FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - January 19, 2021 - 12:00am

As the clock ticks inexorably towards the inauguration of the Biden presidency, the US Capitol resembles a heavily fortified combat post. As many as 25,000 National Guard troops are expected to surround the area where Joe Biden will take his oath as US President.

Supplementing the National Guardsmen are police forces from the District of Columbia and surrounding cities. This will be a presidential inauguration like no other.

The reason for the heavy security perimeter thrown up around the US Capitol is the intense online chatter among right-wing groups monitored by the law enforcement agencies indicating plans to storm the Capitol anew. Included in the chatter are armed militias determined to overrun the seat of power.

Recall that the same network of fanatical white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups led the Jan. 6 mob at the instigation of the defeated Donald Trump. That insurrectionary mob managed to break into the Capitol, forcing the evacuation of legislators. Six people died in that tumultuous event.

Fortunately, like all things Trump, the insurrectionists did not have a plan about what to do after occupying the Capitol. After a massive demonstration of sheer barbarity (and stupidity), they simply withdrew after the damage was done. The US House of Representatives quickly passed an unprecedented second impeachment against the outgoing Trump who had stopped doing his job weeks ago.

Trump was a nightmare for the American people. It is not improbable that the rednecks behind the riot will attempt a second, utterly futile, attempt to prevent Trump’s exit from power. But they will be up against the full power of the American state.

Meanwhile, Trump has been busy marshaling what remains of his presidential power to organize military honors to mark his departure from the White House. That is so Trump. Recall that when he rented out the New York Plaza Hotel (which he then owned) to the moviemakers of “Home Alone,” he insisted he be given a cameo role in the film.

The breaking news as this is being written is that Trump is issuing over a hundred pardons for his supporters and for many who paid large sums to lobbyists to be included in the pardons list. It is not clear yet if he will issue a self-pardon – a possibility that should truly scandalize the justice establishment.

What is sure is that Trump will leave office in total disgrace. He owns two of the four impeachments ever issued in the life of the American republic. He now has the lowest job approval ratings of all US presidents. The banks that served him for years now refuse to do business with him. A major golf tournament scheduled in one of his courses has been cancelled. There is increasing possibility the US Senate could convict him for instigating that insurrection at the Capitol. Even the right-wing evangelical groups who supported extremely conservative Republican politicians are now engaged in profound reexamination of their political positions.

Surely, Trump’s four years at the helm turned out to be worse than expected. The biggest indictment of his optics-obsessed presidency will be the death toll from a pandemic he allowed to run rampant.

But even if Trump slithers into his Florida hideaway and remains banned from social media to protect the public from his lying, the fundamental political dynamics will continue to run its destructive course for years, maybe generations, to come.

At the core of that political dynamics that Trump exploited and magnified to the most egregious is the insecurity of the undereducated White populations fearful of losing their privileges in a more diverse society. It is these insecure White populations that drift towards the heavily armed “patriotic” militias the FBI now identifies as the biggest domestic security threat facing American society. There will never be a lack of cynical politicians like Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley who will try to grab the right-wing constituencies to serve their personal ambitions.

In all his four years at the Oval Office, Trump pandered to this right-wing base by peddling climate change denial, passing off the pandemic as a “hoax” and getting as many judges and justices appointed to courts to please culture warriors who want to roll back abortion and gay marriage.

This was in the end a stupid and futile strategy. It limited Trump’s ability to attract more diverse supporters. It pushed him in the direction of the right-wing fringes that was fueled by bizarre fact-free conspiracy theories. Already delusional, he was drawn further into an alternate universe distinct from the throbbing mainstream of modern America.

Even worse, Trump’s incompetent and irresponsible presidency encouraged the proliferation of violent and ignorant radical fringe groups. These were the people who stormed the US Capitol in a pointless anarchic orgy.

The new American president Joe Biden has much to do to reverse the damage of the Trump years. On his first day, he will sign a score of executive orders to start setting things aright. He has a few thousand executive appointments to make.

On top of it all, he must put together a coherent and effective strategy to fight the pandemic. The US under Trump stands out for the utter failure in meeting the pandemic head on. There are tens of thousands of lives to be saved.

The greatest challenge for Biden, however, is to repair the malaise that now afflicts American democracy. This will be more difficult than fighting the virus. It will ultimately require bringing all Americans to a common table of reasonable discourse.

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