What Trump taught us about America
Djoomart Otorbaev

Editor's note: Djoomart Otorbaev is the former Prime Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic, a distinguished professor of the Belt and Road School of Beijing Normal University, and a member of Nizami Ganjavi International Center. The article reflects the author's views, and not necessarily those of CGTN.

A unique U.S. presidency is coming to an end. For the past four years, humanity has been tormented by the question, who is Donald Trump? What are his ideology and moral norms? Is he a good family man? What do his tweets mean, how is his physical condition, does his hairs are real?

However, what is much more important is the question of what his country – the U.S. – is. Over the past four years, Trump revealed many unexpected things about America, and much of it is not particularly pleasant.

Who are the Americans? They are honorable, decent, and empathetic people. They consider themselves exceptional. But Trump clearly showed us that many of them are too credulous, vulnerable to demagoguery, and sometimes willing to go along with bizarre conspiracy theories. Many Americans were willing to endure racist antics and extraordinary state brutality, including the need to separate children from their parents. 

We now know that many Americans' commitment to democratic norms is much weaker than we all imagined. The Trump phenomenon has also exposed fundamental weaknesses in American society in critical areas such as moral standards, the rule of law, human values, honesty, and constitutional belief.

The real discovery is that America is not one but two countries. Most people know that the U.S. is a secular and ethnically diverse, mainly metropolitan area whose culture is shaped by media and academia. But what is apparent now is that America includes vast but often overlooked places where white Christianity's culture still dominates, shaping the worldview and organizing people's lives. The life, ethos, and ideology of these people differ from what, in their opinion, is the ethos of big cities.

The Trump presidency has been accompanied by endless debates about what is and is not "American." Mainly about whether power lies with elites – universities, Wall Street, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Washington, or the masses.

Most Trump supporters see politics as a battle between the "corrupt elite" and the "good people." He took advantage of these views by presenting himself as an outsider battling a corrupt group of elite insiders. His conspiracy theories about the deep state and electoral fraud, for example, matched perfectly with what many Americans think about politics. His message that the country needs to "drain the swamp" was, in this sense, a genius trick aimed at people who shared this opinion.

Many eggheads are still puzzled why more than 70 million Americans voted for Donald Trump. Why did the percentage of white women who voted for Trump increase from 52 percent in 2016 to 55 percent in 2020? Why did whites with higher education increase their support from 48 percent to 49 percent?

Why, in comparison with four years ago, did Trump increase his vote share among white American in rural areas? And why does there remain a strong core of fanatical supporters who believe everything he says? For example, he won the presidential election, but it was stolen by rigging the voting results.

Police with guns drawn watch as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. /AP

Police with guns drawn watch as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. /AP

Another lesson of the last four years is one very well known by gamblers everywhere – the house always wins. The entire Democratic and most of the Republican establishments have gone out of their way to stop Trump. They got their way, and their efforts yielded results. Overall, it has been clear that President Trump has not even been able to take control of his bureaucracy over all these years.

What is extremely worrying is that the anti-Trump elite, which dominates American politics, universities, corporations, the media, and even churches, should have investigated the reasons and learned from the 2016 defeat. Or at least listened to complaints from Trump supporters. Instead, they have invested all energy and anger into a direct fight with the president so that nothing like the 2016 failure will ever happen again.

Such aggressive intolerance can lead to potentially disastrous results. For me, it was clear that the current impeachment procedure would further reignite and divide Americans at a time when the nation needs to heal more than ever. It also would make Biden's promise to unify the country much harder. However, the procedure was completed in just one day.

Did the current winners realize that Trump supporters chose him because they felt powerless? The 2020 elections showed that they were helpless, but they have become even more defenseless and humiliated at the same time. If these characteristics develop and consolidate among half of the country's population, this will potentially be dangerous.

Still, many hope that Trumpism is a symptom and not a disease yet. Trump's unique contribution to American and world politics is that he adopted an anti-establishment strategy, and the election results proved that this approach was highly effective. Similar methods will enable other politicians to use them in the future.

Donald Trump will retire from politics one day. But the fact that he "discovered" previously deeply hidden characteristics of American society will remain his credit.

I want to conclude with two citations from two great thinkers. Francis Fukuyama recently said: "At the end of Trump's term, what I've learned is that I really don't understand America well at all." Let us try to understand today's America better.

Many years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville said: "The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults." Let us hope he was right.

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