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Trump, the American left, and political ‘Voldemorts’

Trump burst onto the American and global political landscape eight years ago and it feels as though we have not stopped talking about him since. I understand the resultant reticence to discuss Trump, especially given the recent cultural discussion regarding platforming. However, I think the political left, both in the US and the UK are in danger of playing into the hands of Trump and others like him. A year out from the 2024 Presidential election, I think we need to change the way we talk about Trump and the populist right. 

Trump is on track to become the Republican nominee and a recent ABC poll not only projects a Trump victory in the Republican primary but a Trump victory against Biden by ten points, comfortably above the margin of error. This article is not intended as a hack piece of scaremongering, but, I do think we need to at least consider the worst outcome. We need to stop talking about how ludicrous the idea of Trump running is, and instead work out how to fight him if he does. 

In January 2021, during the aftermath of the Capitol insurrection, both Facebook and Twitter banned Trump from their platforms. At the time I welcomed this decision. I thought that both companies made the decision far too late and only made it when they realised Trump was no longer their moneymaker; but, I thought the most important thing was that the decision was made. The brief period of time where Trump was absent from our media discourse is also the time where the political left learnt an ostensibly valuable lesson: that talking about Trump only added to his power and creating endless discourse about him gifted him a status and political validity he did not deserve. At the time, I agreed with the collective lesson. I was bored with Trump. The media landscape was oversaturated with him. I just wanted him to go away. 

Now I’m not so sure this is the lesson we should have learned. The reticence to discuss Trump as a mainstream political figure has imbued him with an almost Voldemort-esque quality (not He Who Must Be Named but He Who Must Not Be Talked About). Before his Musk-sanctioned return to Twitter, Trump created his own platform Truth Social which appeared to be a failure. Trump did not have access to a mass audience; however, this does not necessarily constitute a failure and could in fact be an integral cog in his political strategy machine. Post-insurrection, Trump has aligned himself even further with the alt-right community which now includes alleged rapist Russell Brand, who has somehow managed to shapeshift from a Marxist to the ally of Tucker Carlson and Ron de Santis. Russell Brand’s YouTube channel ‘Stay Free’ operates with the same faux-martyred ethos as Trump’s ‘Truth Social’. For years, Brand has been cultivating a cult-like following whom he feeds with rants about the ‘mainstream media’ of which he is very much part. Brand was able to undergo such a transformation right under our noses because we do not take the alt-right community seriously enough. We need to interrogate it as we would any political discourse because nonchalantly dismissing it has not worked. 

Attacking Trump on the insurrection has not resulted in his political condemnation. In the first Republican primary debate seven out of eight candidates pledged to pardon Trump. When Trump left office, polling showed that 38% of Americans approved of his job performance. Now, that same poll has found that 48% of Americans approve of his job performance. I think it was important to impeach and indict Trump, placing our faith in the rule of law and democratic systems. However, we need to come to terms with the fact that the indictments may have helped Trump more than they have hindered him. Trump is using the insurrection and its subsequent indictments to recreate the way he entered the political landscape in 2016: as an outsider. It was ridiculous that in 2016 a wealthy businessman was able to label himself as an outsider; but, it is even more ridiculous now when that man has been the President of the United States. Trump built said rebel-outsider status by denouncing the Washington ‘blob’ and emphasising the history of the Clinton name in American politics. Now, his attack line is hauntingly similar with the weaponisation of Hunter Biden and the moniker of ‘the Biden Crime Family’. We did not take Trump seriously in 2016 and we suffered the consequences. The left were complacent in 2016 and we cannot enter the campaigning period with that same complacency. 

We are living in a political world that is rapidly being divided into ‘the establishment’ and ‘truthtellers’. In an attempt to find a chink in their armour, I decided to try and listen to what these ‘truthtellers’ had to say. Russell Brand’s channel boasts 6.5 million subscribers and one of the most viewed interviews is his hour long episode with disgraced Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Within the first five minutes Carlson, a man who has made his career in politics, states the following:

I’m not interested in politics. I’ve never been interested in politics. I’m interested in ideas and I’m interested in people. 

Flip this, and you have the solution to fighting him and all the tenants of the alt-right house. Trump will attempt to trick the electorate into thinking he is not a politician and it is from this engineered outsider status that he will aim his attacks. This man was President of the United States. Stop fighting Trump the person and start fighting Trump the politician. Trump is part of a growing right-wing movement which shuns mainstream media and the scrutiny that comes with it. Boris Johnson refused a long form interview with Andrew Marr in 2019 and Liz Truss refused any type of long form interview during her premiership. Increasingly, the political right are trying to evade the spotlight of the mainstream media because they are trying to hide the fact they are politicians. As politicians they owe the public the right to scrutiny. Trump, Johnson and Truss label themselves as ‘ideas people’: as radicals, rebels, martyrs and misunderstood geniuses. They are none of the above. They are politicians and it is time we started treating them as such.The success of alt-right media has been its relative insularity. Politicians of the left and centre do not touch it. The ‘truthtellers’ preach on their independent platforms to their cultivated choirs. The way to beat them is there- they just don’t think we’re listening. Naomi Klein’s new book Doppelganger details the existence of the alt-right ‘Mirror World’, which functions as a palimpsestic underbelly to mainstream political discourse. Instead of being scared of this world we need to interrogate it. Interrogating is not platforming, we are way past that point, alt-right rhetoric does not feel so alternative anymore. Instead, I suggest we take Klein’s metaphor and hold up a mirror to this world and its people. It is time that we held a mirror up to Trump so that the electorate can see him for the politician he really is.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0 deed via Wikimedia commons

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