As liberals and progressives rejoice at the election of Joe Biden, they are misinterpreting the underlying dynamics responsible for the man whose surprise win in 2016 left observers shellshocked. The simple fact is that Americans didn’t give the Democratic Party a narrow mandate for the Presidency because they resoundingly despise the America First doctrine: for the most part they did so because Trump can be puzzlingly erratic and needlessly offensive.
For Americans who voted for Donald Trump his lack of filter is at best the exhibition of the straight-talking non-politician they love or at worst flaws they can overlook as a price for policies they agree with. For many more Americans the accumulative reputational deterioration achieved by four years of consistent profanity and digital pettiness is intolerable. There is no better evidence of this than the themes that Biden ran on and reinforced in his victory speech. Throughout the campaign was very little substantive content: mostly vague references to “restoring decency” and choosing “hope”. This entire election was really just a referendum of the personality of Donald Trump (made easier by Trump himself in the backdrop of a global pandemic). Concerns over the superficial elements of the Presidency, what it represents to voters and how “Presidential” figures ought to conduct themselves in public, was therefore the deciding factor in this election and little else.
But what about Trump’s ideas? A rejection of unfettered free trade at the expense of blue-collar workers is still very popular (and shared by sections of the Democratic left). Controlling immigration and protecting American borders from the risks of illegal immigration still ranks a top concern for the public. An aversion towards protracted military engagements overseas and a desire to keep America out of the rest of the world’s problems hasn’t gone away. The nation-state centric tradition-oriented worldview of the Trump GOP resonates with people who decried the destructive radicalism we saw over this past summer which painted the United States as inherently evil using the colour of debris. Can you just imagine the election result if Trump had maintained identical policies throughout his tenure but made polished statements, prepared for his debates and didn’t do things like recommend injecting bleach?
Because whilst Joe Biden got the most votes of any Presidential candidate ever, in spite of this year’s tumultuous conditions and almost unanimous negative media coverage, Trump got the second most votes of anybody running for President ever. Despite narratives of Trump being the arch xenophobe, he bolstered his share of the vote with black and Hispanic voters to engender the most diverse Republican voter coalition in modern American history. Turnout surged against Trump in urban centres, but it also surged for Trump in rural areas. The conventional wisdom of polling and political science told us it was going to be a blowout for the Democrats. Instead Biden enters his Presidency as a lame duck with a reduced majority for the House Democrats and a continued Republican Senate. America First remains powerful in its appeal and Trump has earned his place in history as a man who literally defied the odds in legendary fashion and governed in the way he promised, he will now leave office as a bona fide Republican kingmaker for years to come. Will Biden be able to say the same in 2024?
The Trump experiment offers many lessons to learn for patriotic conservatives across the world. Challenging the liberal consensus is popular, necessary and the right thing to do. Trump can only be commended for trying to do so. It does however require focused discipline in messaging and a need to respect popular superficial expectations for political office. Analysed in this context, 2020 is a minor setback, the future is ours.