Is the United States about to embark on a program of de-Trumpification?
Less than a week ago, that seemed highly improbable. In the aftermath of the startling events of the January 6, it’s sure starting to look like it.
It remains to be seen if the storming of the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. goes down in history as just a white riot that got out of hand because of timid policing or an actual peckerwood putsch attempt by U.S. President Donald Trump’s private militia.
But at the moment it looks like we’re heading in the latter direction.
Especially if the Congress impeaches Trump again, de-Trumpification becomes a real possibility.
That would mean a state-sanctioned effort to disgrace, shun and remove Trump supporters from office, criminalize parts of Trump’s approach to governing, and legislate barriers to a repetition of Trump’s success.
That would be bad news for social media corporations whose platforms were a key part of President Trump’s successful strategy. And it will make anyone in a MAGA cap feel about as welcome as a skunk at a garden party.
And if Canada’s next-door neighbour and greatest cultural influencer takes that route, it has real implications for Canadian Conservative politicians, a significant portion of whom have bought fully into the Trump program of authoritarianism, division, guns and contempt for constitutional norms.
I’m not just talking about the likes of Alberta Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen, who went to the United States to campaign for Trump, famously appearing in a red MAGA cap on election night 2016.
It will also impact Dreeshen’s boss, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who has aped the Trump governing program, from climate-change denial to inciting polarization, casual lying, cozying up to right-wing extremists, and the cold war against constitutional government.
Add to that, here on the Prairies, encouragement of a Trump-worshiping “Bloc Redneckois” to foment regional separatism of convenience as a wedge against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal federal government.
The term de-Trumpification, of course, is fraught.
It acknowledges the policy of denazification, the word coined by Pentagon lawyers in 1943, which U.S. occupiers adopted at the end of the Second World War to turn the western portion of Adolf Hitler’s defeated Germany into a reflection of the federal American Republic.
It worked pretty well, although it was not the only model the Americans used as they began to fashion their post-war, post-imperial empire. In Japan, they allowed the vestiges of the old imperial state to remain, maintaining continuity with history, while ushering in a new era of economic subservience to Washington. That worked too.
But in recent years, where the United States has moved to check states that resisted its “Washington Consensus,” post-regime-change denazification has been the model most often advocated in the marble halls of the American capital.
Consider President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. After toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the Americans described their pacification program as de-Ba’athification, banning Hussein’s Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party and driving public sector employees associated with it from their jobs. This was not a success.
In recent years, the first step toward regime change, almost invariably, is to compare foreign tyrants — and not a few foreign democrats — to Hitler.
Popular culture plays an important role. Just watch how swiftly the American publishing and movie industries pivot to produce thrillers with villains who reflect the preoccupations of the U.S. foreign policy establishment.
Hitler’s deeds were so odious that here in the West we have observed a polite custom of not comparing politicians to Nazis, no matter how frightening their rhetoric or behaviour. Lately, this has been expressed humorously as Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1,” whereupon discussion ends, and whoever used the H-word loses the argument.
This rule was suspended in polite company, though, when foreign governments not part of the Washington Consensus were involved.
But if the tools of denazification come home to purge the U.S. government of the last vestiges of Trump’s four-year tenure as America’s Lord of Misrule, we can probably expect the proscription on Nazi comparisons to end too, at least as far as Trump, his family members and closest advisers go.
This won’t mean the end of the neoliberal consensus in Washington, Ottawa or Edmonton, of course. But it does mean the Trump wing of the Republican Party may be on its way to becoming a marginalized third party in American politics.
As Mike Davis explained in The Guardian, “the riot was a deus ex machina that lifted the curse of Trump from the careers of conservative war hawks and right-wing young lions whose higher ambitions have been fettered by the presidential cult.”
In other words, the influential American scholar argued, “the monolith has cracked and the Republican party is splitting up … with various conservative elites loosely but energetically conspiring to take back power from the Trump family.”
This means Canadian politicians like Kenney and his strategic brain trust would be wise to find a way put some distance between themselves and the obvious comparisons to Trump’s excesses.
This might be a good time, for example, for the premier to tell his issues managers and press secretaries to learn some manners on social media.
Even so, Kenney’s so-called United Conservative Party has the potential to split along much the same lines in the not-too-distant future for similar reasons — especially if Kenney’s sagging popularity and low public confidence in the UCP’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy endure.
Those like Dreeshen and Conservative Party of Canada Deputy Leader Candice Bergen who have been caught wearing MAGA caps are going to need to find a way to expunge that photographic memory if they hope to succeed outside their rural ridings in the Prairie boondocks.
So if you’re a right-wing Canadian politician, now is the time to bury or burn your MAGA cap!
De-Trumpifcation is coming, and not just to the U.S.A.
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.
Image credit: David J. Climenhaga