparently needed to win the election. In this hour-long call, he stresses that ‘there’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, that you’ve recalculated.’
Trump has unquestionably influenced the Republican Party to tamper with the voting process, with increasing anger and virulence which hasn’t been seen since the pre-Civil War epoch. Trump’s antidemocratic rhetoric and actions are seemingly being perpetuated within and outside of the party with the trend towards restricting voting rights as well as the violent threats of election officials.
This itself demonstrates the mark Trump has had on democracy, however, more ominously, Trump’s legacy also poses a much longer-term threat.
Trump and some of his loyalists, particularly Steven Bannon, have been increasingly funding republican candidates on local school boards. In an attempt to gain control of more school systems and push back against what they see as a liberal tide in public education classrooms, libraries, sports fields and building plans, the Trumpist Republican Party is future proofing Trump’s commitment to explicit transphobia, homophobia and racism.
Among those that the Party are supporting are candidates who promise to scale back teachings on race and sexuality, remove offending books from libraries and nix plans for gender-neutral bathrooms or transgender-exclusive sports team.
Even Ron DeSantis, often touted as Trump’s main rival for leadership in the 2024 Presidential Election, has endorsed a slate of school board candidates in an unprecedented move in the state of Florida, putting his weight behind conservatives who share his opposition to lessons on sexuality and what he deems critical race theory.
The 1776 PAC (Political Action Committee) is backing three school board candidates in Maryland’s Frederick Country. The conservatives are running as the “Education Not Indoctrination” slate, with a digital ad saying children are being “held captive” by schools. The ad shows a picture of books bearing the words “equity,” “grooming,” “indoctrination” and “critical race theory.”
This advert sums up the Trump legacy on the Republican Party. In lambasting schools for “indoctrinating” children with critical race theory as well as trans and gay rights, the Republican campaign in Maryland fails to see how they have been indoctrinated themselves. They’ve become indoctrinated to believe the “grooming” of children by Democratic party members as well as the threat of critical race theory, which lead Trump to create the 1776 PAC in the first place.
The fact that DeSantis is also participating in the future proofing of the party by supporting local school boards shows a continuation of Trump’s legacy. This means that regardless if DeSantis or Trump wins the Republican Party nomination, let alone the Presidential Election in 2024, the echoes of Trumpism will live on.
Trump’s four years in office enabled a non-PC, an outspoken, “honest,” and increasingly violent form of politics and self-expression to come to the forefront in America. Unlike Presidents and cults of personalities in the past, Trump’s indoctrination of his supporters to commit violence, as the threats to election officials and the insurrection of Capitol Hill on the 6th of January 2020 suggest, means that Trumpism threatens democracy altogether. This, of course, isn’t to forget Trump’s willingness to explicitly undermine democracy and the voting process by insisting that his loss to Joe Biden in 2020 was ‘unconstitutional’ and fraudulent.
However, even during the absence of violence and explicitly undermining of democracy, Trump empowered a loud minority in American society who felt silenced. This is the once closeted racist, homophobic, transphobic, right-wing extremists who have started to openly hate on others at will. This emboldening of these people can be seen in the increase of hate crimes online, for example only rising 5% in 2016 from 2015 to 6,200, but then 17% in 2017, according to an FBI report.
Crucially, Trump’s supposed ‘return’ to politics with his announcement to re-run for presidency in 2024 is irrelevant for two reasons. Trump has been present for the last two years; he never left politics in any fundamental capacity. Secondly, his imprint on the party during his four years in office will ensure his legacy lives on, regardless if Joe Biden or Ron DeSantis are president in 2024.
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