Trump Has Left the Building, but the Foundations Are Still in Place

After a string of far-fetched legal attempts to topple the elections, capped by a shocking attack on the Capitol, the Trump period appears to be over. On the day of the Capitol attack, Trump addressed his supporters, claiming, “They will never retake our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong … If you don’t fight like hell, you will have no more land.” Two days later, amid an angry and widespread backlash, Trump was forced to step back on his bellicose stance and deliver an anodyne speech calling for peace, claiming that “those who engage in violence and destruction … do not represent our country ”and almost admitted that a change of power would take place. It has now.

It was a shameful conclusion to a historic moment measured by its implications for years to come. Long before the 2016 elections, many saw Trump’s rise as a turning point in American politics towards authoritarianism or even fascism. For some, the Trump presidency was an “ambitious autocracy,” for others an example of it tyranny. Lots discussed the applicability of the fascist label. For others, however, these concerns overlooked the persistent illiberal and anti-democratic tendencies that have run like a thread throughout American history. So rather skeptical ArgumentsThe focus on Trump’s possible authoritarianism has both mythologized and obscured the years before Trump, how ineffective and weak his tenure had been.

While these recent events confirm political defeat for Trump and the restoration of a shaky centrist-progressive coalition, the United States continues to experience a slow-burning legitimacy crisis that shows no sign of easing. While the 2016 elections did not cause an immediate political crisis in the state, they exacerbated the anti-democratic and authoritarian tendencies that were already ingrained in American society and political institutions.

These tendencies were in the making for decades. The American security state, which had already been built on decades of funding and training against the left, had acquired a new luster with the war on terror. The lingering aftermath of the great 2008 recession played a major role in the 2016 political establishment crisis and Trump’s unexpected rise to the top of the Republican Party. This year alone, Covid-19 mismanagement has resulted in the deaths of over 400,000 people, exposed key workers and those vulnerable to a deadly disease, and frayed the country’s already ragged social institutions, while structural racist violence brought millions of people on the street amid this pandemic.

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