Shared from the 1/24/2021 Philadelphia Inquirer - Philly Edition eEdition


Trumpism is still with us

America must figure out how 74 million could vote to continue the nightmare.


Donald Trump in his final appearance of this campaign season, in Georgia early this month for Senate candidates Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who both lost. BRYNN ANDERSON / AP


This column had better be good, because it’s been in my head for more than four years. There’s a lot of things I barely remember about 2016, like who was in the outfield for my hapless Phillies, but I still remember the pieces I fully expected to write on or about Nov. 9 and 10 of that year. One was to ask how America had come so perilously close to making a neofascist demagogue like Donald Trump the 45th POTUS.

I mean, whew! … Right?

Instead, history and more than 62 million angry Americans who lived in exactly the right combo of states caused me to wait an additional four years and two months to try to answer that basic question: What was the true meaning of Trump?

Frankly, I’d have preferred to have answered that question without the thousands of Americans who died needlessly because an inept, hostile-toscience U.S. government botched the coronavirus every step of the way, without the refugee toddlers torn away from their mothers, without the coddling of murderous foreign dictators, without the cruel late surge of state-sanctioned murder (a.k.a. executions), and certainly without the insurrectionist mob that shut down Congress and slowed the counting of the Electoral College vote while leaving five dead people in its wake.

True, the glass containing an American flavor of fascism is half-empty as Trump starts his retirement in Mar-a-Lago, but it is also half-full. Whether Trump was Hitler or Mussolini or merely Silvio Berlusconi is a barroom argument, but in the reality-based world, we’ve watched the fundamentals of American democracy — that the presidency isn’t there to enrich your family business, that the Founders didn’t mean the pardon power to apply to your cronies, that the Justice Department doesn’t exist to punish your enemies, that the winner of an election is the guy with the most votes — pushed to the brink. It’s not totalitarianism, but it’s definitely not keeping a republic.

In the end, the question that America needs to answer isn’t about the nature of the delusional narcissist who traveled with the nuclear football these last four years, but about what’s going on with the 74 million folks who this November thought that giving this man the power to destroy Planet Earth was such a good idea in the first place. While Trump may be the dictionary definition of narcissistic personality disorder, with his psychopathic obsessions with crowd size or TV ratings, it’s America that needs to be staring at a mirror.

After all, it’s pretty clear that Trump was just a bizarre and particularly aggravating symptom of the diseases — extreme patriarchy, white supremacy, xenophobia — that have been festering under the skin of American politics for decades. Only when his presidential campaign broke out so crudely in 2015 like a skin rash or a hideous boil did millions of folks belatedly realize it was finally time to seek medical attention. Trump may have groped or harassed two dozen women, but he didn’t start the fire of sexism in the workplace or around reproductive rights. The 45th president might have crassly cheered on police brutality, but he wasn’t in the Oval Office when cops gunned down Michael Brown or Tamir Rice.

Like any political demagogue — or real-estate huckster — Trump’s only talent was tapping into the status anxiety that was already there. The Rust Belt’s alienated, occasional voters paid no mind to Mitt Romney’s awkward “binders full of women,” but they packed arenas to chant, “Lock! Her! Up!” and “CNN Sucks!” Those dopamine rushes drove Trump’s converts to seek new ways to get high, like the conspiracy-on-crack of QAnon. Trump has finally left the White House, but he didn’t leave a kill switch, or any other way — besides maybe the FBI’s handcuffs — to shut off the monster that occupied the U.S. Capitol for five hours on Jan. 6.

What is the fix for the mess that Trump left behind? The best model we have is 1933, an equally bleak moment. Then, Franklin Roosevelt launched the New Deal, which — over time (and skewed toward white men, its fatal flaw in the long run) — built a prosperous middle class and sought creative ways to reengage citizens including writers and artists, or nature causes like conservation, that restored faith in the American Experiment.

FDR’s home remedies are very much in line with what President Biden should be doing in his first 100 days — building back the working class, whether it’s in Biden-voting North Philly or Trump-fried eastern Ohio, and looking at outside-the-box ideas like mandatory civilian national service that would help young people from red states and blue states find common cause. The only cure for a president who metastasized everything that’s wrong with America will be a massive shot in the arm of what’s right with America.

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A version of this column originally appeared in the Will Bunch Newsletter — a special digital-only exclusive column for his email subscribers. You can sign up to receive his weekly newsletter in your inbox each Tuesday at

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