The way the German media deal with the Donald Trump phenomenon is mostly superficial and therefore dubious. It is considered improper to see him as anything more than a TV entertainer and politicized egomaniac. But there is also another view.
For the majority of journalists there is only gloom and damnation here, no accomplishments, no talent, nowhere. But the gaze of a journalistic zealot does not do justice to Trump and reality.
It was the exceptional journalist Sebastian Haffner who mastered the art of not denying all the achievements and successes of even a mass murderer like Hitler, and thus created a foundation in “Notes on Hitler” for the Hitler phenomenon to become understandable and intellectually accessible. He had dedicated the chapter “Achievements” to him – what a provocation – where he highlighted the “extraordinary achievements and his even more amazing successes”.
Independence in the analysis – that was Haffner’s basic understanding – must not be interpreted as affection, even if many contemporaries find it easier to deal with clichés than to work according to the facts. The facts have the disadvantage that they are often contradictory. The cliché is – especially in public disputes – much more manageable.
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Which brings us back to Donald Trump, who seems to have lost none of his political energy despite losing the election and being prosecuted. Normally politicians disappear behind the scenes after election defeats – see Martin Schulz, see Armin Laschet, see also Hillary Clinton. There, some of them remain part of the public debate. But they do not remain part of the power game.
1. He has managed to turn all defeats and setbacks into communicative bonus points. This is also due to the fact that an epic robustness is expressed in his struggle for survival, which is interpreted as invulnerability.
According to polls, 90 percent of his party’s supporters say Trump is willing to use any means at his disposal to achieve his goals. That frightens the Democrats, but impresses the Republicans – especially in times of war and crisis. This is how traditional America imagines a leader. Scarred, devious, hard as steel. Or as the self-confessed imperialist Cecil Rhodes used to say in India: “We are not here to be polite.”
2. Trump has a lot more structure than his opponents want to admit. Since the November 3, 2020 election defeat, he has been running a re-election campaign akin to guerrilla warfare. He selects his team from constituency to constituency. He praises, he punishes, he destroys careers. He turns good congressmen and senators into soldiers in a Trump army.
Contradiction is not desirable in Trump’s sphere of rule, it is deadly – as Liz Cheney recently found out. She was one of two Republicans who voted for and later chaired a committee of inquiry into the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. Trump pulled out the flamethrower. The daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney stunned her dwindling following: “I won here in Wyoming two years ago with 73 percent of the vote. I could have achieved a similar result here today. But for that I would have had to submit to Trump and his lies.”
That impressed The Economist: “He is so powerful within his party that his disapproval can ruin the career of almost any elected official, no matter how unimpeachable his pedigree.”
3. It breaks the discourse dominance of the Democrats, who have isolated themselves from large parts of the former core electorate in the working-class and white-collar milieu through their commitment to a religious-looking political correctness. In the Trump camp, the neck steak, the gun and the joke are cultural assets and not – as with many Democrats – a crime against humanity.
4. He uses prosecutions for leaking secrets, tax fraud, and the coup inquiry committee as triggers to only further bind his followers to him: “They are trying to silence me and, more importantly, to silence you. But we will not remain silent.”
5. In foreign policy – and this is perhaps the greatest danger for the Democrats – Trump opposes his masculine realpolitik of the great men to a value-based and thus idealistic approach. He does not explicitly refer to strategists like George Kennan, Henry Kissinger and John Mearsheimer, but their theory accurately describes his practice. He ignores moral differences and favors a cool view of economic and geostrategic interests.
He is not looking for the new religious war, but for the deal. He believes that with men like Erdogan, Putin, Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping, one can sort and divide the spheres of influence. The withdrawal of US forces from Kabul, which Biden eventually carried out, was Trump’s doing.
6. The current economic crisis with rising interest rates, falling stock prices and persistent inflation is Trump’s elixir of life. His term of office delivered a phase of prosperity until the beginning of the pandemic. Plus 11.6 percent in gross domestic product. And share prices rose by 55 percent, also thanks to a massive tax reform. “Save America” is the name of Trump’s most recent campaign.
Gabor Steingart is one of the best-known journalists in the country. He publishes the newsletter The Pioneer Briefing. The podcast of the same name is Germany’s leading daily podcast for politics and business. Since May 2020, Steingart has been working with his editorial staff on the ship “The Pioneer One”. Before founding Media Pioneer, Steingart was, among other things, Chairman of the Management Board of the Handelsblatt Media Group. You can subscribe to his free newsletter here.
America is under high tension. The Trump energy didn’t escape on the day he was voted out. It circulates, it even accumulates further, it searches for its discharge.