November 14, 2020 - 9:00am

One of the most powerful forces in modern politics is LARPing — the political version of dressing up and re-enacting history.

This is not a new development, by any means; in the late 18th century French schoolboys learned up to four hours a day of Roman history, and much of the subsequent revolution, republic and empire was hugely influenced by this obsession with Rome. Later, and more darkly, the Nazi conquest of eastern Europe was a medieval fantasy for some, a potent mixture of the Teutonic Knights and Joachim of Fiore’s Third Age, while more recently ISIS were certainly LARPing at playing warriors from Late Antiquity.

President Trump, who finally might be going — at least he’s kept his dignity right til the end! — was the ultimate LARPers’s foil. Since the start of his presidency the narrative among large sections of the US media has been that the United States is entering its fascist moment, a prophecy first made after the war by west coast psychologists who saw the country turning into the Third Reich (as America famously did in the 1960s with flower power and the Civil Rights movement).

Trump’s opponents referred to themselves as “the Resistance”. HBO gave us a series about America being run by a populist Nazi sympathiser and various journalists made dreadfully weak historical analogies about “Drumpf” being Hitler.

Trump wasn’t Hitler; he was a corrupt, populist demagogue, prone to nepotism and compulsive lying, with a great knack for cruel humour, more closely resembling something from Latin America or central Asia. He may be a nationalist, but that’s not the same as being a racial purist.

Trump was painted as Hitler because this provided a psychological need for many of America’s commentariat, who are personally bored and anxious. The rest of the country clearly didn’t see him that way, and Trump did pretty well among Hispanic and black voters, who had a more realistic view of his racial attitudes than the country’s professional commentators.

Now that Trump is gone, the hope is that America’s great awokening will slow down or reverse. There is some logic to this argument; when centre-Right or even centre-Left parties address immigration concerns it does tend to weaken the populist Right — except that the “woke” movement doesn’t really have any concrete demands, expect for utopian notions about “ending systematic racism” or wildly unworkable policies like defunding the police.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that, tiresome as Trump was, he was a symptom, not a cause, of runaway liberalism among the American upper-class, a process that began around the start of Obama’s second term. Will a Democrat in the White House slow down this radicalisation? It seems unlikely that people who have spent four years saying their opponent is Hitler are even psychologically capable of accepting otherwise; certainly there seems no sign of any change of heart among those who made the claim.

More likely, as both Elizabeth Warren and Michelle Obama have hinted at, there will be some sort of de-Trumpification process to shame and demonise anyone who was sympathetic to the old regime. Four more years of the “Resistance” against Trump, except now masquerading as the victorious allies at Nuremberg presiding over the guilty. Trump may have gone, but Trump Derangement Syndrome is probably here to stay. 

Ed West’s book Tory Boy is published by Constable