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I’ve been a Trump advocate. I have supported him, written for him, defended him. But it wasn’t always like that. I was one of those who in 2015 and 2016 thought that Trump was a danger to American institutions. For the election four years ago, I supported other Republican pre-candidates. I was more sympathetic to Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. Trump’s crude, overly banal, and aggressive nature, which broke with decades of formality, seemed inappropriate for someone aspiring to be leader of the free world.
But he was a phenomenon. No one appreciated it. We always underestimated him. That’s why when in November 2016 he won a majority of electoral votes, so many of us were shocked. Trump is a true political animal. Being totally oblivious to the innate traditions of American public affairs, he came to the Oval Office. And he arrived energetic, with an iron will, ready to revolutionize not only Washington, D.C., but the entire world.
He did it. Trump changed America. He also changed the world. Now, four years after he came to power, his presidency is about to end. He was not a two-term president. He will probably never govern again. His presidency ends with the most chaotic transition in decades. This is not surprising. This must have been the nature of a government that was completely out of touch with the usual ways. But the tension of recent days has imposed on many of us the difficult need to move away from what I think are excesses.
The Trump administration is ending, although somewhat tarnished by a spiral of irrationality in which he was immersed for more than two months. His administration ends, but not his time. The Trump era is just beginning. The challenge is to figure out how chaotic it will be.
Peace without docility
Perhaps what captivated so many was President Trump’s willingness to lead a crusade against enemies who for years had to be confronted. Trump had the courage and audacity to stand up to the monsters that had been fed by his predecessors. China, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela saw in the Obama administration a government that was allied with and sympathetic to their interests. They grew, they became stronger, before the astonished gaze of Americans and Westerners who understood the consequences of a diminished United States before its adversaries.
The Iranian agreements allowed the ayatollahs to strengthen their influence in the Middle East. Arab anarchy, as a side effect of appeasement, became the worst time of conflict in decades. ISIS was born and became a global terror, scourging so much of the West with the indiscriminate shedding of innocent blood. Hezbollah had the green light, not only in the Middle East, but in the Americas. Harmony seemed remote. It was especially paradoxical because President Obama based his foreign policy on the conclusion of useless peace agreements.
Cuba, often underestimated, was strengthened. The thaw, outlined as a historical episode, only served to oxygenate the Castro nomenclature. And to strengthen Cuba is to strengthen all the socialist forces of the continent.
South America had a hard time during the Obama years. Those were the golden years of the so-called “21st Century Socialism.” All under the complacent gaze of the Democratic-run White House. Obama supported the signing of the terrible peace agreements between the FARC guerrilla movement and the Colombian government. Obama was one of the main promoters of the dialogues between the Venezuelan opposition and the Chavista regime, conversations that greatly favored Miraflores and the persecution of Venezuelans.
All of the above changed with Trump’s arrival at the White House. The Republican’s foreign policy was diametrically opposed to that of his predecessor. The enemies of the United States were having a really hard time.
The Islamic State (ISIS), the resurgent terrorist group that seemed indestructible, was neutralized. Its leaders were assassinated in what were the greatest military successes of the Donald Trump government. Iran’s influence was suddenly diminished in the region. Even the Iranian regime’s greatest military leader, the terrorist Qasem Soleimani, was killed in a flawless drone attack.
China came up against an administration that made it understand that crimes, no matter how many thousands of miles from Pennsylvania Avenue, do not go unpunished. Free trade is only possible in full harmony and when there is reciprocity. With China it is impossible. For the first time in years, an American administration has stood up to the Asian giant. Against Beijing and the organizations, such as the United Nations or the World Health Organization, that are useful to it. And then we discover what is the great threat facing the modern world.
Meanwhile, Latin America has never had a greater ally. As soon as Trump stepped into the White House, the leaders of 21st Century Socialism never slept peacefully again. The Republican government reversed the thaw with Cuba and imposed harsh sanctions against the heads of the Chavista regime.
I must emphasize the latter. As a Venezuelan, I will always be grateful because in Trump we found an immutable ally against the tyranny of Nicolás Maduro. His iron will to oppose Chavista socialism translated into the coordination of a coalition of countries that turned their backs on Miraflores and extended their hand to the Venezuelan opposition.
There were great achievements that allowed the Trump administration to go down in history. His foreign policy was simply brilliant. Not only the above. Trump was also a great ally of Israel, the retaining wall against barbarism in the Middle East. The American president had the courage, unlike previous administrations, to keep his word: the capital of Israel is Jerusalem.
He achieved peace between the Jewish nation and much of the Arab world through an effective campaign in the Middle East. Also, under his coordination, Serbia and Kosovo normalized their relations.
Finally, Trump also authored the greatest historical summit of this century: in April 2018, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in shook hands on the South Korean side of the Joint Security Area. It was the first time since 1953 that the North Korean supreme leader had set foot on South Korean soil. For managing the summit, Moon Jae-In suggested that President Trump deserved a Nobel Peace Prize.
And then there are the enemies within. Trump tore apart a giant bureaucratic structure surrounding Washington, D.C. He declared war on the establishment. Thus, he carved out his most powerful enemies, just a few feet from his desk.
Trump’s international crusade turned the United States into a major international player, hostile to human rights violators. And in domestic terms it was a success as well. The Republican government is responsible for major economic advances, recognized by both supporters and opponents (a November 3, 2020 poll showed that 41% of Americans believe their family’s financial situation has improved in the last four years. Twenty percent say it got worse. The poll is from CNN). These gains are undeniable. In justice, education and employment, the United States has improved and grown.
Unemployment rates, especially among black and ethnic minority populations, dropped significantly. From 6.6%, inherited from the Obama administration, to 3.5%, the lowest level in 50 years. It also maintained, between 2017 and 2019, a growth in the Gross Domestic Product of more than 2%. And unemployment, during his administration, was at a historic low.
It was an unprecedented economic growth – driven by the largest tax reduction in decades, major deregulations, the flexibilization of the labor market and the resurgence of obsolete industries. Under his presidency, the United States became a much freer economy, as the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom makes clear (compared to Obama’s last year, there was a 1.3 point increase by 2019 and the United States remains a healthy economy).
The construction of a movement
An excellent presidency was accompanied by an intense inflammatory speech. The absence of form and incorrectness that marked his 2016 campaign was the leitmotif of his government. Trump, in short, was a populist. The tactics, innate to the left, were brandished by the president. This translated into the building of a massive movement, whose banner is Make America Great Again!
Trumpism gradually sculpted itself and shaped American politics. Republican congressmen and senators who opposed Trump at first such as South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham ended up endorsing his movement because it was the present and it was becoming the future. It was a revolution and this was clear from the results of the last election.
For the first time in decades minorities, especially blacks and Hispanics, voted for the Republican Party. Never had so many white elites in the big cities turned their backs on the Republican Party. The numbers are a real-time testimony that the Grand Old Party, a champion of private enterprise, business, and capitalism, became the platform of the underdog. Of the blue-collar workers who only aspire to produce freely; of the blacks, tired of being treated as handicapped; and of the Hispanics, traumatized by the consequences of socialist tricks.
The Democratic Party’s identity policies, which effectively equate to racism, were the best gift to the Republican Party, which today speaks to a disgruntled population. Wokeism, the new religion of the Democrats, has driven away sensible voters and Trump was their lair.
The president’s courage is that he understood that his party must transcend the defense of traditional values that for years have been the backbone of American society. The free market is key to the development of a prosperous society. But, beyond that, today the struggle is cultural. And the ring is the media. That’s why Trump was, above all, a phenomenon. Unstoppable, unbearable, but revolutionary in the end. A phenomenon that for many years I saw with good eyes. Until today. Now I do so with caution.
Assault on institutions
I thought for a long time that right-wing populist movements were necessary as a counterweight to left-wing populist movements. Today I consider it so, but less than before. Because inflammatory, politically incorrect and aggressive rhetoric must have a limit: the institutions. I was wrong to think the opposite for so long: that everything was tolerable in the United States because the mechanisms existed to prevent the government of the day from degenerating into an autocracy. The assault on the Capitol was a reality check.
The United States is no stranger to the demons to which we are so accustomed in Latin America. It is a robust republic, but with its weaknesses (inevitable, of course). So to encourage a political movement outside the republican tradition; to chisel it, invigorate it, turn it into something increasingly hostile and intransigent; would inevitably become the conflict.
Hysterical mobs, armed with TRUMP 2020 flags, stormed the temple of U.S. democracy. I fall short of saying that it is the most important building in the Western Hemisphere. The heart of the system that Tocqueville praised years ago in his great work. The seat of the legislative branch. Besieged, violated by a horde of deranged, outcasts from Coachella or Burning Man.
The assault was preceded by a Trump rally in front of the White House. At the rally, the president told the thousands of supporters, “We will never concede the election. He then gave them an instruction: “March to the Capitol and demand that the congressmen do their duty.”
Socrates teaches Trump
Sometimes the decisions that men, obedient to the law, make seem unjust to us. There are dictatorships. There are monarchies. There are sultanates. There are tyrannies and there are republics. The United States, still, is the latter. A robust, archetypal republic that we Westerners have looked upon for years with admiration.
Tocqueville traveled from the cradle of the Enlightenment to marvel at the American system. At that time, it was convenient to recognize it: there was no country like the United States. Superior, the founding fathers found the formula for building a regime that would shield itself from its own demons. Geniuses at the end, they distinguished a republic from laws that would last centuries in force and almost unaltered. The fierce protection of the freedom of the press, the protection of the free carrying of weapons or the electoral colleges. They were the rigorous design of a recipe that would guarantee by far a perfect democratic continuity, with peaceful transitions.
When we defend a system and what it represents for our way of life, we defend its institutions. Making the United States great or safeguarding the values of the West means defending its institutions at all costs, despite their vices or deviations. The American system is still that of a Republic. And to improve, or overcome its weaknesses, it offers us mechanisms. To make the United States great, we must first take care of these institutions.
Sometimes we feel that the decisions men make based on the laws we ourselves design and defend are unjust. In his conversation with Criton, reported by Plato, Socrates illustrates this point. The condemnation against him, for being unruly, was unjust. Socrates knows this; he, probably much more enlightened than those who condemned him, decides to submit to injustice. Criton, his great friend, claims him: it is an act of docility and submission. Socrates, recommends Criton, must bribe his jailers and escape.
But Socrates dedicated his whole life to the city. He never went out, never traveled. He enlightened the young people of his city and preached what for him was the axis of good life: compliance with laws and their defense. Finally, Socrates was a sentinel of the greatness of Athens and its institutions. So, at the last moment, soon after his execution, he decided to submit to those same laws and institutions to which he devoted his life. “Did we not agree that the city’s sentences should be carried out,” Socrates asks himself. That’s what he always asked. “Can one love a city without its laws?”
“Because, if you die now, you will die victim of an injustice, not of the laws, but of men. If you run away, you will commit another injustice so shameful, returning one infamy for another, violating your commitment to us and harming those for whom you have the greatest respect – yourself, your friends, your country and us, the laws,” Socrates imagines that the laws would tell him.
An untamed force
The invasion of the house of the U.S. legislature was only the paroxysm of a tension built up from several episodes. Actors like Lin Wood were in charge of deepening the clash, to the point of proposing an open war, medieval style, with beheadings and everything. The president’s call to Georgia’s Secretary of State, pressuring him to get him yes or yes votes, and the chants of a traitor to anyone who did not subscribe to the campaign blunders, followed up on a complaint that was raised on November 4 last year: Biden stole the election.
We have no doubt that the electoral process was opaque, full of irregularities and manipulations. In the end, the United States tested a sensitive social experiment by massively testing the use of mail-in-ballots in relation to the pandemic that is afflicting the world. The President, given the noise, was within his rights to challenge the elections and to go to all the instances he considered. He did so.
State authorities examined the irregularities. There was a recount in Georgia and the complaints from several states were reviewed. Trump’s legal team, headed by the famed Rudy Giuliani, who charged thousands of dollars a day to keep the contest alive, did what they could. Many of us accompanied and covered the complaint, waiting for the final test that would invalidate the results that gave Joe Biden the victory. It never came. There was never a smoking gun. Apart from some irregularities (nothing new and innate to a process as decentralized as the elections in the United States) and the problematic relationship between the Dominion company and the criminal Smartmatic, there was nothing. The definitive proof did not come in time, and even the Supreme Court, composed of a conservative majority of which three judges owe their nomination to President Trump, dismissed the complaints. So did the Justice Department, whose chief, William Barr, was a great ally of the president.
So, instead of accepting the natural course of events, the Trump campaign decided that the problem was the institutions. President Trump decided that everything was a conspiracy against him and that anyone who turned away from his absurd crusade was a deserter. The Supreme Court Justices, whom he appointed and called cowards. It was Attorney General William Barr, his plaything for many years. And so, finally, was Mike Pence, his loyal companion since 2016. Traitors all. Apostate.
Kimberley Strassel explains this wonderfully in The Wall Street Journal: “The president had every right – even obligation – to contest the election in court. But when those challenges failed (and each failed, completely), he had the opportunity to embrace his legacy, build on his accomplishments, and continue to play a major role in Republican Party policy.” Instead, Strassel writes, he decided to squander his legacy.
The Future of America
On January 7th, Trump posted a video on his Twitter account. It was his first public statement after Congress certified Joe Biden’s victory. It was his second public statement after the assault on the Capitol. In the historic video, Trump used a reconciling, much more muted tone to acknowledge, for the first time, Joe Biden’s victory and the end of his presidency.
“Being your president has been the honor of my life,” said Trump, who assured that his government would guarantee a peaceful transfer of power.
The message finally arrives and puts an end to a novel that has been going on for more than two months. But it is too late. Long enough to deeply crack the Republican Party and change the perception of his presidency, which we saw only as successful, indispensable and desirable, to millions. Now, also problematic.
After November 4th, we all confirmed that Trump was a unique phenomenon that had changed the Republican Party and American politics forever. Although he lost, he became the most voted incumbent president in U.S. history. And, unlike Joe Biden, all of his votes were for him, for what he means, for his project. That made Trumpismo a movement on which the Republican Party depended. A movement with a life of its own, big enough to choose the winning candidate in the election of 2024 and beyond. That has changed in some ways.
Republicans in Georgia got more votes in November than they did on January 5th of this year. Voters turned away from their candidates as the trumpet race drifted on. Some, mostly independents, oriented their votes to their opponents; others listened to Lin Wood and other Trumpster characters and punished the Senate candidates for not sufficiently echoing Trump’s denunciation. The consequence is lethal: a full Congress in the hands of the Democrats. Couple that with Biden in the White House and you have the formula for socialist chaos.
The debacle in Georgia, plus the results of some recent polls, show that Trump did not kidnap the Republican Party, but divided it. According to a YouGov poll, 45% of Republicans support the criminal assault on the Capitol. According to a Reuters poll, 52% of Republicans believe that Trump won the election and Joe Biden committed fraud.
The Republican Party is divided. As Karl Rove explains, “Between the MAGA fanatics and the Republicans who believe these maneuvers are an affront to the Constitution.” The danger of a divided house, as Lincoln said, is huge, because it cannot stand up to itself like this. And so this Democratic Party, the worst of all time, taken by left-wing radicals who aspire to impose a fundamentalist agenda, finds the perfect storm to ride it out without consequences, lightly.”
Donald Trump’s legacy could have been a thriving economy and a brilliant foreign policy. A revolutionized Republican Party, with the ability to shelter workers and business people; Hispanics and blacks; freedom-loving people, in short. Today, Trump’s legacy may instead end up being a divided party and a country at the mercy of radicals.
In his January 7th speech, Trump said, “I know you are disappointed, but this adventure is just beginning.” His warning is clear: he will stay in politics. And he has millions of supporters ready to follow his word as a cult homily. They will heed his sermons and follow him in whatever he instructs. Maybe it’s a good thing, we should bet. Trump should become the necessary balance that a healthy republic needs.
Let Trumpism be the movement that defends individual and market freedom. Let it be the movement that ensures that the United States never gets weak knees in the face of Arab, Asian, or Caribbean dictatorships. Let it be the movement that neutralizes the Woke and Puritan revolution, which in its crusade has decapitated so many. Let it be that and not the nonsense we have seen in recent weeks.
Donald Trump’s presidency has come to an end with controversy and unprecedented conflict. This is a truly sad conclusion to a successful administration. But Trump is not finished. The Trump era is just beginning. It is the present and it will be the future. For better or for worse.
Orlando Avendaño is the co-editor-in-chief of El American. He is a Venezuelan journalist and has studies in the History of Venezuela. He is the author of the book Days of submission // Orlando Avendaño es el co-editor en Jefe de El American. Es periodista venezolano y cuenta con estudios en Historia de Venezuela. Es autor del libro Días de sumisión.