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Donald Trump may have gone but MAGA lives on

Pro-Trump supporters storming the Capitol Building in Washington D.C - Credit: CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

We are not in a post-Trump era, just because the man himself has left the White House, says BONNIE GREER.

When a family member announced that – finally – they were getting married, all of us were really happy. When we found out that they were marrying a Trump supporter, again, everyone was still really happy. This was a long-awaited late marriage for a dearly loved one. And being a Trump supporter, someone you might disagree with, is just a political position. A stance.

I spent time with this individual, and really got to know them, in Glasgow in the summer of 2018  when I went to accept an honorary degree and decided to take my family member and soon-to-be family member with me because they had never been to Scotland before.

It was a delightful trip because it is always interesting guiding Americans on a first visit to the UK. What you have to do first is talk them down from their idea of Britain so that they can see the real thing, and Glasgow is a good way to do that.

The city had contributed funds to my hometown of Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871, and a lot of the older bits of the American city can remind you of Glasgow. This couple are also from the Windy City, so it was fun for us to match up Glasgow to it.

Ahead of the trip, I was asked not to say anything about Trump in the presence of the soon-to-be family member. I thought that was fair enough and respected this request.

I have to admit that there was a part of me, part of my mind, that observed the potential new relative like some kind of moon rock; or other alien specimen. I wanted to understand why anyone could support No.45, could admire him, could vote for him.

I was deeply curious and the writer in me was annoyed that my good manners and desire to keep the peace prevented me from asking the questions that I wanted to ask.

Their subsequent wedding was small, lovely and personal, the way late marriages often are, and I was grateful to the new family member. This marriage settled us all, gave us all comfort. Then the weirdness started.

My family can be fairly political. Our father was, so it comes natural to the rest of us. At family suppers, my relatives continued to debate about Trump, but when the newlyweds came over the silence could be unnatural and even hostile.

Trump had filed for re-election pretty much the day after his inauguration in 2017, so if you were a Trump supporter you were on campaign, too. This new relative may not have worn MAGA gear, but their MAGA attitudes were certainly on display, and were pretty unbearable at times.

A breaking point came when  this individual decided to go on holiday with family and friends in the middle of the pandemic. All of them are virus-deniers; this group were tired of lockdown and just wanted to take the camper for a week together in the woods.

My family member has several of what are called ‘co-morbidities’ and to be around a person who might have been exposed to the virus could have been fatal.

While the camping holiday was going on, the family had a conference as to what to do when the trip was over. The question of divorce was brought up – things were that bad.

Finally, the new family member returned and agreed to a Covid test – thankfully negative – and two weeks’ quarantine in a hotel. So far everything seems to be fine. But I have not ventured to find out this person’s views on the sacking of the Capitol on January 6 or anything subsequent to that. I just can’t take it.

I thought of this individual a few weeks ago, when I was on a discussion panel and a fellow panellist began his presentation with: “In this post-Trump era…”

I lost my temper. Not because of what the person said, but – like too many of us who support Remain, for example – I didn’t feel that he was ‘out there’, experiencing the society he was talking about. I thought this panellist had little idea of what a MAGA supporter was, of where they came from. And those people have not suddenly gone away, or changed their views. The panellist was wrong to assume the era of Trump had come to an end, simply because the man himself had left the White House.

I have just found out that a guy I knew in my twenties back in Chicago, somebody I hung out with, was one of Trump’s ambassadors. I tried to imagine the guy I used to listen to Fleetwood Mac with on lazy summer afternoons on the shore of Lake Michigan in the 1970s doing stuff we shouldn’t have, now being Trump’s Man.

I saw, in the January 6 riot, guys who turned out to be military veterans, men who had sworn allegiance to the constitution, old guys, running through the Capitol building screaming for Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi. In response to those scenes, pundits all over the world asked “What has happened to the US?” My answer: “Nothing.”

This is the way it has always been if you are African American, Indigenous American, Latino, Jewish, Catholic, anything except white and Protestant. The United States is a settler country, populated largely by Protestants who wanted to get away from the mother country to do their own thing.

The second amendment – the right to bear arms – had its foundation in the rebellion against King James and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. England whittled the gun thing down. America kept the whole nine yards. The right of the president to pardon, almost without limit, is a power of the Crown. Britain took it away from the monarch. America kept it.

What Trump did and is still doing is gathering up all of the folks who are still fighting King James but didn’t know they were, all of those who are ideologically descended from the white supremacists who broke the Union up and started the Civil War, but didn’t know they were; Trump gathered all of them up. And more.

And they, too, are America. These people and many other types created Trump before he even came along, and like the guy he is (30 years ago he filled in for the late Larry King on CNN, interviewing celebrities) he saw his fans, his cult.

Most of us are fans of someone or something and most of the time it makes no real sense. MAGA is like that and this is why we are not “post-Trump”.

My Trumpian relative feels that the world is moving too fast, that too many values are being lost and that they are losing their country. And you do not erase a feeling like that overnight.

Trump is the captain of the Ship of Fools, the 15th century painting by Hieronymus Bosch. It is a caricature of excess, a warning against its pitfalls. The MAGA excess is based on a utopia, of transcendence of the here and now to an eternal place in which there are no troubles. No cares. No them.  Utopia means ‘nowhere’. But America was and is meant to be utopia, a somewhere that is nowhere. Because the United States is invented bespoke by every American: every single moment, with the goal “to form a more perfect union”. Like the African American congressman Jim Clyburn, one of the most powerful people in Congress, has said: “The United States is an experiment.”

In 1865, a white supremacist saw it as his personal mission to ‘make America great again’. He shot Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head while the president was watching a comedy. Then the assassin leapt on to the stage to proclaim his deed, breaking his leg in the gesture. That is so American. So true.

And so is the elegy When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, written by Walt Whitman soon after the assassination. His poet’s eye and brain and mind and heart and soul, so American, as he gazes over “The large unconscious scenery of my land”.

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