While we can all rejoice that the great “red wave” that some had predicted for the midterm elections failed to materialize, we should not delude ourselves into believing the threat to our democracy has passed. Many of Trump’s election deniers may have been defeated and the Republican House will be powerless to do much except conduct pointless investigations, but the MAGAs’ raging grievance still looms. Hundreds of people have gone to jail for their participation in the January 6th insurrection, but there are thousands more out there who still share their sentiments. And short of an American Armageddon, this humble spirit doesn’t see anything on the horizon likely to change that for the better. Indeed, it feels like the country is living under the threat of an impending tsunami that will strike when we least expect it.
Even if Trump dies or goes to prison (or dies in prison), his influence isn’t going away, not for a long, long time. Trump let the MAGA genie out of the bottle by managing to voice their terrible anger and resentment, and so far no one has figured out how to put it back inside. MAGAs were low-hanging fruit for an authoritarian demagogue like Trump, disgruntled, alienated voters who had merely settled for “establishment” Republican candidates until someone like Trump came along and spoke directly to their raging grievance.
The 2020 photo of Trump holding up a Bible in front of in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church was the ultimate example of the ugly, sick connection between Trump and his MAGAs: you can trust me to protect your white Christian nation (Christian Nationalism) from the increasingly non-white modern American reality that threatens it. Of all the awful things Trump has done, that may be the most revealing, perhaps the signature moment of his presidency. Sending a mob to the Capitol to overturn a democratic election was the worst thing he did (at least that we know of), but the photo op with the Bible was the sickest.
Misguided as it May Be, Trump has a Legitimate Following, Something Establishment Republicans Lack.
While it’s true that America is polarized to the point of paralysis, I fear that explanation misses the point; it’s as if one portion of the electorate has fallen into a terrible abyss from which they cannot free themselves, and the rest of us are helpless to reach them, can’t find the rope to throw down to them. This humble spirit has cataloged MAGA grievances countless times (I apologize if it feels like even more), but I have to admit I still don’t truly understand their psyche. Even worse, I don’t see any way out for them, and I don’t see any way out for our country but to continue the good fight.
Is there any reason to think MAGAs won’t latch on to someone similar once Trump is gone? Ron DeSantis, a man who never met a culture war he didn’t want to escalate or a freedom he didn’t want to squelch, is Trump’s most likely challenger for the 2024 Republican nomination. A DeSantis presidency is a long way from where we need to be if we are to begin to repair our polarized nation.