Tiptoeing toward a post-Trump America?
In the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election, I was confronted with the same singular question from dozens of cable news hosts, print reporters, podcasters, and panel moderators — not to mention the occasional stranger in the grocery store or friend at a party:
What happens after Trump?
After four years of division, unprecedented in its intentionality, many of us wondered what life would look like after the president who broke nearly every social and political norm, who lied as a constant, whose naked corruption sparked multiple investigations and an impeachment, and who seemed to work hard daily to dismantle democracy, was finally “gone.”
Of course, “gone” was always a vague and ephemeral notion. If defeated by Joe Biden, would Trump live on through his voters or a new media conglomerate? Would his influence wane once he no longer had the White House, Twitter and regular appearances on Fox News?
Given his preternatural narcissism, it seemed unlikely that he would simply go away. But this almost magical idea of a post-Trump world seemed, especially to many Democrats and Biden voters, agonizingly within reach, waiting just around the corner. Biden would usher in a new era, simply by changing his address to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., one in which COVID-19 was contained, the economy corrected, Americans came back together and Congress solved problems again.
So unconvinced of this fantasy was I that, before the election, I launched a series for CNN.com called “What Comes Next?” to tackle some of the very real problems that I knew would far outlast Trump’s presidency.
In the months after the election, the fantasy quickly evaporated.
Jan. 6, 2021, proved that even though Biden defeated Trump, we were far from a post-Trump world. Multiple states took up his phony election audits and “rigged” election lawsuits. The vast majority of Republicans in Congress still supported and defended Trump. Only 10 in the House voted to impeach him for his role in the insurrection. Just two now sit on the committee investigating the incident, both of whom have been ostracized by their party.
In more bad news, Trump’s most enduring legacy — undermining U.S. elections— has been even more successful than he probably intended. Republican candidates all over the country are running on a belief in his Big Lie and promises to thwart election results they don’t like.
And, with Trump out of office, COVID-19 did not vanish. Congress did not suddenly reach consensus and start solving problems. In some ways, the economy worsened. Americans, by many metrics, are more divided than ever.