Opinion: The terrible damage Trump has done
Despite his own crazed efforts, President Donald Trump is leaving the White House. His departure comes in the wake of groundless lawsuits, delusional conspiracy theories and a deadly pro-Trump riot that sought to prevent the certification of Trump’s Electoral College loss. The damage he has done to America’s body politic over the past two months, with his ranting and his lies, has been great.
It’d be nice to think that Kansas, being far away from Washington, D.C., had been spared this damage. Unfortunately, the negatives of Trumpism may stay with Kansas for years.
Consider Trump’s incompetence early on in communicating the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic and his subsequent refusal (or his ignorant inability) to use the example-setting power of his office to encourage consistent health protocols. Far from firmly rejecting the national politicization of responses to the pandemic or providing a standard around which a suffering country could rally, his disengagement tacitly encouraged his partisans to connect their paranoia to his political cause.
In Kansas the consequences of this connection were tragic. By May, the narrative, in the minds of too many, was clear: To wear a mask was to be a Democrat and a lover of tyranny; to refuse to wear a mask was to be a Republican who loved freedom, America and Trump. Thus did hundreds of doctors, nurses, and others who were risking their lives treating the sick and dying often find themselves, here in our strongly Republican state, harassed, attacked and dismissed as political enemies.
According to Vicki Collie-Akers of the University of Kansas, Kansas lost over a quarter of its public health workers last year. They changed jobs, took early retirement, relocated out of state, or found their jobs cut by a state government whose Republican majority failed to fully support coordinated efforts to promote necessary health restrictions. Many of those workers were in Kansas’ small towns, whose hospitals, denied the funds which Medicaid expansion could provide, are more vulnerable than ever.
These are broad harms partly attributable to Trumpism; here’s a more singular one.
Kansas is not a politically powerful state; on the national level, our representatives have to work hard building up networks and connections to protect the needs and promote the interests of Kansans. For all the flaws of Sen. Pat Roberts, he embraced and operated effectively within the rules of the U.S. Senate, and thus he was able to find the votes to support Kansas in many ways.
His replacement, Sen. Roger Marshall, may someday do the same. But under the fanatic spell of Trumpism, Marshall chose to begin his Senate career by angering his own party leadership, antagonizing his fellow senators and joining a pointless challenge to President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory anyway, just hours after the death and damage visited upon the U.S. Capitol. The praise Marshall may enjoy in Trumpland will not soon translate into the kind of institutional influence he could have started building on behalf of Kansas voters instead.
Kansas suffered for six long years under the spell of former Gov. Sam Brownback as he led the state’s Republican majority away from the moderate conservatism that had served the state well for decades. We can only hope that, eventually, most Kansas Republicans will escape the damaging legacy of Trumpism as well — but tragically, it may be a while yet.
— Russell Arben Fox runs the history and politics major and the honors program at Friends University in Wichita.