There’s little point in reiterating the obvious–that the insurrection at the nation’s Capitol represented a “security failure” that was very likely abetted by Trump sympathizers within the system. As an article in the usually staid and circumspect Foreign Affairs put it,
Law enforcement, which uses a heavy hand against Black Lives Matter protesters and prepares carefully to stop possible al Qaeda attacks, was apparently unprepared for the mix of white supremacists, anti-government extremists, conspiracy theorists, and other pro-Trump supporters who openly organized to “burn DC to the ground” to overturn an election at the behest of the president. Although it’s too early to point fingers, the Capitol Police and other security forces clearly have some explaining to do.
The ingredients of what we have come to call “Trumpism” are varied and complicated. Although virtually all of those ingredients include racist grievances, other social ills cause racial grievances to grow and metastasize. America’s gaping economic divide is certainly one of those, as is our demonstrably inadequate social safety net. (The irony here is that unwillingness to extend social welfare services to “those people” is a major reason for America’s lack of such a safety net. It’s all intertwined.)
Trumpism’s future will depend in large measure on whether the Biden Administration and those that succeed it can repair the major holes in our national fabric–not simply existing economic policies that are wildly favorable to those who are already well-off, but a range of failings in areas as disparate as civic education, regulation of digital platforms, policing, environmental justice, and especially election laws.
People who have grievances– legitimate or not–are ripe for induction into what we might call the lost cause brigade. A recent New York Times op-ed by a historian issued that warning. She drew parallels between Trump’s lost cause and that of the Confederacy in 1865, and between Lee’s rhetoric after the South’s defeat and Trump’s.
Mr. Trump’s lost cause mirrors that of Lee’s. His dedicated followers do not see him as having failed them, but as a man who was failed by others. Mr. Trump best represents their values — even those of white supremacy — and the cause he represents is their cause, too. Just as Lee helped lead and sustain the Confederacy over four years, Mr. Trump has also been a sort of general — in a campaign of disinformation.
The author warned of the “dangerous consciousness” of Trump’s supporters, and predicted that– like Lee’s Lost Cause– it will not likely end. When Lee died just five years after the Civil War, the mythology about Confederate defeat was already growing exponentially. “The Lost Cause did not belong to Lee; Lee belonged to the Lost Cause — a cultural phenomenon whose momentum could not be stopped.”
Trump’s lost cause is the mythology he has created about voter fraud and fake news. Right now, that mythology is a “cultural and political phenomenon that shows no sign of ending,” because it has been aided and abetted by Republican members of Congress.
Whether the dire predictions in the Times column prove accurate will depend to a considerable degree on whether we can rein in a digital world still in its technological and cultural infancy. The ability of racists, conspiracy theorists and other lunatics to use the Internet to find each other and plan insurrections is more than worrisome, but there are also signs that the data they relinquish can be used to hold them accountable.
Apparently, before Parler was taken offline, a group of hackers captured the personal data of upwards of 12 million of its users– white supremacists, QAnon adherents, Trumpists, armed insurgents. ( Despite promises of anonymity, Parler was considerably less solicitous of users’ privacy than Facebook.) Videos posted to the site captured GPS coordinates and the identities of rioters who carried their phones. Hackers reportedly captured up to 70 terabytes of data, including users’ driver’s licenses, geolocations, deleted messages, and videos.
What information technology will ultimately change, destroy or privilege is anyone’s guess.
Perhaps the most important predictor of Trumpism’s future, however, is whether America can finally eliminate gerrymandering. As Talking Points Memo reminds us:
It’s no coincidence that the vast preponderance of those who incited the insurrection by objecting to the counting of electoral votes were politicians who owed their perpetual re-election to gerrymandering.
Granted, Trump owed his electoral success to the Electoral College, “a system that privileges a handful of unrepresentative swing states and renders the rest of the nation functionally irrelevant.” But the vast majority of Congressional Republicans who incited the insurrection owed their perpetual re-election to the gerrymandering that protects them from democratic backlash–but not from farther-right primary opposition.
Defeating Trumpism absolutely requires eliminating gerrymandering.