By Orlando Bell
The extraordinary events that took place at The Capitol on Wednesday underscore the unique and monumental challenges that face President-elect Joe Biden and American politics as a whole.
The escalation of a pro-Trump protest into a fully-fledged riot and unprecedented breaching of The Capitol, the heart of American democracy, will be remembered long into the future. These events surely mark the end of President Trump’s political career.
The way in which key Republican’s have since distanced themselves strongly indicates that, despite the evident support the 45th President continues to garner, there is a growing understanding that the party must move on from this extraordinary character.
Yet, while this may represent the end of Donald Trump, his legacy of division and post-truth politics will define the Biden administration. Since losing the election, Trump has both stimulated and revealed the extent to which sections of American politics exist in a state of post-truth.
To date, more than sixty judges have ruled against the President’s challenges to the election results. The fact that some of these judges were appointed by Trump himself appears to have little impact on the belief of some that there is a gross conspiracy against not just Trump but America itself. In the face of a truth not only initially proclaimed but repeatedly proven these supporters do not change but rather entrench.
Each nail in the coffin of Trump and his web of lies simply serves to fuel their fire, their rage, about this supposed crime against American democracy. The irony of their own conspiracy theory and the very real way in which their actions threaten the basis of democracy appears lost.
Labelled a protest, the events of Wednesday night represent at least a riot and perhaps more accurately an act of domestic terrorism; an act of calcuated violence to create fear with the hope of bringing about political change. This is the antithesis of the democratic process they claim to protect.
The gulf between these two view-points is vast.
The spectre of these events will loom over American politics indefinitely unless Biden achieves perhaps his most important job; to restore faith in the American system across political lines.
While American politics has long been extraordinarily partisan, the nature of the Trumpian chasm is unprecedented in recent history. This is not a matter that will be directly addressed in policy; indeed, no individual policy could address a problem of this nature.
The more pressing policy concerns for the new administration will unsurprisingly focus on controlling the still rampant pandemic, and subsequent economic recovery. But Biden must recognise that virus control, vaccination, and the post-Covid-19 world will all be shackled by a fundamentally divided America and most crucially by the institutional distrust that this election conspiracy has augmented.
This is an immense challenge. By its very nature post-truth and institutional distrust are notoriously difficult to remedy; how can you tell the truth to someone who wishes not to hear it?
How can President-elect Biden convince his adversaries to trust the institution he represents? It is a challenge that is beyond the capabilities of one man, perhaps even beyond the scope of the next four years. But it is the ultimate challenge facing Joe Biden and America today.
While the methods of Trumpism, of post-truth, and of institutional distrust prevail among certain groups then the likelihood of America addressing racial injustice, social welfare problems, and political tribalism remain incredibly slim. In refusing to concede the election for so long it appears that Trump has cost the Republicans the Senate — perhaps it is this political consideration that will catalyse a move away from Trumpism across the political spectrum.
Post-Truth was the lifeblood of the Trump administration, and many Republicans were more than willing to reap its rewards for their personal political game, but it is now a political vampire sucking away on the integrity of American politics as a whole.
Under a new administration this is vital to overcome. On Thursday night the President finally conceded, in a farcical change of tone he stated his commitment to “ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power.” If nothing else, Wednesday night serves as a reminder that the problems will not go away with Trump.
Since 2016 Trump has been cast as a demagogue, he has come to personify post-truth and reactionary politics, and as his Presidency became increasingly absurd the notion of the next administration as a salvatory force became easier to cling to. But there should be no illusions, Trumpism is now bigger than its namesake and post-truth politics does not end with this administration.
The Biden Administration is seen by many as a fresh start but be under no illusions that the problems will go away.
Image: Fibonacci Blue via Creative Commons