Trump may be gone, but Trumpism is here to stay


President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House, early Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in Washington (AP Photo/Evan Vucci).

TJ Lindstrom, Opinion Editor

As the country sits on pins and needles, simultaneously counting to 270, countless questions remain. The largest question, looming over all conversation about the election, is who will occupy the White House for the next four years. As results trickle in, it looks more and more like Donald Trump will be a rare one-term president. 

Democrats might be cautiously breathing a collective sigh of relief today, but I worry Joe Biden’s slim victory might obscure the profound decay exposed by this election and this president. 

Yesterday, both Trump’s son and the White House Press Secretary announced that Trump won Pennsylvania despite over 700,000 votes left uncounted and a consensus that the race is still up in the air. That is not normal. The count will continue because the rule of law in America is strong, regardless of the lawlessness of this White House. This premature declaration of victory was laughed off by most of the country, as it should have been. But the fact that these comments became nothing more than background noise reveals something deeply dysfunctional. 

Almost all of the president’s tweets following election night were false or misleading, and Twitter took steps to label them as such. Again, this is taken as par for the course with Trump. But, if you had told anyone five years ago that the president would publicly claim that imaginary fraud cost him the election or demand that states stop counting legally cast ballots, they would think you were crazy.

Trump has fundamentally changed something about the character of this country. He’s normalized basely questioning core democratic mechanisms. And a defeat by a margin of a few percentage points won’t change that. 

But maybe this is all talk. Maybe the president is just posturing and trying to control the narrative with no practical effect. I worry that’s not the case. 

Vote tabulating centers in Detroit, Michigan and Maricopa County, Arizona were surrounded by protestors today. Chanting confused slogans, they demanded that legal vote-counting stop. Video surfaced of protestors banging on the windows of a counting center in Detroit, trying to disrupt the count. Is it any coincidence this is happening just after the president took to Twitter to demand that vote-counting stop? Incidents like this are not isolated from the president’s rhetoric. They are, in fact, driven by his statements, a direct outcome of his lies. 

Perhaps a Biden win by 10% or more would have been enough to emphatically repudiate this behavior. But, I’m not sure only 2 or 3% will be enough. A sizable portion of this country has tacitly approved of Trump’s transgressions, and that approval won’t die with Trump’s electoral chances. 

So, sure, take some comfort in Trump’s defeat. The bottom-line result was positive. But don’t miss the bigger picture: when America was faced with a demagogue openly willing to suppress legally cast votes, an authoritarian who cared more about self-preservation than the functioning of democracy, we rejected him by only a few thousand votes. That doesn’t bring me much comfort.