Trump’s ugly legacy has unleashed a venom in America

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The American claim to ‘exceptionalism’ and its history of support for democracy around the world has been delivered a severe blow.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on January 11, 2021.

OTTAWA—Whether or not Donald Trump remains in office for the next two weeks is hardly the point.

His ugly legacy has unleashed a venom in America that will be very difficult to suppress.

The world has watched in horror as domestic terrorists stormed the capital, wreaking havoc and death on the ultimate symbols of American democracy.

We have witnessed extremists becoming so mainstream that one of them, Georgian Marjorie Taylor Greene, is now sitting in the House of Representatives.

The American claim to “exceptionalism” and its history of support for democracy around the world has been delivered a severe blow.

Lindsey Graham’s ridiculous response to the Washington attack was to claim equivalency between the attackers and Black Lives Matter activists who took to the streets to protest the death of multiple Black citizens at the hands of the police.

Does anyone truly believe that if the same group of Washington attackers had been racial minorities, there would have been so few arrests?

Graham’s claim that Democrats needed to call out protesters of police brutality at the same time as he was criticizing the terrorists simply reinforced the fact that the day Donald Trump leaves office will not be the end of this reckoning in America.

The CBC revisited footage from the summer protest at the Lincoln Memorial, where row upon row of riot police were lined up to truncheon protesters. That footage was compared to the police treatment of emboldened white supremacists and conspiracy theorists who considered the attack a victory for their cause.

Some television outlets carried footage of those storming the capital taking selfies with police guarding the gates. And the Confederate flag was carried into the Senate by those who paraded their hatred right onto the floor of the Senate.

At the same time as the anarchists were outside of the Senate, chief representatives inside were speaking about the “incredible” four years of Trump rule and some of them were still trying as of last week to claim the election was stolen.

The attack on the Senate was greeted with glee by the president, who tweeted his love for the protesters.

At the same time as the state of Georgia elected its first Black Senator and its first Jewish Senator, most people are not talking about how those elections made history.

Instead, we are witnessing a country that is still deeply divided on racial grounds, and whose leadership actually promotes the supremacy of one race over another.

Trump illustrated his true colours more than three years ago, when white supremacists stormed Charlottesville and killed an innocent bystander while shouting slurs against Jews and minorities.

Trump was the first to lay out this false equivalency when he tried to claim that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville protest.

And multiple members of the Senate still cling to the view that there is validity in the absurdly false claims of election interference.

Notwithstanding these shocking perspectives, even in the consequential Georgia Senate runoffs, the state was almost evenly split on those who supported Trump’s choice and those who opposed.

Largely due to the incredible organizational work of Stacey Abrams and Fair Fight Action to oppose voter suppression, the Democrats were able to pull off razor-thin victories in both instances, thus securing the balance of power in the Senate. That vote paves the way forward for president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris to receive support in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

But they still have to face the job of uniting a country where almost half of the population oppose their vision.

All those who chose Trump were not voting based on his racial record. But the fact that they could overlook it and cast their ballot for him in such large numbers, is truly frightening.

From misogyny to racism, from his affinity for dictators versus democrats, the president still managed to garner the support of almost 75 million voting Americans, the largest number in the history of the country to vote for a Republican candidate.

Even when the president vacates the office, whether of his own accord or not, his leadership scars will endure long past his departure.

The suspension of Trump’s Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts are not enough to stem the flood of hatred that has been unleashed during his presidency.

Pre-Trump, racists were largely in the shadows. But his sick vision for America has enlisted millions of followers.

This past week has only emboldened them.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.