Donald Trump, who is facing four separate criminal indictments, will almost certainly be convicted of one or more of 91 charges against him, likely ending his tumultuous political career.
Despite all the right-wing political prestidigitation about how the indictments will boost his popularity, the 2024 election is likely to herald the beginning of the post-Trump era in American politics.
It may also signal the end of post-truth politics, the avalanche of lies that have marked public discourse since the Reagan administration and led to the rise of rampant conspiracy theories.
Trump represents the nadir of post-truth politics. His alleged criminality, his unrestrained demagoguery, lying, ad hominem attacks and pandering to the basest instincts of society have fueled a wave of hate and divisiviness across the country.
His success in cemeting his base, who see in Trump a panacea for their own grievances, has spawned sycophants like Ted Cruz, Lindsay Graham, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, Josh Hawley and others who mimic his divisive political style.
They have no qualms about loosely throwing around slurs like communist, socialist, leftist or worse in ad hominem attacks on Democrats. And, they march in lockstep with Trump’s copious lies.
It’s hard to look back in American history to find one signature parallel that could explain Trump. But there is one era in the nation’s tumultuous history where similar forces played out — the 1950s Red Scare.
It was a period in American political history marked by the use of rampant propaganda, and the widespread promotion of fear and panic to advance a right-wing political agenda.
The tactics became known as “McCarthyism,” after then-Sen. Joe McCarthy who leveled unsubstantiated accusations without regard to evidence to discredit his political opponents.
At its root was a supposed secretive enemy within — communists, anarchists and left wing radicals who were bent on subverting America through treachery and deceit.
It all sounds a lot like today’s politics. Trump and Republicans are using the same playbook to inflame voters in an effort to stampede them to the right of the political spectrum.
Today, Republicans have a new bogeyman, not hidden communists of the McCarthy era, but the “deep state,” a supposed network of secret and unauthorized people and organizations pulling the strings of government from behind the scenes.
Back in the 1950s, McCarthy’s attempts to make anti-communism a partisan political weapon ruined the lives of thousands of innocent Americans and distracted from the real threat posed by the Soviet Union.
In 1950, President Harry Truman called McCarthy “the greatest asset the Kremlin has.”
It should come as no surprise that Trump and his followers have also played into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
If not overtly voicing support for the Russian dictator, their ad hominem attacks on the U.S. military, the economy and the nation as a whole have embolden Russia in its war against Ukraine.
Russian propagandists talk excitedly about the possibility Trump will return to the White House.
The newly created house “Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government” also has an analogous counterpart in the Red Scare.
McCarthy used his chairmanship of the Senate Government Operations Committee and its Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations to investigate more than 600 people in 169 hearings in just two years, 1953 and 1954.
Lawyer Roy Cohn was McCarthy’s chief counsel during the Red Scare. It should come as no surprise that Cohn later mentored Trump early in his New York City real estate career. During that time, Trump earned a reputation for mob ties and shady dealings.
The 1952 Republican Party platform could be a blueprint for today’s radical Trump Republicans. It railed against “socialism,” “corruption in high places,” Social Security and claimed Democrats fostered “class strife.”
World War II hero Dwight D. Eisenhower, won the party’s nomination and became first Republican elected as president in 20 years. Eisenhower, who was apolitical throughout his long military career, shunned party extremists and promoted moderate conservatives.
He expressed this sage political advice in his letter to his brother, Edgar, that outlined his views. “Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.”
Eisenhower turned the Republican Party aournd and his campaign for a second term in 1956 reflected his proudest accomplishments in office.
“Social Security has been extended to an additional 10 million workers and the benefits raised for 6 1/2 million. The protection of unemployment insurance has been brought to 4 million additional workers. There have been increased workmen’s compensation benefits for longshoremen and harbor workers, increased retirement benefits for railroad employees, and wage increases and improved welfare and pension plans for federal employees,” it stated.
Trump and his Republican minions have not only not heeded that advice, they have campaigned viciouosly against social welfare programs that Eisenhower championed.
Eisenhower was also a strong opponent of American isolationism and saw the threat posed by the Soviet Union.
In contrast, Trump and Republican surrogates like Cruz, and Hawley, GOP presidential candidates like Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis and even Democrat Robert Kennedy Jr. have embraced “America First” isolationism today.
McCarthy eventually overplayed his hand by attacking the U.S. Army. He was discredited and Congress censured him for his unfounded accusations. He died in obscurity in 1957.
Likewise, Trump overplayed his hand by fomenting the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection and alegedly masterminding various attempts around the country to overturn the 2020 election..
His waning popularity showed in the 2022 midterm elections. They were a disaster for Republicans, who had widely predicted a “Red Wave” of election victories that failed to materialize.
His post-indictment bravado has only served to magnify his desperation.
Trump has done nothing to woo mainstream voters. Instead, he’s doubled down on invective in campaign speeches, an amalgam of harsh rhetoric, threats, personal attacks, ethnic slurs and revenge, all wrapped in the “Big Lie,” which has been thoroughly discredited.
Trump still has a lock on his base — a majority in the Republican Party — which makes other GOP politicians beholden to him. But it seems inconceivable, at this point, that independents, suburban moms and voters under 30 will swing to him in 2024.
At 77, he would be older than President Biden when Biden was inaugurated in 2021. Assuming Trump wins the GOP nomination and is eligible to run, his loss in 2024 would mark his fourth in a row, having never won the popular vote in three presidential elections.
It should also send a clear message that his brand of post-truth politics won’t fly with American voters.
If it’s true that every reaction produces an equal but opposite reaction, then there’s still hope for the Republican Party. It just needs more leaders like Eisenhower and fewer like Trump and McCarthy.