Donald Trump’s presidency is about to be past tense. What should our post-Trump politics look like? Joe Biden hopes it’s a time of healing. Conciliation is in his blood, and I don’t blame him for trying. But, good luck with that. 

More than seventy million Americans voted for Trump, and I question if there’s more than a sliver that can be persuaded they did so in error. Most of the Republican base is some combination of gullible, bigoted, woefully misinformed, and/or hardcore one-issue voters, starting with abortion. (I almost feel sorry for traditional conservatives; relatively few of their values have been reflected in Trump’s policies.)

Republicans have been building this base since at least the 1960s, when Richard Nixon deployed the Southern Strategy to feed off white resentment targeting the gains of the Civil Rights movement. Newt Gingrich introduced hyper-partisanship to the mix as House speaker during Bill Clinton’s time in the White House, and Congressional Republicans took it from there during Barack Obama’s two terms as president. 

When Trump came along in 2016, he was not an aberration; he was the next logical step for the Republicans, and with the party establishment’s support he upped the ante again, attacking not only Democrats but democratic norms and institutions. In doing so, he garnered more votes than any presidential candidate in history, save Joe Biden. Trump exits the White House with the radical right in a position of strength, with its strong political organization, wealthy donor base, and in-house media outlets, starting, but not ending, with Fox News.

If Biden wants to unify the country, to the extent that’s possible, his administration needs to enact policies that address the legitimate grievances of a wide swath of Americans, left, right, and center. It starts with the pandemic, followed by health care, the opioid crisis, and economic inequality/insecurity.

The incoming president and party leaders in the Senate and House would also be well advised to devote considerable time and attention to rebuilding the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. That means addressing racism, misogyny, and other injustices, along with the aforementioned grievances. It also means continuing the work of grassroots progressive organizations to expand the party’s base by getting more people off the sidelines and registered to vote. That strategy paid huge dividends: witness Georgia.

In short, address real issues and expand the electorate.

Then there’s the issue of whether to turn the Department of Justice loose to investigate Trump’s criminal behavior while in office. There’s already a fierce debate underway. There shouldn’t be. Trump’s crimes are many, often committed in broad daylight. If anything, a president should be held to a higher standard of legal conduct. I say investigate, prosecute, and convict. Trump and his supporters have suggested he might run for a second term in 2024. It’s tough to run for president from a prison cell.

Partisan? I don’t think so. Rather, I think it’s vital that we start to restore the damage that’s been done to our nation the past four years. True, the United States has a history steeped in the slavery of Black people, the marginalization of women, the exploitation of immigrants, and the genocide of Native Americans. 

But, it’s also a history that has increasingly brought our better angels into play. Trump and his minions on the right tried to drag us back into darker times; we need to resume moving toward the light. That’s not partisanship, but rather reflective of the best of American values.

I don’t hold out much hope in the short run for a cessation of hyper-partisanship at the national level. The politicians are aching for a fight, and much of the national media, particularly the talking heads on cable news, are happy to cover it. But there are things we could do on the local level to calm things down a bit.

We can start by applying some non-partisan standards in evaluating the fitness of candidates for elected office. Politics was broken long before Trump came along. It’s a dirty business where lying, stonewalling, and acting at the behest of donors are tools of the trade. Politicians all too often are more focused on self-interest—and the interests of their donors—than public interest. That goes for Democrats and Republicans alike. 

Yes, where candidates stand on issues and which party they affiliate with are important. But voters should also consider whether candidates are open to compromise. Are they genuinely interested in governing? Are they civil? Honest? Accessible? 

Or, conversely, do they run misleading, rhetoric-filled campaigns and take money from disreputable parties? Are they “rule or ruin” types? Me, I’d rather have someone honest and decent representing me who I don’t always agree with than an insincere scoundrel who is always singing my tune. The objective ought to be good government, of which we’re getting precious little at the local, state and, especially, federal levels.

Jim Heaney is editor of Investigative Post, a nonprofit investigative reporting center based in Buffalo.

Jim Heaney is editor of INVESTIGATIVE POST, a nonprofit investigative reporting center based in Buffalo.

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