A chapter was closed on the Donald Trump presidency and a new one opened with the inauguration of Joe Biden. And yet the legacy of Trump will continue to cast a shadow on American society for years to come.
Like the bull exiting the China shop after all the damage has been done, the outgoing president was whisked off in a helicopter after giving a final farewell speech in which he vowed ‘we’ll be back in some form’. A fan of hyperbole, Trump was full of praise for his ‘amazing’ four years in office but equally generous towards the Biden administration, who he said had set ‘incredible’ foundations for a successful government.
More was said in the media during inauguration coverage about Trump’s legacy than about the arrival of Biden; but this is to be expected. After all, there are few in the US whose lives have not been touched in some way by the chaotic whirlwind that represented Donald John’s time in office. One thing is for sure: there never was such an entertaining character in the role of US president, and nor is there likely to be again.
Donald Trump claimed as one of the many triumphs of his time in office, that he was proud that he had not started any wars. But arguably he has; this time, on American soil. Ironically, America, the nation that has invaded, bombed and plundered country after country since its foundation, is finally experiencing what it’s like to have chaos and instability at home.
Experts have been saying for some time that the US is heading for another civil war. Keith Mines, a national security expert told The New Yorker magazine back in 2017 that there was a 60% chance of a new civil war in the next 10-15 years. He said back then “It is like 1859, everyone is mad about something and everyone has a gun.” That was four years ago, and things have escalated since.
The storming of the Capitol building in Washington earlier this month was a pivotal point in the tensions between the two sides in this conflict. And the security services did not anticipate it: they were completely unprepared for the violence that ensued. When watching footage from the protests, which had been actively encouraged by Donald Trump, and listening to the views of his supporters, you could tell that many of them were pretty unhinged. They may have been fanatical, but they were clear in their objective: to reject Joe Biden and fight for what they believe was an election stolen from Donald Trump.
Not all of Trump’s fans are of course as colorful as the characters who charged on the Capitol, but they are all united by one thing: complete faith in Trump and utter distrust of the mainstream US media. The latter of course is a reasonable and rational position to take, considering the half-truths and misrepresentation of facts that are often applied to stories on Russia, for example. Unfortunately, however, such a black and white portrayal of reality has negative consequences. The mantra that the mainstream media cannot be trusted at all, can appeal to the paranoid, or mentally unstable who already feel that the world is against them. One commentator said today he thought that Trump’s presidency had revealed that around half of America has mental health problems. This is an exaggeration of course but there is no doubt that a great swathe of the US population has a great deal of healing to do.
So is Trump to blame for all of this? Some would argue, yes. But it’s not so simple. Without a doubt, the outgoing president was far from ‘presidential’ and was completely irresponsible in his rhetoric. But the Democratic party and its supporters carry equal responsibility for the divisions in America today. Not only in their attempt to scupper Trump’s chance of election, with the infamous Steele dossier, but in the entire nonsense that was the ‘Russiagate’ case which clouded his time in office. It goes without saying that there was a Democrat-led witch hunt against Trump from the very beginning, and therefore against his supporters as well. Even prior to his election, Hillary Clinton famously referred to Trump supporters as a ‘basket of deplorables’. This rhetoric is indicative of what is at the root of the discord today in the US: there is an arrogance and highhandedness with which Democrat supporters treat their Republican counterparts.
In an interview with one Biden voter on Sky News, a woman was asked what she would say to fans of Trump dismayed at the election result. And she said she wouldn’t know what to say to them, because their ‘ignorance’ was the issue. This is at the heart of the current standoff: one side of America doesn’t know how to talk to the other anymore. This is a big problem.
According to Keith Mines, who in his travels with the US army lived through three civil wars, there are five conditions needed for such a domestic conflict:
“entrenched national polarization, with no obvious meeting place for resolution; increasingly divisive press coverage and information flows; weakened institutions, notably Congress and the judiciary; a sellout or abandonment of responsibility by political leadership; and the legitimization of violence as the “in” way to either conduct discourse or solve disputes.”
These conditions have undoubtedly been present of late in the US. Now it is up to Joe Biden to provide the positive leadership needed to prevent further violence from taking place. Time will tell if that is enough…
Contributed By Johanna Ross, a journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland. You can follow the author on Twitter.