Post-Mortem on Donald Trump: “He was more limited in power than we imagined.”


February 1, 2021
Contact: Professor Robert Buzzanco, or text at 713.269.1508. Available for interviews, podcasts, etc.

Post-Mortem on Donald Trump: “He was more limited in power than we imagined.”

Donald Trump and his MAGA-Movement are still in the eye of the storm. He’s facing impeachment and struggling to find lawyers, yet the GOP continues to cling to him and support him and new acolytes like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene are filling the hard-right conspiratorial space he lived in the past four years.

Donald Trump instilled cult-like loyalty among his supporters and deep dread and anxiety in political enemies.  It gave them all the image than he possessed great power, controlled the state, and could dominate American life.

But the reality was more complicated, and the conventional wisdom about Trump’s power have him too much credit.

In a new article, “The Limits of Power: Donald J. Trump,” historian and co-host of the Green and Red Podcast Robert Buzzanco has gone into detail to derail the conventional wisdom about Trump.  He points out several important ideas:

  • Trump was never popular—he leaves office with the lowest approval ratings in polling history.
  • Trump never possessed, or seemed to care about, having power over the state—even during the COVID crisis he did nothing when he could have used the crisis to dominate American institutions and take control over basic infrastructure functions.
  • Trump was despised by the military and had the support of the Wall Street only because of early-term tax cuts and deregulation—no president has had open division with the military like Trump, to the point where the JCS publicly sent out memoranda to the troops reminding them that their loyalty was the constitution, not the president. The banking and corporate class, after Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, had little use for him and openly opposed, with great effect, his attempts to steal the election, culminating in very-conservative groups like the National Association of Manufacturers and Wall Street Journal calling for the invocation of the 25th Amendment and demanding Trump’s resignation in the aftermath of the January 6th riots at the Capitol.
  • Trump’s power derived from the legislative work of Mitch McConnell, who pushed through the GOP’s agenda, and from the weakness of the Democratic Party, which relied on performative resistance like ripping up speeches rather than effectively opposing GOP issues.

The legacy of Trump is still strong, and his presidency will be a huge topic of debate going forward.  The Buzzanco thesis has been little offered or discussed, yet is essential to understanding Trump and also the manner in which he achieved GOP goals while being so personally limited.

See “The Limits of Power: Donald J. Trump.”

Professor Robert Buzzanco is co-host of the Green and Red Podcast, a professor of history at the University of Houston, and has been a visiting professor at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. He specializes in, writes about and talks on the Vietnam War era, military-civilian relations, foreign policy, radical social movements, political economy, anti-imperialism, and other topics in U.S. history.


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