If the Presidency of Donald Trump is coming to an end, we must contemplate the future of the political right in this country. Emboldened by the rhetoric of their standard, the stalwarts from the right occupying the fringe have for some time now pushed the agenda of the Trump right wing. It is now as their leader seems on the verge of losing the election that these elements on the right have added fuel to the fire which President Trump daily stokes. In sowing doubt in the election process in this country, Donald Trump has done irreparable harm both to the GOP and the country as a whole.
What will become of these followers of Trump is more difficult to see. The traditionalist wing of the GOP embodied by Mitch McConnell has been left gelded by the 2016 elections and the incumbent’s administration in that there is now no direct leader among Republicans capable of taking on a future Democratic contender for the Presidency. Trump has so perfectly metastasized his personal following that, much as the traditionalist wing saw itself cut by the Tea Party movement during the Obama administration, now Trump is the leader to whom much of the right rallies.
In the defeat of a Trump administration, it does not seem likely Trump would run again in 2024, by then being 78 years old. Joe Biden himself is currently 77 years old, so the possibility of a 78-year-old Trump—and even a second Trump administration concluding with an 82-year-old incumbent—is not out of the question. Whether or not he runs again, there will be a time after Trump during which the GOP will necessarily have to undertake a great deal of what pundits popularly refer to as “soul searching.” It presumed that during that “time in the wilderness,” the party will be capable of finding its way out via a new Reagan or Trump.
In Trump’s stead, we might imagine leadership coalescing around Mike Pence, who is himself not a part of the traditionalist or moderate wing of the American political right. He is, in fact, much more a product of the Tea Party and nationalist movements of the post-Obama era than of the GOP. One might indeed argue that Pence is a far greater extremist than Trump, and what an American political right in the hands of Mike Pence frightens me.
Such moments of upheaval and change will draw out the more extreme elements in society, much as how ice loses its warmer layers as it melts. And just as the ice becomes colder before it melts entirely, so too do these elements within society rise to a pitch before at last disappearing. In the wake of the election of President Barrack Obama, America witnessed the rise of extremist elements among the right, made manifest by the Tea Party movement—itself a directly descendant of the “put a boot in their ass” attitude of the Bush years—in direct response to what was perceived to be a threat to the American way of life. These same elements have driven this sort of rhetoric to the manifestation of Donald Trump, who embodies all of the attitude and approach of the Tea Party but carries the striking power—i.e. wealth, in this case brand wealth—of an industrialist robber-baron. It comes as no surprise that in response to this perceived threat of the American way of life among the left, the more extremist elements there in turn have come to the top, made manifest by movements such as “Antifa”—whose approach to protesting has in turn spurred the rise of further extremist elements on the right, given form by groups such as the “Proud Boys.” In the shadows of these seemingly cosmic forces, peaceful movements with true grievances such as the Black Lives Matter movement and the economic setbacks of white middle America cannot be heard through the din.
There appears to be a pattern in the way in which we humans drive the process of decision-making within the constraints of a constitutionally bound system. Where the election of Joe Biden represents the backlash to the Trump administration, historical models show that in the next election cycle we will see an even greater backlash from the party not occupying the White House. I believe that America’s biases on gender and race will be overcome once more in the election of a President Harris, but I fear that the shear popularity and cult of personality about the persons of Trump—and the one which could coalesce about Pence, in his stead—will see a final resurgence of misogyny and racism in politics in the election of Trump 2.0 in 2024.
But if this last election has taught us anything, it is that the American political landscape has changed for good. Deeply red states like Georgia and Texas have seen a massive shift toward the Democratic Party—or the possibility of the Democratic Party in conservative stalwart Deep South. It is worth noting that Virginia not too long ago went through this same transformation as urban areas grow and suburban communities grow. The general trend towards a less right-wing America has many people in this country alarmed, particularly among those who were struck hardest by the job losses suffered during the recessions of the 1980s and 2000-10s and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. There is a perception, stoked by those members on the far right, that the country to which they as Americans are entitled has been hijacked for nefarious causes. To these nefarious causes the political left is made out to be responsible, and so the narrative arises—much as I was called “unpatriotic” for not supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq—that these elements are in turn fifth columns within society, seeking to destroy America through its transformation. Every insecurity is played upon, those of race, gender, sexuality, economics, education—no topic is taboo in the arena of political anger.
Across history, at these junctures we see both sides arm themselves for conflict. I worry for those who have seen America as threatening them or under threat, depending on the circumstances, from elements within and who might seek to attempt an exorcizing of their political rivals—now perceived enemies. In the late Roman Republic just as in interwar Germany, we see the removal of popular megalomaniacs removed from power, only to be followed by a greater force sometime later—often a generation. In Rome we see this happen in a few different iterations, with Marius replaced by Sulla in the supreme authorities of state—only for Sulla’s massive power to be imitated by the expanding powers of Pompey, who came to be replaced by Caesar, who came to be replaced by Antony, who came to be replaced by Octavian, the emperor Augustus. With each turnover of power—and particularly in the messing transitions—a lot of people died. The same is so in the way Germany saw the rise of the Nazis in the 20s, only to be officially sanctioned by government (Adolf Hitler was, in fact, jailed), and only to then find themselves resurgent in the 30s and firmly in power. Trump is neither Caesar nor Hitler, nor Marius nor Sulla, Antony, Pompey, or Octavian—and Biden is none of them, either.
What I am attempting to illustrate is the way in which social structures—such as governments—are prone to a collapse towards autocratic extremism after a period of seeming stability. One might say that the republic of Sulla was the stability following the chaos or Marius, and one can just as easily argue that Sulla was the chaos from which the relative stability which followed immediately thereafter was the lull before the swing to autocracy again in the form of Pompey, to illustrate but one example. I fear that the conclusion of a Trump Presidency will bring about a period of apparent stability, only to be followed by the greater cauldron of chaos.
What awaits us in the dark, we must face it believing in the convictions of a free, equitability society—one which is at all times open to outside thoughts and other opinions. One in which we are stronger together than apart. We must try to mend wounds with our fellow countrymen in the hope that our unspoken forgiveness might bring about a more perfect union.