*This article was originally appeared on RNZ and is republished with permission.
Donald Trump will forever be remembered as the president who was impeached twice – and for his rhetoric that struck a chord so deep in America that it will take years to dissipate.
Donald Trump leaves Washington with the lowest approval rating of any president in polling history, and with the shame of having provoked the startling Capitol riots of two weeks ago.
And as the legendary American journalist Dan Rather bluntly put it yesterday, “As bad as the Trump Administration looks today, I firmly believe history will judge it much more harshly.”
Most importantly, Trump will be remembered as the only president to have been impeached twice – that fact will forever sit atop his Wikipedia page, his biographies, and the history books.
His post-election lies about crooked officials and rigged machines will also be condemned.
His failure to denounce the alt-right will be magnified.
He promoted misinformation, and bent the truth like no leader in recent memory.
His response to the pandemic was to shift responsibility, and then ignore the worst health crisis in decades, as record numbers died with the coronavirus.
He declined to speak for the less privileged – and to promote equality for minorities, and for LGBT communities.
He constantly applauded the authoritarians of the world – like Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un and Jair Bolsonaro – and took their side over America’s traditional allies.
And all of this will be seen through the lens of his final days, and the violence he stirred at the Capitol.
Yet his legacy – and the devotion of his supporters – will take years to dissipate.
From New Zealand, it is difficult to grasp the man’s popularity.
But as abhorrent as his race-baiting, his immigration policies and his cultish bombast appear, his rhetoric struck a chord in America.
There are those who love the freewheeling Donald Trump, who says whatever is on his mind.
They love how much he enrages Democrats, and the news media.
People love his America First mentality, his tough on crime stance, and his sickly flag-waving praise for the country’s armed forces.
And there are aspects of his presidency that can be praised – his foreign policy work, for instance.
As he regularly reminds us, his administration never entered a new armed conflict with another nation.
He took credit for several peace deals in the Middle East that were brokered by his son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Despite his provocation, the threat of North Korea, and the power of the Islamic State lessened during his presidency.
He shifted the balance of the American judiciary, and the Supreme Court for decades to come.
And most significantly, before the pandemic he oversaw a major economic boom – even if middle and higher income families only saw the benefit.
In his final video as president, he yesterday claimed “the best is yet to come,” and that “the movement we started is only just beginning”.
That populist movement is one rooted in discord, and a deep hatred for anyone who fails to fall in line.
He has convinced millions that all Democrats are radical socialists, and anti-freedom.
Joe Biden’s primary responsibility will be to restore some semblance of unity in America – but Trump’s lines of division may be too entrenched.
He has convinced millions to never trust news media again, and to instead only seek journalism that echoes their own opinion.
Many will tune in to Trump TV – should the president go down that path – or vote for him in 2024.
He will continue to blur politics and celebrity, and appeal directly to his supporters, whether that’s via his restored social media accounts.
There will be more rallies.
And as Yale professor Timothy Snyder said last week – referring to continued claims of a rigged election – “The lie outlasts the liar.”
While some in the Republican Party continue to try to capitalise on their leader’s popularity, more will want to distance themselves from him, and his unpredictability.
And if he does create his own political party, that will only peel support from the GOP.
Under Trump, the GOP lost the presidency, the House, and the Senate, and is in crisis – the extremists and conspiracy theorists are speaking loudest, and the moderates of the party are being shouted down.
Donald Trump earned more than 70 million votes, yet during his reign the number of those who define themselves as “Republican” dropped.
Many are the forgotten Americans in rust-belt middle and southern towns and cities who feel forgotten and alienated by Washington.
They overlook the fact that Trump policies did far more for corporations and the rich.
There will be an election to win in 2024, and if it’s not via a Trump ticket, the Republican Party will ask itself how to win the votes of Trump loyalists.
Right now, simply telling the truth isn’t the way.