Dictators and wannabe dictators, the category I put Trump in, are quite pathetic once the infrastructure that elevates and supports them crumbles. Think of Saddam, unshaven and unkempt, being fished out of the underground hole, his last hiding place. Or Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania's strongman, driving around Romanian countryside in disguise trying to escape the revolution that overthrew his nearly thirty-year rule. Or Pinochet, brought into the Chilean court in a wheelchair, claiming dementia as a defense against prosecution for abhorrent human rights violations. Without the props and symbols bestowed upon them, these once all-powerful figures are quickly reduced to mere mortals, pitiful more than powerful, tragi-comical more than heroic, Groucho's Rufus T. Firefly more than Charleton Heston's Moses. This is exactly the transformation Trump is beginning to undergo right now. Deprived of access to his favorite social media platforms, with key enablers and allies on the run, he is left to rant into a quickly expanding void.
The infrastructure that enabled, normalized, and amplified him is crumbling, revealing how weak this wannabe dictator is when all the props are taken away. But while we need to reveal Trump's and his Administration's corrupt and likely criminal deeds, let's not declare victory. They are just the most visible part of the problem. We can't let many others off the hook. We need to seriously examine the infrastructure that has enabled Trumpism in the first place. This infrastructure is extensive and was not built in a day. It extends well beyond the Republican party and its most egregious offenders — Hawley, Cruz, Mo Brooks, Kevin McCarthy, and over a hundred other members of Congress whose names should go down in infamy in history books. They are the most obvious pillars of it. However, this is not the time for many others to wash their hands of responsibility. Almost every sector of our society has to seriously reflect on what part it has played, and continues to play, in the infrastructure of un-democracy and polarization.
There are some obvious culprits — the tech companies and their funders who, in search of financial returns, have perverted the meaning of unifying concepts such as community, connectedness, openness, and transparency. There are CEOs and corporate leaders who've supported Trump and fed money to the party that was destroying democracy. Reluctant to share their enormous wealth, they are responsible for paying workers unlivable wages, in the process creating the kind of desperation and economic insecurity that was written on the faces and bodies of many people who stormed the Capitol (yes, many did not look well, physically and mentally). Needless to say, media companies too, played a role, despite the work of many brave journalists which should be admired and rewarded. And I am not talking about Fox News, Newsmaxx, or OANN — they are the known villains. But many reputable media organizations far too often picked up on Trump's and his lieutenants' tweets and turned them into news stories, in the process normalizing governance-by-tweeting. Let's not forget economics departments and business schools that have been teaching the gospel of productivity, innovation, efficiency, scale, and profits to generations. Unfortunately, evil can also be done profitably, efficiently, innovatively, and at scale, with devastating impacts on our environment and people's health and wellbeing. It is difficult to admit this, but even our educational institutions, with their focus on preparing people for skills and jobs at the expense of teaching history, civics, liberal arts, have become, if not complicit, at least sidelined in helping foster a functioning democracy. One of my favorite tweets from the last few weeks sums it up best: "What will you do with a liberal arts degree? Oh, I don't know. Not be brainwashed by a death cult & storm the capitol." I couldn't agree more!
So, while we are untangling ourselves from the last four years that brought us to the brink of losing our democracy, we need to honestly ask ourselves — what role have I, my sector, or my organization, played in enabling the last four years? What have we learned? What do we need to do differently to preserve our democracy and unity?
Call it start of the de-Trumpification process we so urgently need.
And no one should be let off the hook.
Marina Gorbis is Institute for the Future's Executive Director