Last December, during a political discussion on an MTA bus in downtown Baltimore, an older gentlemen remarked: “It’s not Trump I’m worried about as much as the 63 million who voted for him.”
Now the count is 70 million.
I am as happy as any Biden-Harris supporter today. I can’t wait until Inauguration Day and Trump is out of the White House. But here’s the thing: Trump is not going anywhere. He just scored more than 70 million votes, and he’s not even conceding the race to Biden. Armed supporters of the defeated president amassed at state capitol buildings around the country on Saturday.
My Sunday column in The Baltimore Sun discussed Gov. Larry Hogan’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in Maryland; he gets a somewhat mixed review, but is generally regarded as sensible and competent by a majority of Marylanders. People have spoken to Hogan about running for president in the Republican primaries of 2024. But, really, unless Trump goes to prison — or flees the country to avoid extradition — there is no path forward for Hogan or any other Republican who presents as a moderate. (They are only really moderate in comparison with Trump.) And even if Trump is in Allenwood in 2023 or 2024, I can see another extremist and demagogue taking his place because, evidently, that’s what half the country wants.
We should try to be optimistic — Biden has a plan for dealing with the deadly pandemic and the battered economy, and ambitious ideas for getting the country back to the important business of climate change. But I don’t see the red hats going anywhere; millions of Trump supporters, already suckers to his elaborate con, will continue to believe his protests that the election was stolen. These people evidently love conspiracy theories, and they love Trump. So they’ll continue to support him. They’ll consider him merely in exile for four years.
And, again, barring indictment, Trump will be around for a long time. He’ll be noisy. He’ll work with McConnell and the Senate to block Biden’s initiatives. Trump will likely have a regular gig on FOX to spew vicious and false attacks against the Democrats, which means the alternate reality he’s created will remain in the atmosphere.
So, pardon my pessimism, but I don’t see how any of this goes away any time soon. Seventy million Americans were OK with Trump’s incompetence, cruelty and racism. I don’t know what else they get from him or from Republicans generally. In a few days, the Supreme Court will hear the Trump-supported argument to wipe away the Affordable Care Act, possibly depriving tens of millions of our fellow Americans of health insurance in the midst of the pandemic. Trump presided over the largest net loss of jobs under any president since those records have been kept, dating back to 1939. Are real wages better? (Only moderately, and less than under Obama). Did the enormously generous tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations create new jobs at higher wages? (No, and you can see why at this link.) Didn’t we take a walk on international leadership on climate change? Yes. Didn’t Trump speak and behave like the autocrat he apparently wants to be, and doesn’t he have 191 enablers in the House, 53 in the Senate — a Republican majority being still possible after the January runoffs in Georgia — and thousands and millions more all across the land?
I hope Joe Biden and Kamala Harris can lead us to a better place, but the forces working against a reset of American ideals still look clear, powerful and present.