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As of this writing, conservative media outlets continue to express optimism that Donald Trump will remain president for the next four years. After Trump did not win in his predicted landslide, he demanded recounts and sued on the grounds of fraud, perpetrated both by voters and voting machines. Over 50 attempts by his legal team to overthrow the results of state elections have failed, the courts in many instances rejecting cases as frivolous or unfounded. A Texas-led case filed by attorneys general was rejected by the Supreme Court. Then, hopes that Trump would win over enough faithless electors in the Electoral College didn’t happen, either.
Now, as Trump’s legal team is being threatened with disciplinary action for the raft of “baseless” lawsuits, loyal supporters are hoping enough pressure can be exerted on US senators to certify the election in favor of Trump. That failing, various groups are casting aspersions about taking their anger to the street, and Congressman-elect Madison Cawthorn, for example, made national headlines stating he will contest the election once he’s seated. There are also multiple rumors that Trump will simply refuse to leave the White House. As of today, the official vote count remains in Biden’s favor, the popular vote count being 81,283,485:74,223,744; the electoral count, 306:232.
So, what happens if Trump decides to go quietly, and America decides a man who can stay in his basement for the entire campaign season might just lay low enough long enough for the country to do some soul searching and regroup for the 2024 election? Is the Republican Party going to be happy with Trump, or perhaps Don Jr. as president? The party has already been divided into Trump loyalists and Deep State establishment Republicans. How the party divides itself without being conquered is not a matter of fate, and in a democratic republic, it should not be left in the hands of party operatives.
Are Republicans more at-home in the vulgar flim-flam of Trumpism than they were taking a stance for God, family, and limited Constitutional government? The sassy arrogance equated with Trumpism was embraced as a winning strategy, so-what if he loses, and what if Republicans decide en masse that becoming all they demonized in the left is not winning after all? This is not to say the Trump presidency was not without victory for conservatives – his most-touted accomplishments being to nominate impartial Supreme Court Justices and farm funding for Planned Parenthood out to the states – as to say we can do better.
Regardless, Jennifer Mercieca, a professor at Texas A&M University who specializes in the role of rhetoric in American history, describes Trump as a wizard of rhetoric. He is so good, she says, “It’s difficult to discern if Trump is actually an authoritarian or if he is pretending to be an authoritarian for rhetorical effect.” Indeed, large numbers of conservatives found Trump’s ad-libbing break with diplomatic norms refreshing, and his loose relationship with the truth somehow endearing. There were also fundamentalists – like strict originalist Constitutional scholars and Soviet dissidents who experienced daily bouts of heartburn with Trump’s tweets. Those who have seen “it” happen elsewhere demand Americans get more serious about a government that doesn’t run on autopilot.
Mercieca, in her book, Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump, shares six rhetorical strategies Trump effectively used in his 2016 campaign. To reach her conclusions, she watched every Trump rally, transcribed most of them, watched all his TV interviews, read his tweets, and read his books. She said rhetoric is good as a tool for getting people on the same page to discuss differences. It can and has, however, been used by authoritarians to hold people down. Crediting Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, in How Democracies Die, she said Hitler and Mussolini used rhetoric to, “reject or show a weak commitment to democratic rules, deny the legitimacy of political opponents, tolerate or encourage violence, and be ready to curtail the civil liberties of opponents and the media.”
Mercieca says Trump has convinced people he’s doing both. For some, he’s a selfless hero working for the politically disenfranchised working masses; for others, he’s “a villainous political agitator appealing to the passions and prejudices of the mob for his own benefit.” Are Republicans content that he fingered members of the press as the “enemy of the people” and threatened to fund primary challengers for GOP members of Congress who demonstrated more loyalty to the Constitution than to the coequal executive branch?
She views Trump as a charismatic leader with a phenomenal ability to get people to bend the norms for him while escaping all responsibility should something go wrong. The same pattern was illustrated multiple times in the Mueller report. On the campaign trail, he seemed to speak naturally in paralipsis, the rhetorical tool known colloquially as, “I’m not saying, I’m just saying;” or, in modern parlance, “I didn’t tweet, I just retweeted.” Trump used this, for example, to call attention to the National Enquirer’s conspiracy theory about the father of his top contender, Ted Cruz, being involved in the JFK assassination. He uses it to allow the Proud Boys to think he’s their man when there’s no paper trail of him inciting a riot or making racist remarks. When he said, “Russia, if you’re listening …,” Americans wondered if he was directing Putin to illegally interfere in the election and hack the Deep State – or just joking.