The historians Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt describe in the book How Democracies Die four characteristics of future autocrats: They ignore democratic rules; they deny the opponent's legitimacy; they tolerate or support violence; they restrict civil rights and freedom of the press. "A politician who meets only one of these criteria gives cause for concern," they write – and continue about the United States: "With the exception of Richard Nixon no presidential candidate in the last century has met a single one of these four criteria. Trump meets all four. "
Understanding Donald Trump's America is no easy task. Parts of his success are admittedly easy to comprehend: that he is heard by "the average man" in social classes that the Democrats have ignored, and thus gathers large electorates, neglected citizens who couldn`t care less about Trump's thousands of lies – according to the newspaper The Washington Post a total of 22 247 lies the first 1316 days in office. The newspaper updates continuously the database of Trump's lies.
The president's strategy, backed by Republican supporters, is simple. He has not only created "alternative facts". He has created an alternative reality. America under Trump became a frightening place, not only because of violent riots and the abysmal divisions of society, but because American democracy is weathering before our eyes.
German reporters Klaus Brinkbäumer and Stephan Lamby have been traveling in the United States for several months, portraying a dysfunctional country. The book In delusion. The American disaster tells of paralyzed, manipulated states, united only in hatred.
Change of direction with Nixon
The beginning of a split America the authors pin down to the time of the civil rights movement and Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" [in which Nixon tried to appeal to white Americans in the southern states, editor's note]. In the sixties, there was an abrupt change of course among Democrats and Republicans, with major issues such as abortion, religion, security and race. Nixon poisoned the political climate in the United States. He expanded the Vietnam War and sacrificed thousands of soldiers while keeping it a secret that he knew it was all useless. He interfered in the affairs of other countries, supported dictators and profited himself. Then came the great fall – Watergate. Never before or since were so many lies served from the Oval Office or competitors and critics so brutally fought. Until Donald Trump.
"He actually does not understand the difference between a PR appearance for a Trump hotel
and a baby who has just had both parents murdered. " Former employee
in the White House
This bully, who grabbed fortunes by cheating and really only wanted to be applauded by the masses, had suddenly become president of the world's largest democracy. He is a lousy speaker, but even the critical media still gave him airtime and sorted the tirades (in Trump's favor), the same media Trump denounced as "enemies of the people." They led him on to the stage he so longed for. And mastered. Reality star Trump.
It is a play in which a divided America hears the same words, but two different narratives. As one radio man put it: "This is exactly what Russia wanted – America's weakening through division. Now we do it ourselves." How? By having a killer president with a predatory behavior Trump learned from his father and used against his own people. When Trump was asked what he had to say to those who had lost loved ones in covid-19, he replied that the journalist was “a lousy reporter from fake news-press".
Drawing help from the media
That the stories Trump puts out into the world, has neither head nor tail, worries neither himself nor his supporters. All the hatred that had accumulated through the ordeal of having a black president for eight years could finally bloom. Gun enthusiast Trump talked about the "invasion" of Mexicans. Shortly afterwards, a right-wing extremist, Patrick Wood Crusius, arrived at the Walmart Mall in El Paso, a city near the border of Mexico. There he had planned to kill Mexicans, but instead started firing wildly left and right. Crusius killed 22 people, most of them U.S. citizens. He left a manifesto with the introduction: "This attack is a response to the Latin American invasion…"
The presidential couple arrives at the scene. A photographer pushes the baby of two of the dead victims in Melania Trump's arms. Trump raises his hand and delivers his victory grin. Click. A former White House staffer comments: "He actually does not understand the difference between a public relations stunt for a Trump hotel and a baby who has just had both parents murdered."
The book tells of paralyzed, manipulated states, united only in hatred.
Donald Trump has had a powerful aid Richard Nixon would have envied him – the TV channel and mouthpiece Fox News. It has been a symbiosis that has drawn hordes of supporters into the Trump bubble, wiping out any awareness of Australian and California forest fires or the climate crisis, (seen as a hoax); where everyone in Trump's team who corrects him disappears and leaves a commander-in-bleach- the nickname he got after proposing to inject bleach into the body as a remedy for covid-19 , a president who says "ee-eh" when asked about the plan for the next election period, who passes a dementia test and thinks it is an intelligence test.
But no one should blame the president for not being effective. In the first messy debate between Trump and Joe Bidenthe words came out of his mouth: "I want crystal clear, clean water." Really? Experts agree that the most devastating manifestations of the climate crisis are only scratching the surface of the impending disasters. Trump has consistently zeroed out climate regulations and given the oil and coal industry gift packages. A detailed list, published by The Harvard Law School, contains 75 points.
But the most dangerous opponent is microscopic, though deadly. The killer has tried every conceivable war strategy, including the claim that the corona pandemic will miraculously disappear. But 230 000 dead people (as of November 2020 ) do not magically vaporize.
Brinkbäumer and Lamby ask if America is helplessly trapped in its madness. They determine the moment when all the crises merged into something genuinely new, into a catastrophe: when children on the southern border were torn away from their parents and locked up. The answer is that the time is more than ripe to dismantle trumpism. It will take years. But it is not up for election. If Americans should ever find their way back to themselves.