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Trump lost, but his brand of politics may be here to stay – UC Berkeley

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Donald Trump speaks to his supporters at a campaign rally in Fountain Hills, Arizona, a state he lost in the 2020 election. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, but the rhetoric and division that fueled his campaign and presidency did not magically disappear when news agencies declared former Vice President Joseph Biden the president-elect.

In the newly released book of essays “Trumpism and its Discontents,” UC Berkeley experts draw upon the tools of their respective fields of research to put Trump and his brand of politics — described as an opposition to democratic norms fueled by self-interest — into greater context.

Osagie Obasogie headshot

Osagie K. Obasogie is the UC Berkeley Haas Distinguished Chair and Professor of Bioethics in the Joint Medical Program and School of Public Health. (UC Berkeley photo)

“Part of Trumpism is this appeal that traditional ideals in America are somehow being thwarted by minority groups,” said Berkeley professor of bioethics Osagie K. Obasogie, who edited the volume compiled of contributions from 12 UC Berkeley faculty members and one student. “This fuels many of the damaging policies put forth by the Trump Administration over the past four years regarding immigration, race relations and the economy. The misguided thought process behind Trumpism manipulates and exacerbates an existing sense of loss that many Americans feel.”

The book, published online by Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute for free download, covers disciplines including immigration, gun control, colonialism and race speech.

The project started four years ago, Obasogie said, after several Berkeley faculty members at the Othering and Belonging Institute began to think collectively of ways they could respond to what was a disturbing 2016 presidential election, and to examine what the implications of a Trump presidency meant for America.

Obasogie spoke with Berkeley News recently about the impact of social media in disseminating divisive political rhetoric, and the steps a new administration could take to sow the seeds of unity in a polarized electorate.

Berkeley News: What is Trumpism?

Osagie Obasogie: Trumpism is hard to define, in part because it does not have a consistent set of principles or ideologies.

It’s an approach that is based upon the Administration’s self-interest. Trumpism is irreverent of democratic norms and does whatever is necessary to achieve goals that help Trump and his supporters maintain power. That, in part, is the authoritarian thread that concerns many people. Democratic norms become subservient to individual impulses.

We should be wary of this style of politics, which can and has become toxic when mixed with Trump’s celebrity factor.

Cover of book

Trumpism and its Discontents helps to contextualize the reasons for Donald Trump’s rise in American politics, and his appeal to nearly half of the voting populace.

From this year’s election we see that Trumpism appealed to over 70 million American voters. Will this book help contextualize why they voted for Trump?

The edited volume will help people understand some of the broad dynamics that allowed Trumpism to resonate with so many people, gave rise to Trump’s 2016 election, and led to a closer than expected yet failed re-election campaign. We tend to think about Trumpism as being driven by a particular “type” of person who we see acting exuberantly at televised Trump rallies or on social media clips.

While pollsters and the media tend to focus on males without college degrees or suburban housewives, we have to understand that it took a coalition of people to put Trump into office. This wasn’t one singular demographic of supporters in rural America. A lot of wealthy people voted for Trump. A lot of people living in urban areas voted for Trump. So, we have to understand Trumpism as a coalitional project that affirms a certain way of thinking about the world.

Trumpism has appeal across a wide range of people, in terms of background, education and employment who resist progressive policies and want to preserve the status quo. This volume of essays is an attempt to put that appeal into a broader context, and to understand its implications.

While voters in this election didn’t show the repudiation of Trump that some thought they would, Joe Biden has been declared president-elect. Trump lost. When he leaves the White House, will Trumpism be dead?

In short, no. The legacy of Trump will continue to be with us for quite some time as a style of politics that’s based on an unapologetic appeal to disrupting institutional norms as a way to justify policies that promote othering and resist greater social inclusion.

Part of the work that the Biden administration will have is to demonstrate once again that America is a diverse place and that we can productively live together. President-elect Biden can use this moment as a way to strengthen our democracy so that it can withstand ongoing and future attempts to dismantle it.

… we have to understand that it took a coalition of people to put Trump into office. This wasn’t one singular demographic of supporters in rural America.”

– Osagie Obasogie

Could the vestiges of Trumpism be utilized by someone who is part of the Trump family? Could someone else seize Trump’s support by using the same type of politics?

I think the GOP will try to maintain the base that Trump has created, but it’s unclear whether that base will follow. Much of Trump’s appeal is his celebrity. It’s unclear whether one of his own family members can continue this when they don’t have that status. At least not yet.

Continued civic engagement is required to prevent Trumpism from rising again. We should be excited by  the sheer number of people who voted in the 2020 election.

Hopefully, these numbers mean that we brought a new generation of voters to the polls who will continue to engage with political issues and become more active in their own communities.

President-elect Biden, in a recent speech, mentioned lofty goals of uniting people after four years of extreme division. If Biden read this book, would it help him achieve this?

I believe so. This edited volume provides needed context and nuance that has been missing from public discourse.

In many ways you can view the book as a postmortem, or an assessment of how Trumpism emerged, ascended, and became a fixture in American politics.

From that perspective, it can help us understand how and why that occurred, and how we can prevent that from occurring again.

President Donald Trump steps down from the podium after a press conference at the White House

During a press conference at the White House on Nov. 5, Trump charged — without evidence — that the election was tainted by fraud that was handing victory to Democrat Joe Biden. Thousands of his supporters reiterated this message, at a “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington D.C. this past weekend. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Why did Trump’s message resonate with so many people, and, in turn, divide the country?

I think it’s fair to say that Trump would not have been able to come to power without Twitter and other forms of social media. And, with that, he was able to exacerbate existing social divisions to create a false reality based upon grievance and blaming dwindling economic opportunities for some on the inclusion of others.

Political disinformation has been around for hundreds of years and was not created by social media. However, what makes social media in the era of Trump dangerous to democracy is the ability to transmit information and connect otherwise isolated populations who have warped senses of reality so that they feel that their harmful rhetoric and baseless claims are part of a legitimate community with legitimate grievances toward government and minority groups.

Facebook and Twitter played a more active role in identifying misinformation during the 2020 election — that is an important first step.

As we transition to a new administration, we have to have deep conversations about social responsibility and technology and understand that we can’t simply rely on individual social media users to figure out what’s true and what’s not. Social media platforms have to take greater responsibility to protect democracy.

We’ll always have folks on different points of the political spectrum that disagree on how to best approach the problems that we face. Disagreement and difference can be healthy and productive as we come to a shared goal of improving our society.

However, in order to do that, we have to all work from a basic understanding about what reality entails. From there, we can come together and decide how to best move forward.

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U.S., UK, Germany clash with China at U.N. over Xinjiang

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The United States, Germany and Britain clashed with China at the United Nations on Wednesday over the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, angering Beijing by hosting a virtual event that China had lobbied U.N. member states to stay away from.

“We will keep standing up and speaking out until China’s government stops its crimes against humanity and the genocide of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the event, which organizers said was attended by about 50 countries.

Western states and rights groups accuse Xinjiang authorities of detaining and torturing Uyghurs and other minorities in camps. Beijing denies the accusations and describes the camps as vocational training facilities to combat religious extremism.

“In Xinjiang, people are being tortured. Women are being forcibly sterilized,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard told the event there were an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities arbitrarily detained.

In a note to U.N. member states last week, China’s U.N. mission rejected the accusations as “lies and false allegations” and accused the organizers of being “obsessed with provoking confrontation with China.”

While China urged countries “NOT to participate in this anti-China event,” a Chinese diplomat addressed the event.

“China has nothing to hide on Xinjiang. Xinjiang is always open,” said Chinese diplomat Guo Jiakun. “We welcome everyone to visit Xinjiang, but we oppose any kind of investigation based on lies and with the presumption of guilt.”

The event was organized by Germany, the United States and Britain and co-sponsored by Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other European nations. Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said countries who sponsored the event faced “massive Chinese threats,” but did not elaborate.

British U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward described the situation in Xinjiang as “one of the worst human rights crises of our time,” adding: “The evidence … points to a program of repression of specific ethnic groups.”

She called for China to allow “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” to U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth called out Bachelet for not joining the event.

“I’m sure she’s busy. You know we all are. But I have a similar global mandate to defend human rights and I couldn’t think of anything more important to do than to join you here today,” Roth told the event.

Ravina Shamdasani, deputy spokesperson for the U.N. Human Rights office, said Bachelet – who has expressed serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and is seeking access – was unable to participate.

“The High Commissioner continues to engage with the Chinese authorities on the modalities for such a visit,” she said, adding that Bachelet’s office “continues to gather and analyze relevant information and follow the situation closely.”

(Reporting by Michelle NicholsEditing by Chizu Nomiyama, Alison Williams and Elaine Hardcastle)

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Ex-finance minister breached ethics rules in charity dealings

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Former Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau breached conflict-of-interest rules by not recusing himself when the government awarded a contract to a charity he had close ties to, independent ethics commissioner Mario Dion said on Thursday.

In a parallel probe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was cleared of having broken any ethics rules when WE Charity was tapped to run a C$900 million ($740.9 million) program to help students find work during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

The charity later walked away from the contract.

Trudeau and Morneau both apologized last year for not recusing themselves during Cabinet discussions involving WE.

Trudeau’s wife, brother and mother had been paid to speak at WE Charity events in previous years, but Dion said this appearance of a conflict of interest was not “real”.

Morneau, on the other hand, was a friend of Craig Kielburger, one of the charity’s founders, Dion said. The charity had “unfettered access” to the minister’s office that “amounted to preferential treatment”, a statement said.

No fines or penalties were levied.

Morneau said on Twitter he should have recused himself. Trudeau said in a statement issued by his office that the decision “confirms what I have been saying from the beginning” that there was no conflict of interest.

Ahead of a possible federal election later this year, the opposition could use the ruling to underscore the government’s uneven track record on ethics. Trudeau has been twice been found in breach of ethics rules in the past.

In August 2019, he was found to have broken rules by trying to influence a corporate legal case, and in December 2017, the previous ethics commissioner said Trudeau had acted wrongly by accepting a vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island.

In a statement, opposition Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said: “To clean up Ottawa, Conservatives will impose higher penalties for individuals who break the Conflict of Interest Act and shine a light on Liberal cover-ups and scandals, ending them once and for all.”

The controversy over Morneau’s ties to the charity was a factor in his resignation in August last year, when he also left his parliamentary seat, saying he would not run again. Chrystia Freeland was named to take over for him a day later.

($1 = 1.2147 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jan Harvey)

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EU prepares new round of Belarus sanctions from June

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The European Union is readying a fourth round of sanctions against senior Belarus officials in response to last year’s contested presidential election and could target as many as 50 people from June, four diplomats said.

Along with the United States, Britain and Canada, the EU has already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on almost 90 officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, following an August election which opponents and the West say was rigged.

Despite a months-long crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by Lukashenko, the EU’s response has been narrower than during a previous period of sanctions between 2004 and 2015, when more than 200 people were blacklisted.

The crisis has pushed 66-year-old Lukashenko back towards traditional ally Russia, which along with Ukraine and NATO member states Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, borders Belarus.

Some Western diplomats say Moscow regards Belarus as a buffer zone against NATO and has propped up Lukashenko with loans and an offer of military support.

Poland and Lithuania, where opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya fled to after the election she says she won, have led the push for more sanctions amid frustration that the measures imposed so far have had little effect.

EU foreign ministers discussed Belarus on Monday and diplomats said many more of the bloc’s 27 members now supported further sanctions, but that Brussels needed to gather sufficient evidence to provide legally solid listings.

“We are working on the next sanctions package, which I hope will be adopted in the coming weeks,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting.

The EU has sought to promote democracy and develop a market economy in Belarus, but, along with the United States, alleges that Lukashenko has remained in power by holding fraudulent elections, jailing opponents and muzzling the media.

Lukashenko, who along with Russia says the West is meddling in Belarus’ internal affairs, has sought to deflect the condemnation by imposing countersanctions on the EU and banning some EU officials from entering the country.

“The fourth package (of sanctions) is likely to come in groups (of individuals), but it will be a sizeable package,” one EU diplomat told Reuters.

More details were not immediately available.

 

(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels, additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin, editing by Alexander Smith)

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