What a change! When we wake up, especially those of us who live in the United States, we don’t have to jump and look for the latest Tweet, insult, attack, craziness or lie from Donald Trump.
The world, as always, has its share of emergencies and tragedies – from the pandemic to the evil and destructive climate we are creating. But the retaliations and conspiracies invented by Trump are no longer part of the equation.
He is secluded at his Mar-A-Lago resort in Florida, and that’s a relief. And the former Trump Plaza hotel and casino in New Jersey was dynamited a few days back – a more than symbolic image. It was one of the most successful casinos in Atlantic City before it went bankrupt and was sold. It all ended in a spectacle, like so many other things involving the Trump brand. Some people paid $10 to sit in their cars and watch the demolition of the ugly building with 3,000 dynamite charges, while others paid up to $575 to watch from a VIP zone, breakfast included.
Trump is down but not out. He is politically radioactive. To be linked to him is, in some way, to defend or justify his racism and attacks on U.S. democracy. It’s true that the Senate did not convict him of inciting an insurrection in his second impeachment trial. But the two votes against him – 57-32 in the Senate and 232-197 in the House – and the images of the violent invasion of the Capitol will put him in the history books as an old caudillo who did not want to accept the results of an election he lost by a broad margin.
There is a storm brewing within the Republican party. Republicans have to decide if they want to continue being the party of Trump or something else. The influence of Trump and the 74 million people who voted for him is undeniable. Among Trump supporters there’s a fear of moving too far from a leader who during four years aimed his Twitter fury at anyone who did not display submission and total loyalty. But two things have changed: Trump is no longer in the White House, and he has lost his digital sword.
Twitter permanently suspended his account “due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” the powerful private company explained. Nevertheless, Trump’s influence is still felt, especially when it comes to rounding up contributions and support for future electoral campaigns.
“It may have been an act of political suicide,” Michigan Republican Rep. Peter Meijer told the New York Times about his vote to impeach Trump. Meijer was one of the 10 House Republicans who joined Democrats to accuse Trump of “incitement to violence.” And now his reelection in 2022 is at risk because of that vote. But Meijer is not the only one who has fought against Trump.
President Joe Biden wants to turn Trump into an unmentionable. “I’m tired of talking about Donald Trump, don’t want to talk about him anymore,” he said during a CNN town hall. “For four years, all that’s been in the news is Trump. In the next four years I want to make sure all the news is the American people.”
There are presidents who talk constantly about their predecessors and blame them for all the problems they are not able to fix. But there are others, like Biden, who take responsibility for the challenges left for them from their first day in office. After all, that’s why we elect presidents: to fix the problems pending and
make us forget their predecessors.
But history shows us that is not easy. In Latin America we also have our unmentionables, like former presidents Carlos Salinas de Gortari in Mexico and Alvaro Uribe in Colombia, who continue to have surprising influence many years after they left office. They are, of course, uncomfortable characters for any ruler. And, because of the power and threats they wield, they are impossible to ignore.
“Unmentionable” is the word that current Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has used for Salinas de Gortari, a PRI party leader who reached the president in 1988 through a giant electoral fraud and started a string of privatizations with grave consequences to this day.
López Obrador wrote in a 2019 Tweet that he got the word “unmentionable” from Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who used it to refer to Gen. Juan Domingo Perón.
The problem with unmentionables is that even if you don’t talk about them, you still feel their presence. And if the experience of Argentina, Colombia and Mexico is anything to go by, the best way to deal with authoritarian leaders who don’t know how to say good by is to denounce them and publicly dismantle their abuses one by one.
That’s why Trump is not going away just because Biden does not want to talk about him. He will disappear from the political and digital arena only if he’s shown to be one of the most racist, antidemocratic and ineffective presidents – with more than 400,000 deaths during the pandemic – in the history of the United States. Only then can we be sure that he will not return as a presidential candidate in 2024.
The worst that can happen is to turn an unmentionable into a myth.