by Wade Rathke
November 8, 2020
New Orleans Joe Biden is president. Donald Trump has lost. Some believe a four-year nightmare has ended. Perhaps, but Trump will not go quietly into the night. Maybe he shouldn’t. Maybe that’s a good thing for the rest of us, hoping and working for social change.
Trump won’t dominate the news cycle in the same way he has, but he will be part of the daily sound and fury. He has a base. He received 70 million votes, the 2nd most of any candidate in history. He has 80 million Twitter followers. He is an egotistical narcissist. He won’t be able to help himself, and the media will still seek him out like candy.
A New York Times reporter told me a story last year about how the Times and its reporters couldn’t help themselves from trying to put AOC in a story, almost any story, referrinf to Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, the young, fiery Congresswoman from the Bronx, because the eyeballs on the web soared whenever readers saw her name. With Trump, different name, same game. Legacy television and newspapers saw viewers and subscriptions rise thanks to Trump’s riveting, daily circus act and sideshows. Trump’s their drug, and they are addicted. We haven’t heard the last of him by a long shot.
I’m actually OK with that.
I read a long piece by Nicholas Lemann in the New Yorker that ended with a couple of paragraphs where we were inflicted to the gymnastic routine of presidential wannabe Florida’s Mark Rubio trying to workshop a new protean, populistic approach where he would pretend to care about the plight of lower income and working people, while not moving one inch off his usual hard right conservatism. That was scary. Ross Douthat made an equally frightening case for a new, dominant Republican coalition that would be…
A populism 2.0 that doesn’t alienate as many people with its rhetoric, that promises more support for families and domestic industry, that accepts universal health care and attacks monopolies and keeps low-skilled immigration low, all while confronting China and avoiding Middle East entanglements and fighting elite progressivism tooth and nail — there’s your new Republican majority.
What stands in the way of all of this? The elephant in the room: the real Donald Trump.
We saw a different version of this nightmare in New Orleans before Katrina with the election of Ray Nagin as mayor. We all could see it coming, after the Morials and Barthelemy. An African-American candidate who was more a mainline businessman than a lawyer or politician, who could get enough of the Black vote, even not winning it, because he was Black, and almost all of the minority white vote could win, and he did. A toned-down Republican able to stay closer to the hard lines of civic traditions and basic manners with a two-faced appeal to populism, disaffection, and anti-elitism could be a winner on that same basis. Standing in the way could be Trump, because a candidate would have trouble out Trumping Trump himself, even if he weren’t running.
My vote is letting him blow hard and blow away this faux populism and see if other parties, even the Democrats, can remember when appealing to the people rather than techsters, the rich, and Wall Street was a winning combination. If not, winter is coming again, and it may last longer.