Trump's legacy for the US: 4 years of damage, distrust

It would be difficult to overstate the harm that Trump has done to American democracy and our country’s social fabric.

US President Donald Trump speaks at the White House Hanukkah Party on December 9, 2020. (photo credit: TWITTER/@USHI_TEITEL/REUTERS)
US President Donald Trump speaks at the White House Hanukkah Party on December 9, 2020.
US President Donald Trump’s one-term presidency is ending, but the wreckage he and his administration have left behind in the US will take years to repair – if ever. And although the 81 million Americans (including 70% of Jews) who voted for US President-elect Joe Biden collectively exhaled when the election was called for Biden on November 7, they should be worried about what is likely to be Trump’s chilling – and lasting – legacy.
It would be difficult to overstate the harm that Trump has done to American democracy and our country’s social fabric. He is a demagogue who disregarded longstanding norms, cast aside all semblance of civility and decency, demonized the media as “the enemy of the people,” accused his political opponents of treason, politicized the Justice Department, and sent security forces to assault peaceful protesters.
Trump often reserved his most insulting and dehumanizing language for brown-skinned immigrants fleeing persecution and poverty, while to bigots and white nationalists he frequently gave succor. First there were the neo-Nazi, torch-bearing marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia – whom Trump referred to as “very fine people” in 2017. Last June, he shared a video on Twitter in which a supporter of his shouted, “White power!” During the first presidential debate, he told the far-right Proud Boys to “stand by.”
Trump also praised followers of QAnon, the lunatic antisemitic virtual cult that claims top Democrats, among others, are Satan-worshipping pedophiles running a global child sex-trafficking ring. He offered his full-throated support for avowed QAnon believer and Republican candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was elected to Congress in Georgia with a disturbingly large majority of the vote. Trump proudly called her a “future Republican star.”
As if these things weren’t unsettling enough, the Trump White House provided press credentials to TruNews, a fundamentalist Christian streaming news and opinion platform that features antisemitic, anti-Zionist, Islamophobic and homophobic content. TruNews host Florida pastor Rick Wiles has blamed COVID-19 on the Jews’ “false religion,” explaining “God’s dealing with people who oppose his son, Jesus Christ. He’s dealing with the forces of Antichrist... The people that are going into the synagogues are coming out of the synagogues with the virus.”
As of November, according to The Washington Post, Trump had made more than 25,000 false or misleading statements during his presidency, the most egregious of which were his repeated lies downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus. Not only did he constantly claim that the US was “turning the corner” even as COVID-19 cases and deaths were surging, he also held several super-spreader campaign rallies that blatantly ignored the administration’s own health guidelines, thereby endangering his supporters just to feed his insatiable ego.
Nevertheless, throughout Trump’s term, Republican Congressional leaders, sycophants in the administration, and Fox News talking heads didn’t hesitate to promote Trump’s alternate fictional reality and condone his unethical conduct. Administration officials who dared to call out Trump were swiftly fired and disparaged on Twitter and in presidential press conferences.
None of this was sufficiently compelling for 74 million Americans to decide against voting for Trump, the second largest total ever for a presidential candidate. Not the subverting of our democratic institutions. Not the racism and bullying. Not the pathological lying or extreme narcissism.
And yet, the worst of Trump – the behavior that may have the most detrimental and lasting impact – came in the wake of the election. Trump’s unrelenting assault on the integrity of the election, which he lost convincingly by over seven million popular votes, is nothing more than a shameless disinformation campaign to sabotage Biden’s presidency before it has even begun. It has sown discontent among Trump supporters, the most extreme of whom could be prone to violence.
It may also sow doubt among Americans about future election results. Despite zero evidence of widespread voter fraud, 77 percent of Republicans believe the election was “rigged.” An affirmation by Christopher Krebs, Trump’s own Homeland Security director responsible for election cybersecurity, that the election was “the most secure in American history” has done nothing to change their perceptions. Predictably, Trump, acting like a dictator, subsequently fired Krebs for speaking an inconvenient truth.
Trump’s Orwellian crusade to delegitimize the election has severely undermined American democracy. We know from history that when democracy is weakened, the security of Jews is diminished, and communities of color become disenfranchised (Trump’s racist dog whistles about “illegal” voting in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Atlanta deliberately targeted Black citizens).
No doubt, Biden will restore dignity and integrity to the office of the presidency. His administration’s much greater challenge will be to restore America’s enlightened political culture. For that, he’ll need the help of civic groups that understand all too well the stakes couldn’t be higher for the future of our country.■
The writer is director of community relations and public affairs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland