Updated: Oct 18, 2021
To say that President Donald Trump has completely changed the nature of American politics may be the understatement of the year. Sure, some of the predictions for his presidency turned out to be overblown, but it cannot be denied that over the course of the Trump presidency, the environment of American politics became unlike anything the nation had witnessed before. Media outlets faced constant attacks deeming them “fake news”, and divisiveness and an inability to compromise reached new heights. Perhaps most importantly, however, both parties seemed to become entirely about one man almost overnight.
Trump’s Republican Party fell in step with the president himself. Under Trump, who was adored by Republican voters, conservative politicians quickly found that to stay in office, they would need to continually cater to the president’s demands or else face his wrath and the subsequent wrath of his voter base. And so they did, even as it required breaking longstanding government norms, ignoring blatant corruption, and wholeheartedly embracing Trump’s volatile nature.
There were those in the Republican Party who refused to cave to every one of the President’s desires, but they paid the price for their resistance. By July of this year, Trump’s grip over the party had grown so iron-tight that the Republican National Convention decided to not write a new party platform for the election cycle, but to instead affirm that they had fully committed to supporting Trump and whatever actions that he saw fit for the country.
Meanwhile, due to Trump’s extremism, the Democratic Party quickly became more about defeating Trump and the spread of his ideology — known as Trumpism. Even as party leaders have attempted to combat the notion that they “hate” Trump, it’s undeniable that most of the party’s major steps over the past four years have been centered around opposing the president.
Most prominently, the Democrat-driven impeachment of Trump was always a political move designed to derail the President’s power and influence, regardless of how solid the evidence in favor of impeachment was or how many times House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stressed that she was actually praying for Trump. It’s also likely that the party’s nomination process for its next presidential candidate would have ended very differently if not for the anti-Trump sentiment pervasive among both party leaders and voters. Early in the process, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) emerged as the frontrunner for the nomination. However, while Sanders was a well-liked figure within the party, he was a polarizing figure nationwide. As a result, just when it seemed like a Sanders victory was all but a given, Democrats rallied around former Vice President Joe Biden, a much less exciting candidate but the one they saw as having the best chance to beat Trump. Biden did end up defeating the incumbent President Trump in the general election, but it was on the back of high anti-Trump sentiment rather than legitimate enthusiasm for Biden himself.
Trump may have dominated political discourse over the past four years, but come Jan. 20, 2021, he will be out of the Oval Office (no matter how hard him and his allies try to reverse the election’s outcome). Once he leaves, both parties will find themselves at a crossroads. Democrats, powered by nationwide dislike for Trump, pushed a candidate into the White House and might be inclined to capitalize further on anti-Trump sentiments by inspiring fear of a return to Trumpism. The Republicans, similarly, could seek to retain Trump’s enthusiastic voter base by continuing to link themselves to Trump, especially if the incumbent decides to stay involved in politics.
However, after half a decade of politics mainly centering around one man, the more beneficial action for both parties and America itself would be to finally move past Trump and rediscover what they were meant to symbolize. The rhetoric that stems from Trump inherently cannot be constructive due to the nature of Trump himself, who has shown himself to be a divisive, chaotic, and mean-spirited character. For that reason, both the Democrats and Republicans need to establish an identity centered around policies, such as small or big government, rather than a singular and divisive figure like Trump.
Trump may have significantly altered the state of politics, but now that he is soon to be out of power, it’s time for political leaders to move past Trumpism and press the reset button on political discourse.