The Trump era has officially ended.
The former president’s Senate impeachment trial finally wrapped up on Saturday, the House impeachment managers falling short of the required 67-vote supermajority needed to convict. Donald Trump now stands acquitted of inciting insurrection.
To be sure, Trump’s escape from justice after almost shipwrecking our democratic way of life is bitterly disappointing. Nonetheless, the presidency of Donald J. Trump is finally over.
His awesome power to steal, kill, and destroy on a national scale with near godlike impunity has been stripped away from him, as has his chief messaging platform (Twitter, etc.). Trump is gone from center stage, and now he must face whatever fate history, public opinion, and the courts have in store for him.
Trumpism, on the other hand, lives on. The vast majority of the Republican Party — Trump himself, Republican politicians and voters, and the rightwing media — remains firmly in the grip of MAGA fever.
Judging by the bullying, lying, threats, fake outrage and cynical whataboutism employed by the Trump defense team throughout the trial, it is clear that Trump himself feels not the slightest bit of remorse or contrition for his actions. He is utterly unrepentant as always, and in his official statement to the press after the acquittal, he affirmed that the MAGA movement has “only just begun” and that he looked forward to continuing the “incredible journey together to achieve American greatness.” He won’t be disappearing from the public eye entirely, God help us.
The relatively small knot of rightwing, antigovernment militants, white supremacists, and Christian nationalists who constitute his most ardent cult devotees — the insurrectionist crowd and their sympathizers — remain unbowed and unrepentant also.
Large majorities of traditional Republican voters still stand by their man, too. A recent Vox/Data for Progress poll found that 69 percent of Republicans would be less likely to vote for a senator who indicated support for convicting Trump in the impeachment trial, while only 22 percent held Trump responsible for the insurrection. A CNBC poll likewise revealed that a whopping 74 percent of Republicans want Trump to remain active in politics, either as the head of the Republican Party (48%), the head of an independent party (11%), or as a leader with no party affiliation (12%).
Of course, as the Trump base goes, so go most Republican politicians. At this point, the Republican Party has utterly lost its way, spiritually, morally, and intellectually. They have proven by their actions that they no longer believe in ideas. They instead believe only in Donald Trump.
Conservatives decided almost half a century ago that they could no longer win elections by honest persuasion or govern through good-faith cooperation and compromise with the opposition party. The once center-right Republican Party has since then come to increasingly rely on lying, cheating, and violence to get their way.
Trump is the natural end result of this longtime Republican trend toward illiberalism. One could even say that he is the living embodiment of the strain of Goldwater conservatism popularized by President Ronald Reagan. Little wonder that for four years, they have refused to check Trump’s lawless behavior, twice even refusing to impeach him for his clearly illegal, impeachable behavior.
It is even less surprising, then, that the majority of the Senate’s Republican caucus voted to acquit in Saturday’s impeachment vote. They helped spread the “Big Lie” alleging voter fraud, too. They too were guilty of inciting insurrection when it suited their political interests.
Trump was on trial, yes, but so was the entire Republican Party, and they all knew it.
Republicans had one last chance to fish their honor out of the toilet, but in the end, most Republican senators contemptuously flung that chance away.
That’s it, then: the end of the Republican Party as we once knew it. It is done, finished as a responsible, pro-democracy party, irredeemably rotten and beyond saving as a moral force for good.
The United States is no longer a two-party democracy. So what do we do now?
First, accept that the Trumpists are who they are, at least for the foreseeable future. Despite our arguing and acting out in rage and fear, they have not listened to us. They don’t care, and will probably never care, so let’s stop trying to force them to be like us and think like us. Stop arguing with them. Stop wasting emotional energy being shocked and surprised at this.
Let it go.
We also must face the fact that the Republican Party that represents the Trumpists will undoubtedly continue to exist as a powerful platform for Trumpism for years to come. There’s too much money and power to be made through the vehicle of Republicanism to throw the party onto the scrap heap so quickly. There’s also, apparently, little stomach for the hard work of forming a third party spearheaded by the Republican anti-Trump resistance, despite the talk about it I’ve heard over the last five years. The religious zeal of Trump devotees and the lifelong thinking habits of most traditional Republican voters will also not let this happen.
The malignancy of Trumpism is here to stay, so get ready, people.
Some elected Republicans in Congress and state governments who still believe in democracy have clearly realized that Trumpism has gone too far and have turned to resisting the Trumpists. Tens of thousands of Republican voters have also left their party, some of whom now belong to the Democratic Party.
The Republican Party can no longer be trusted to be given power or responsibility. From its wreckage, though, it’s clear that some brave allies of democracy — a few — have emerged that we can work with. Let’s do so.
Over the next generation (or two, groan), the battle for the future of America will lie not pit Democrats against Republicans; this battle will be waged between the democrats and anti-democrats of both parties. Democratic and Republican friends of peaceful, representative democracy must join together in common cause to quarantine the aggressor, as FDR put it.
I honestly don’t know what this will look like in future months and years, but I do have a few initial ideas to offer. Task number one: stop appeasing the bad-faith actors in government and get done what needs to be done.
We have a once-in-a-generation moment of opportunity here, don’t forget. The pandemic has revealed how execrably bad the mismanagement of government, the economy, and foreign policy has been for the last generation and how badly this country now needs sweeping political, economic, and legal reform. For the first time since the Reagan years, we have the political will and the urgency to make this happen, but we must remove a number of major road blocks that Republicans have long used to obstruct reasonable progress.
Let’s outlaw the rampant, cynical voter suppression and gerrymandering tactics by which Republicans have thwarted the popular will for decades so that we can end the electoral immunity of political extremists. We’ve got to change the way we elect our representatives.
Add the filibuster to the top of the list of road blocks slated for demolition, too. This weapon of maximum obstructionism must be scrapped so that President Biden can pass his legislative agenda, an agenda has broad, popular support. After the suffering we Americans have endured the last four years, it would be an outrage to allow congressional Republicans to thwart the will of the majority by using this antiquated relic of a bygone political era.
Once the filibuster is gone, we can enact good public policy that really benefits everyone. And who knows? Even the Trumpies — some of them — may start coming to their senses and lay down their arms if they begin to reap the benefits of good governance for a change.
Good public policy is only the beginning, though, of a long process of weaning this country off of illiberalism so it can fully embrace democracy. Americans face a long rebuilding effort, the goal of which must be the forging of a new consensus erected on a foundation of basic, shared values.
A system of government, after all, is only as good as the character of the people who run it.
Let’s start with public school education. America has got to do a better job of teaching each rising generation the American story. It must be the full story, free of the propaganda and glaring omissions that permeates current American history instruction today. Trumpists clearly have not absorbed this body of facts that is so critical to good citizenship, and without it, they and future generations will continue to be vulnerable to infection by dangerous falsehoods about the past and the present.
Something similar must be done with the teaching of American civics as well, and I would strongly encourage schools to create structured instruction programs that allow school kids to actually participate in the functions of democracy, at least in small ways. This might alleviate the sense of alienation and hostility to our democratic system so common among rabid Trumpists and even a few on the far left alike. I would guess that such efforts to give kids skin in the game could create a sense of ownership for American democracy over time that will reap tremendous benefits in the long run.
This will only work, though, if we teach kids critical thinking skills and media literacy so that they can more successfully evaluate what they see and hear. This too may serve to inoculate people against political extremism.
For us adults who have already passed through the school system, there are a lot of public education programs that could accomplish the same goals.
Perhaps evening news broadcast could feature three-minute “did you know” segments that conveys a basic fact about American history or civics that is easily digestible for busy grownups. News print/online media could do the same, perhaps sponsored by the public sector, the private sector, or both working together.
Such entities could also sponsor public debates on network/prime cable TV and social media about the nature of moral ideas. What is truth? What constitutes a fact? What kind of character traits should our leaders have? A lot of Americans clearly no longer know (or no longer care about) the answers to such questions.
In essence, we who believe in democracy need to seize the initiative from the anti-democracy faction in American politics and reestablish a common moral foundation on which democracy can safely rest.
If we do this, who knows? We may once again have a republic that we can keep.