You’re fired! Trump flounces out of top job

Four who made history: Some for the better and some for the worse.

Did Donald Trump teach us a valuable lesson? Many will rejoice when Trump finally leaves the White House later today, but others warn that we must learn the lessons of his presidency.

Today, at 12pm, Donald Trump will cease to be president of the United States of America. Many will breathe a sigh of relief at the end of what they see as the most troubled, divisive presidency in modern US history.

But some warn that Trump’s opponents are in danger of becoming complacent. They think the Trump presidency has taught us a lesson we should not forget.

It is easy to forget just how unprecedented Trump’s bid for the White House was. He was the first president never to have held an elected position or a military rank. Instead, he was best known for his reality TV show, The Apprentice.

When he first entered the primaries in 2015, many dismissed his run as a joke. But he won by a landslide, humiliating his Republican opponents in the process.

His presidency was just as unprecedented. He was the first president to be impeached twice. He ignored the time-honoured tradition that a defeated candidate should concede to the winner, and let a violent mob loose on the Capitol.

The lesson is stark: America’s system of legal checks and balances, designed to keep any leader from seizing too much power, is more fragile than it seems.

His successes also carry grim lessons for Democrats. Trump won the presidency in 2016 by carving a path through the Rust Belt states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Some claimed his victory was a howl of pain from voters whose loyalty to the Democrats had got them nothing in return.

Although Biden won these states back, it was by a narrow margin. Not long ago, they were solidly Democratic; now they are set to be battleground states for years to come. Democrats may never win Trump’s working-class voters back.

Even Trump’s defeat in 2020 contained bad news for his opponents. In spite of his racist comments, Trump won a greater proportion of the ethnic minority vote than any Republican candidate since 2004.

He made big gains among Latino and Black voters, including women in those groups – and all this in a year when a Black and South Asian woman was on the Democratic ticket.

These voters have historically been extremely loyal to the Democrats. But Trump has proved that Democrats cannot take them for granted. Latinos who switched their vote cited the higher standard of living they had enjoyed under Trump. If the Democrats cannot deliver these voters substantial economic gains, they are likely to lose them in future.

These lessons have already sunk in on the Republican side. Already, potential heirs to Trump’s throne are vying for position.

Ted Cruz, Trump’s bitter rival in 2016, recently sponsored a bid to overturn the election results, in what was widely seen as an attempt to appeal to Trump loyalists. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has publically lashed out at Trump’s main foreign enemies, Iran and China. The Republican candidate at the next election is likely to be a Trumpist: a believer in economic nationalism and anti-interventionism.

So, did Donald Trump teach us a valuable lesson?

Learn the hard way

Yes, say some. They argue that Trump gave voice to a forgotten people in America’s heartlands: workers who had lost their incomes to globalisation, who felt that the political system had abandoned them, who wanted to give the people in charge a good kicking. The fact that Biden, a man with deep roots in the Rust Belt, has succeeded him, proves that Trump has changed US politics, perhaps for good.

Not at all, say others. They point out that in 2016 and 2020, the average Trump voter was richer than the average Democratic voter. He did not give voice to a forgotten demographic, he just represented the same wealthy people who always vote Republican. And in centring attention on the white working class, he just gave politicians another excuse to ignore the needs of Black and Latino people.

You Decide

  1. Should Trump be allowed to run for president again in 2024?
  2. What makes a president, or a presidency, historically significant?

Activities

  1. Last week Donald Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives for the second time. Draw a “Wanted” poster for Trump, listing some of his crimes and the reward for his capture.
  2. Draw a timeline of the Trump years, starting with the beginning of his run in June 2015 and ending with Biden’s inauguration today.

Some People Say...

“History is merely a list of surprises. It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again.”

Kurt Vonnegut (1922 - 2007), American writer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Most people agree that Biden is unlikely to have an easy presidency. With a reduced majority in the House of Representatives and a 50-50 split in the Senate, he will struggle to pass major bills, especially since Republicans will be under pressure from their base to obstruct his agenda. The Supreme Court now has a large conservative majority, with a third of its members appointed by Trump, and they might challenge Biden’s executive orders. Most likely, four years of deadlock beckon.
What do we not know?
There is some debate over where Trump stands in American history. Some think his presidency fired the starting pistol on a new era of politics that is characterised by harsher immigration controls, more authoritarian government and declining American power. But others think he really represents the last gasp of the old politics, based on low taxes and self-interested foreign policy. They argue that Biden, promising less economic inequality and ethical foreign policy, is the real break from the past.

Word Watch

Complacent
A feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger or defect.
Unprecedented
Never done or known before.
Impeached
Impeachment is a process by which a government official is charged with a crime. Trump’s first impeachment was on the grounds that he had sought help from Ukraine to help his chances of re-election in 2020. The second is for inciting a riot at the Capital earlier this month.
Rust Belt
A chain of northern US states that were once thriving industrial centres, but became increasingly deprived as the US manufacturing sector shrank.
Battleground states
Presidential elections are always decided by a relatively small number of states, where margins between the parties are tight and there are many undecided voters.
2004
In the 2004 presidential election, Republican George Bush beat Democrat John Kerry. He took 41% of the ethnic minority vote, racking up huge support amongst Asian Americans while still falling short amongst Black voters.
Secretary of State
The US official in charge of foreign affairs. The holder is appointed by the President and is fourth in line to succeed to the presidency.
China
Trump has repeatedly clashed with China. For many of his supporters, China has become the ultimate enemy, and they have tried to smear Biden as a secret supporter of Chinese interests.
Economic nationalism
The belief that the power of the state should be used to gain and maintain an economic advantage over other countries. Often this means imposing tariffs on other countries’ goods to promote domestic industries.
Anti-interventionism
The belief that American and other western military power should not be used to intervene in the affairs of other countries.
Globalisation
The process by which the world becomes increasingly interconnected.

Subjects

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