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President Donald Trump during the Army-Navy football game at Michie Stadium at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., on Dec. 12, 2020.SAMUEL CORUM/The New York Times News Service

The past six weeks have provided many of us the enjoyable experience of watching Donald Trump losing – badly – in a drawn-out series of public humiliations and serial self-abasements.

This spectacle has grown tiresome to some, especially to Americans who face the constant horror of more than 3,000 daily deaths resulting from their President’s incompetent pandemic response. They’d like someone to shut him up, or cancel his social-media feeds, or at least teleport us to Jan. 21, when he will once again become part of the U.S. background noise.

But we should resist the temptation to change the channel. It is vitally important that the entire world witnesses his loss and humiliation, his embarrassing tantrums, and his flailing displays of impotence and weakness.

To see Donald Trump as a pathetic loser is the most effective imaginable challenge to the phenomenon that’s become known as “global Trumpism.” It has nothing to do with political beliefs or actual leadership styles; strongman leaders drawing on distrust and intolerance have been a 21st-century phenomenon for a decade, most of them inspired and supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But electoral support for such leaders, in those countries that still have functioning democratic systems, has been given a serious boost by Mr. Trump’s ascent. A vote for whatever party in your country that believes in a byzantine global conspiracy of immigrants, media, elites and religious minorities was previously a fringe protest move, a withdrawal from the mainstream. After 2016, it felt as though you were joining the winners.

The most powerful job in the world had been won by one such guy, and you could see him every day, raining rhetorical blows upon all those liberals and foreigners and TV hosts. It was both enviably American and a form of anti-Americanism, and for many people, it affirmed their prejudices and justified a vote.

In response, a number of world leaders built their candidacies in Mr. Trump’s image. Some, such as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, modelled themselves directly upon the reality-TV star, even going so far as to dismiss the COVID-19 pandemic as “fake news,” with deadly consequences.

Figures such as Mr. Bolsonaro may still retain power for years, but their extremism will no longer receive mainstream sanction from powerful countries. The Bolsonaros of the world are left alone.

“If he loses his main partner, his role model – because that’s what Donald Trump is – then he will be all alone,” Brazilian political scientist Dawisson Belem Lopes told The Washington Post. “Brazil has become an environmental villain. ... It will be a nightmare for Bolsonaro.”

The appeal of Mr. Trump, and of his imitators in other countries, is not generally ideological. When I spoke to Trump voters in Florida and Ohio in his first successful election, they did not tend to parrot his elaborate conspiracy theories; rather, they talked about Mr. Trump as a successful businessman and as an effective leader. None of that was true, but as long as he was winning, it felt right.

That’s equally true abroad. When two political scientists this year surveyed voters in Albania – a Muslim-majority country with a surprisingly large bloc of voters, around 30 per cent, who like Mr. Trump and want a local imitator – they found that what united those voters were these measured characteristics: “tolerance for strongman rule, homophobia, sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Euroskepticism, low levels of education, and perceptions that Trump has positive personal leadership qualities.” Other countries produced different results, but “tolerance for strongman rule” and “positive personal leadership qualities” remain big attractions.

More important than Mr. Trump’s highly visible failure is the way it was delivered to him – not through impeachment or criminal charges, which would have looked to much of the world like political revenge and confirmation of his conspiracy theories. Rather, it was delivered through a functioning democratic system, in which his daily humiliations have been meted out not by a nebulous “deep state” but by senior figures in his own political party, by judges he had appointed, by trusted aides trying to break it gently to him, by voters who had abandoned him.

For the past four years, state-controlled media in China, Hungary and other countries with authoritarian rulers have feasted on the daily spectacle of Trumpism. It sent a dual message: “They are no better than us,” and “There is no longer any point to the old struggle for democracy, for it leads to the same place.”

The lasting lesson of Trumpism, for voters around the world, is no longer that it succeeded. It is that it ended in total failure, having accomplished none of what it promised, having left its supporters far worse off and having revealed the man himself to be a big-time loser.

President Donald Trump has given many pardons during his term, and has floated the idea of giving himself a preemptive one for possible, unknown crimes. Doug Saunders digs into the history of pardons, and the guilt they place onto recipients.

The Globe and Mail

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