Over the past four years, it has been a running gag on Twitter to compare Donald Trump’s presidency to a television series and joke about the crazy "writers." Now, "The Trumpman Show" is having a spectacular finale, with an insurrection by Trump supporters on Capitol Hill and a new impeachment trial a week before he’s due to leave office.
A disgraceful presidency is ending in utter disgrace. Can healing be next?
It’s hard to say how Republicans get out of the hole they’ve dug themselves into over four years of backing Trump — right down to playing along with his baseless claims of massive election fraud until those lies blew up in their faces. And that’s not to mention the new pro-Trump extremists in GOP congressional ranks, including two congresswomen tied to the "QAnon" conspiracy cult, which believes that Trump has been fighting a secret war against a powerful cabal of murderous pedophiles that includes leading Democrats and Hollywood stars.
Meanwhile, even as Republican politicians and once-friendly corporations distance themselves from Trump, most GOP voters seem to remain loyal. Three quarters still approve of his performance; about as many say they don’t trust the election results to be accurate. In a Jan. 7 Marist poll, nearly 1 in 5 Republicans favored of the actions of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol. Massive armed protests are planned for Inauguration Day, based on the "stolen election" lie.
Republicans will have to do a lot to detoxify and deprogram their base before healing can begin. Holding Trump accountable is essential to this task. It’s only "divisive" (as some Republicans claim) if the GOP continues to defend him on partisan grounds.
But while there is no moral equivalency between the two parties today, obstacles to healing do exist on both sides. The past four years have seen a strong shift among Democrats to a relentless focus on racial, ethnic, or gender identity. While there are real injustices to address, progressive rhetoric often promotes its own brand of toxic politics.
Take a comment from President-elect Joe Biden in a Monday video talking about helping small businesses cope with hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic: "Our priority will be Black-, Latino-, Asian-, and Native American-owned small businesses, women-owned businesses, and finally having equal access to resources needed to reopen and rebuild."
Sometimes, extra attention to disadvantaged groups is certainly warranted. But even assuming that Biden meant simply ensuring equal access, framing it as prioritizing every demographic except white males is extremely counterproductive. Such talk plays into the white victimization mentality on which Trumpism feeds. As African-American author and activist Chloe Valdary wrote on Twitter: "Fomenting racial resentment among poor whites has never served communities of color. Instead of undermining the status quo, this perpetuates it."
It was equally counterproductive for Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to claim, before any investigation into police handling of the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill attack, that Black protesters would have been treated differently. Many people see a different double standard: sympathy among the progressive establishment for violent protests in the name of anti-racism, severe condemnation of violent protests by Trump supporters.
Biden and Harris strongly condemned violence and looting during last summer’s wave of protests. But they have also lent their voices to polarizing narratives which presume any police shooting of an African-American suspect to be unjustified and racist.
During the election, Biden pledged to promote unity and reach out to Americans who did not vote for him. There is still time to do that. The ball is in his court.
Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.