What just happened?
Well, the unthinkable has. Quite frankly, for this to have taken place in the nation widely considered as the home of contemporary democracy is something not many would have envisaged. But just as frankly, to say that no one could have seen this coming would also be unbelievable.
The truth is, the portents of this political phenomenon have been four years in the making. Just like Hitler’s rise to power and the inevitable start of World War II was presaged with the burning of the German Reichstag, Thursday’s assault, Jan. 7, on the cradle of American democracy — the US Capitol Building — had its shoots when Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, in January 2017.
No leader of a democratic country in recent times has been as much of an anathema to democracy than Trump. Sure, there have been somewhat extreme figures in nations less prominent, but the biggest wonder of all is how a figure like him was able to emerge in a nation like America, with its strong tradition of liberal democracy and democratic institutions.
So just how did the ultimate disruptor of democracy like him emerge? It may be instructive to look across the Atlantic for clues, specifically at the country that arguably gave birth to the United States of America — the United Kingdom.
In a way, one can say that the advent of Brexit — which sees the United Kingdom leaving the European Union in January of this year — has many of the same antecedents as the rise to power of the man who would “Make America Great Again.”
In the months and days leading up to the fateful vote, a tide of what can only be described as jingoistic nationalism, begins to take hold in the UK. Fanned by the rhetoric of right-wing figures like Nigel Farage — and aided and abetted by otherwise moderate but ambitious figures like current Prime Minister Boris Johnson — English nationalism emerged as the rallying cry for the European exit. Immigration became the favorite whipping boy of those opposed to the European alliance as ostensibly, the free entry of EU citizens to the UK — particularly from the newer Eastern European members of the alliance — was taking away UK jobs from British workers.
At best, this was a phantom argument, devoid of actual facts. Problem is, every imagined grievance needs a bogeyman, and for Brexiteers, it was immigration. Repeated in various rallies up and down the country, it soon mattered little that this was a blatant misrepresentation of the facts.
What was critical was that people believed the lie in such large numbers, and eventually this turned the tide of popular opinion against the country’s union with the European mainland.
The triumph of Trumpism seems to have been patterned after the Brexit playbook. Only this time, it was the surrender of the American identity to socialism and the radical left that was dangled as the “enemy” to energize people into supporting the most unlikely of populist champions in Donald Trump.
The unfortunate thing is the fire that is Trumpism seems to be raging more fiercely than that of its cousin phenomenon across the Atlantic. British stiff upper lip and all that, the UK set about the rather unpleasant task of breaking up from Europe with a determined sense of resignation, fully aware that it had made a mistake, and yet proudly holding fast to a decision it had already committed itself to respecting.
In characteristic and trademark American fashion meanwhile, supporters have taken to Trumpism with the characteristic energy that is enviable when channeled to the right cause, but tragic when directed at the wrong ones. This time around, the destructive energy of Trumpism turned on its own bastion of democracy, in a destructive orgy witnessed by the entire world in real time.
It’s early days to assess the damage this has done to the soul and the reputation of America, but just as the UK is still counting its losses and licking its wounds over the damage of the wrong-headed decision known as Brexit, the US will soon slowly begin to realize the cost of the political aberration known as Donald Trump.