After thousands of articles and dozens of books on Donald Trump’s disastrous presidency, it’s hard for anyone to break new ground. But this new volume, with contributions from 18 American scholars, is broader and deeper than any of its predecessors, with essays covering everything from militant whiteness to the legacy of Trump’s policies in the Middle East, under the title Arms, Autocrats and Annexations.
The result is a wealth of information familiar to those who have read dozens of volumes already, brightened up with a few new facts and a number of original ideas.
One of the best essays on the Republican Party that Trump inherited is written by the book’s editor, Julian Zelizer. The Princeton historian reminds us that the “smashmouth partisanship” perfected by Trump actually began when Newt Gingrich ensnared the Speaker of the House nearly 30 years ago. In 1992, Pat Buchanan’s speech at the Republic convention showcased all the anti-gay bashing that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (and many other Republicans) so enthusiastically reignited in 2022.
With major contributions from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the rest of the right-wing media machine, most of the GOP went so far right that it didn’t become Trump’s party because he “took the control” but rather because he “fitted in so perfectly” with him. Most Republicans were “all in” for Trump, from Mitt Romney, the ex-Trumper who voted with his former nemesis more than 80% of the time, to “moderate” Chris Christie, who gave Trump a “A” four months after his four years of scorched earth governance were over.
Columbia’s Nicole Hemmer provides a great introduction to the unstoppable rise of right-wing media, reminding us that last year of George Bush’s first presidency, Limbaugh spent the night in the White House. In 2009, the shock athlete “led polls asking who was leading the Republican Party.”
By the time Trump began his run for president, in 2015, he had “become much more powerful than the political media ecosystem that had bolstered his right-wing bona fide.” This became clear after his dust with Megyn Kelly. Moderating a primary debate, the Fox anchor took issue with her long history of sexist statements. Trump said afterwards, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her everywhere.”
Fox News chief Roger Ailes “remained silent,” writes Hemmer. Another executive, Bill Shine, “told on-air presenters not to come to Kelly’s defense.”
In the spring of 2016, Fox was becoming less prominent than Breitbart, a far-right website that researchers at Harvard and MIT have declared the new anchor of a “right-wing media network.” It was Breitbart’s Steve Bannon who “armed Trump with something like a cohesive policy platform…built on anti-immigrant, anti-Black, anti-Muslim and anti-liberal policies – the same agenda as Breitbart .com was promoting”.
“Indeed,” Trump’s Twitter feed “during the Breitbart-related campaign more than any other news site.”
Eventually, almost everyone on the right became a Trump follower. Glenn Beck compared him to Hitler in 2016. In 2018, Beck wore a red Make America Great Again hat, though he blamed the media’s ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’ for ‘forcing him into becoming a supporter. of Trump”. As a former right-wing radio host, Charlie Sykes, explained: “There really is no business model for the conservative media to be anti-Trump.”
Brown historian Bathsheba Demuth demonstrates that Trump was also an ideal candidate for a party that endorsed an American Petroleum Institute propaganda initiative that described environmental protection as “a dangerous slide into communist authoritarianism. “. Among loyal voters were evangelicals, who either saw human dominion over nature as “a doctrinal requirement” or simply thought the whole debate was irrelevant because of “the imminent resurrection of Christ.”
The most surprising fact in this chapter is that the fossil fuel industry was so sure that Trump was a loser in 2016 that it gave most of its contributions to Hillary Clinton.
Margaret O’Mara of the University of Washington describes the key role of big tech in our national collapse. She reminds us of a key, mostly forgotten moment 10 years ago when “Google and Facebook successfully petitioned the Federal Election Commission for exemptions from the disclaimer requirements” that required political ads to state who paid for them and who was responsible for their messages.
The companies argued that the requirements would “undermine other much more important parts of their business”. Disastrously, the FEC accepted this pathetic argument. After that, no one ever knew exactly where the online attack ads came from.
O’Mara also recalls that Facebook provided the 2016 Trump campaign with “dedicated staff and resources” to help it buy more ads on the platform. O’Mara incorrectly reports that the Clinton campaign received the same kind of largesse. In fact, in what may have been the campaign’s worst move, he turned down Facebook’s offer to relocate employees to Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters.
Another chapter, by Daniel C Kurtzer of Princeton, analyzes what Trump supporters regard as their president’s greatest foreign policy achievement: the initiation of diplomatic relations between Israel and Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and the Morocco.
A conservative newspaper summed up the achievement this way: “Washington is stepping up repression in Bahrain, subscribing to UAE aggression, sacrificing the Sahrawi people [of Western Sahara, to Morocco], undermine reform in Sudan and even abandon justice for Americans wronged by Sudan. The administration calls this an “American first” policy.
The final chapter focuses on the two failed attempts to convict Trump in impeachment trials. These results could be Trump’s worst legacy. Gregory Downs of the University of California, Davis, writes that failures to convict “in the face of irrefutable evidence” can convince any Trump successors “that they enjoy near total impunity as long as they retain the support from their base, it doesn’t matter”. what the constitution says.