U.S. President Donald Trump has dramatically changed the political landscape.
With less than 24 hours to go, he is trailing former vice-president Joe Biden in the national polls by 10 percentage points, according to the latest polling by Ipsos. Regardless of the outcome though, will Trump leave a legacy?
Darrell Bricker, Ipsos public affairs CEO, thinks so.
“There is no comparison point to any political year in the past. Nobody has had the kind of effect on politics that Donald Trump has had in the United States in this most recent four or five years,” he told Global News.
There are few — if any — modern U.S. presidents who have managed to garner as much media attention as Trump, Bricker said, adding Trump’s “superpower” is his ability to draw attention to himself — something future candidates may try to replicate.
“Everything that’s happening in the U.S. election campaign is basically a reaction to Donald Trump,” he said.
“Whether you like Donald Trump or you dislike Donald Trump, it’s Donald Trump that is driving your vote this time around. Not the other candidates, not the other campaign, nothing else.”
Reaction to Trump’s election has already spawned global movements, such as the Women’s March, and helped fuel QAnon, a conspiracy theorist group convinced the Republican president is waging a war against satanist pedophiles, including Democratic politicians and Hollywood celebrities.
Renan Levine, an associate political science professor with the University of Toronto, said Trump has also inspired remarkably different groups of people to run, marked by an increase in women’s leadership.
During the 2018 U.S. midterm election cycle, the Democrats saw an unprecedented number of women candidates on the campaign trail, with some of them, like Virginia state senator Jennifer Wexton and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, running and winning against incumbents.
Out of 435 House seats, a record-setting 84 of them were held by women, while 237 women ran for the House as major-party candidates, Associated Press data showed.
“First-past-the-post systems like the U.S. and Canada tend to discourage women. They don’t have a good track record of getting women to run compared to systems that work with more of a proportional representation type of system,” Levine said.
“But especially on the Democrat side, we are seeing more women motivated to run for office. Many of them are mentioning Trump as a motivation, and many of them are winning more than they had in the past.”
On the inverse of that, Levine noted there were also more conspiracy theorists, and fringe and extremist candidates running this year.
“That’s not necessarily a direct result of Trump, although obviously when someone with Trump’s views is president of the United States, it gives cover to a whole range of different views that would not normally inspire people to say, ‘Hey, I can run for office,'” he said.
Bricker noted Trump may not have invented populism, but he did take advantage of a growing gap between the left and right that has been widening over the past two decades.
“The left is becoming more clearly defined as the left and the right is becoming more clearly defined as the right,” he said.
“It’s no longer really about convincing people to vote for you one way or the other based on the quality of your ideas and really having a dialogue. What it’s about is mobilizing people to make sure that they show up — it’s really about energizing your base,” Bricker said.
Trump has done a “masterful job of that,” he said, adding that the strategy of appealing to a voting base has worked in the case of the U.K.’s Boris Johnson and Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
“Will he be able to do it again this time? Who knows? But that strategy, that way of approaching the mobilizing of your voting base, I think is a lesson that a lot of people are learning from,” Bricker said.
But even if Trump loses on Nov. 3, Robert Danisch, an associate professor and chair of the University of Waterloo’s communication arts department, said “it doesn’t erase the new norms of communicative interactions that he’s helped put in place.”
“When he’s gone, the thing he represents doesn’t go away with him. The feelings of resentment are still there. The techniques that he’s used to get elected can still be tapped into. To rehabilitate democracy, it’s going to take leadership of a very different kind that can model very different sets of behaviours and practices,” he said.
It’s an election about “owning the liberals,” Danisch said, in which Trump has led the charge among Republicans and Republican voters for obsessively demonizing the left, “mocking them or suggesting they’re subhuman and threatening violence against them.”
In the past, Trump has openly made fun of a reporter with a disability, called a woman accusing him of sexual misconduct too ugly for him to assault, has defended white supremacists, and endorsed xenophobia. He has also described Mexicans as rapists — without apology.
More recently, Trump has come under fire for allegedly “recklessly encouraging” violence to help his campaign following a shooting during a protest in Portland, Ore., and for instructing the Proud Boys, a known white nationalist group, to “stand back and stand by” during the first presidential debate.
One of the main campaign phrases heard in 2016 was the infamous “lock her up,” in which he promised to imprison his challenger, former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton. He later walked back that promise. He has since also called for the imprisonment of other adversaries, including former FBI director James Comey.
“Democracies require us to compromise and coordinate and collaborate with people at different positions than us. A threat of force is a suggestion that you’re willing to use violence to end that conversation.”
This is a dangerous method, he said, often used by dictators to denigrate the democratic process.
“The major departure is that Trump is both explicitly and practically hostile to the very idea of democracy,” said Danisch, adding that the U.S. president “basically hates democracy.”
When someone feels they identify with a candidate, they feel closer to them and are therefore more likely to vote for them or support them, he explained.
“That kind of identification requires or is made easier by division,” Danisch said. “Trump knows that.”
Danisch said such demonization can only further the divide — and could take years to undo.
“Democracy is not just a system of government, it’s also a way of life. It’s a way of diverse, different people trying to figure out how to live together. Trump has damaged that social component of democracy,” he said.
“People are going to learn how to live well together, even though they differ from one another and the Republican Party is going to have to learn how to compromise and to co-exist with a party they had spent at least the last four years demonizing and threatening.”