Rarely in American political history has it happened that a declared candidate has had so much control of his party and even more rarely, that his dominance goes beyond the election cycle and becomes a cult of personality, as it has now.
With an absent Donald Trump at center stage, present at an interview broadcast at the same time on another media channel, the other eight aspirants to the Republican presidential candidacy took part in a debate that seemed delusional even before it began.
For months now, Trump has had more than 50% approval among Republicans, while his competitors seek to present themselves, not as alternatives, but as supporters and even amplifiers of his populist, socially conservative, trade-protectionist and politically and economically isolationist proposals.
Rarely in U.S. political history has it happened that a declared candidate has had so much control of his party and even more rarely, that his dominance goes beyond the election cycle and becomes a cult of personality, as it has now.
Ronald Reagan, president of the United States from 1980 to 1988, was so popular that there were those who promoted naming at least one landmark — street, hill, park, dam or building — after him in each of the 3,143 counties (municipalities) of the country.
I am, frankly, unaware of whether they achieved their intention, but Reagan’s leadership, conservative as it was, had traits of optimism and, above all, confidence in the future.
All in all, some historians point out that it was Reagan, in his quest to strengthen his party, who rekindled the fires of racism and division now harnessed by Trump.
Trump’s leadership seems more based on the phobias and resentments of a sector of the American population, especially those who feel “victimized” by the government and its policies, imposed by the “elites.”
The former president has become a banner for the Republicans, and the judicial proceedings against him have so far served to confirm his credentials as the leader of a movement to make America “great again.”
The problem is that the greatness he speaks of never existed in reality, beyond the movies and TV shows that presented idealized and exaggerated images of its society and its strength. In this society, Blacks, Latinos, Asians and migrants did not appear, and if they did, it was as servants or villains.
But that nostalgia is what Trump sells, or tries to sell, to Americans, and it gives him his current dominance among Republicans who, in recent years, have incorporated into their ranks far-right militants represented by racist, nationalist and ultra-conservative Christian groups that favor Trump’s authoritarian style.
Overall, Republicans represent an estimated one-third of U.S. voters, giving the former president a strong electoral base.
Worse, some among them have expressed a willingness to commit violent acts in defense of Trump and what he stands for, despite the fact that the prosecutions against him are real and the charges against Trump and his allies involve real crimes.