Op - Ed, Opinion

A sea-change in expectations

Editor’s note: Angelo Lynn is the editor and publisher of the Addison County Independent, a sister publication to the Mountain Times.

Since Election Day, Americans have seen a sea-change of political fortunes and attitudes: from the conservative Trump-supporters who expected the red wave to push Democrats from power and hobble President Joe Biden’s next two years in office, to moderates and liberals relieved that the nation’s voters stood up for democracy, rejected the Big Lie, and called for a rejection of extremism from both parties.

We don’t pretend that the next two years, with a divided Congress and a presidential election coming in two years (and with Trump in the mix), will be peachy keen, but we’re hoping the public vote says that most Americans want a government that works on solving major problems and that they will reject candidates who wage ad hominem attacks on opponents.

The reference, of course, is to ex-president Trump. If there are two ideas that have defined Mr. Trump as a political candidate these past six years, it has been his juvenile attacks on opponents and his refusal to take responsibility for the consequences he sets in motion.

“Ad hominem” refers to attacking the person, rather than the argument, and Trump has made that style of political attacks his calling card. He ruthlessly chides the person — their character, personality, family — in petty, yet demeaning ways. It’s schoolyard name-calling, and yet it has appeal to Trump supporters who revel in “sticking it to” Trump’s target. It’s how he dispatched his far more qualified Republican challengers in the 2016 primary and slipped past a dismissive Hillary Clinton. As those challengers know, it’s difficult to counter such mean-spirited attacks without lowering oneself into the fray or appearing weak.

Only the voters can reject such attacks, which many did in this election by defeating Trump-backed candidates who had adopted his style and his lies.

Republican voters, in particular, will need to reject such tactics even more forcefully in the upcoming two years as the party chooses its presidential nominee. To that end, it is heartening to see several Republican mega-donors already proclaim they are pulling their support of Trump and are looking to back Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or any other nominee. More importantly, if Fox News and its commentators bail on Trump (after six years of irresponsibly supporting and promulgating his lies) because they now deem him a weak loser and a drag on the conservative movement, Trump’s megaphone will be taken from him. And surely it’s an ominous sign for Trump that his own daughter, Ivanka, stated this Wednesday she would not actively be part of her father’s upcoming campaign.

“Impunity” refers to “the exemption from punishment, harm or loss.” It’s another Trump trademark. From his early years of bankrupting businesses to running one of the most corrupt and chaotic presidencies in American history, he’s good at getting away with the crimes he commits — mostly by pointing the blame at others (even his wife). Many columnists have written about Trump’s, and the Republican party’s “politics of impunity,” by which they mean actions taken without accepting the responsibility for negative outcomes, such as $1.5 billion in tax cuts Trump passed for the wealthy that ballooned the deficit without much positive impact on already overheated economy. Or championing white supremist rhetoric but denying it’s the cause for instances of racial violence.

But primarily, Trump’s impunity is defined by his refusal to take responsibility for any detrimental action, including his ruinous role (for Republicans) in the 2022 midterm elections. With Trump, the buck never stops with him.

Many Republicans surely hoped the 2022 results were a way to rid themselves of Mr. Trump’s scandals and his celebrity personality cult, and GOP leaders have repeatedly said post-election that the party is not beholden to a cult leader — but the proof will be in the pudding. For many complex reasons that pundits have written about over the past week, his lies and his grievances still have a hold on Trump’s core supporters who appreciate him as a fighter for their grievances.

Not only is such appreciation misplaced, but it’s painful that the word “pugilism” — from the Greek word meaning “boxer” and someone who “fights with their fists” — has any connection to Trump.

Trump is a schoolyard bully who is quick to toss insults, but also quick to hide for protection — he dodged the Vietnam draft with a fake injury; he’s inherited millions, lost more, bankrupted companies but always found others to bail him out; more recently, he riled up his warriors on Jan. 6, 2021 to ransack the Capitol (killing five military and police guards and threatening the nation’s democracy by overthrowing a duly elected president) while he hid in the White House gloating with satisfaction at the destruction.

He’s a coward and a traitor, not a fighter. And, true to form, he entered the 2024 presidential race months early to try — once again — to dodge responsibility for the laws he violated as president, and for which he is justly being investigated.

But 2022 is not 2016 nor 2020. The shine is off and Trump’s faults are plain for all to see. Let’s hope that’s enough to convince the GOP base that their future is brighter if other Republican leaders rise to the fore and Trump is dispatched to the dust heap.

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