What should social workers make of Trump’s (second) impeachment trial?

February 10, 2021

Given former President Trump’s total disregard for issues of social and economic justice, I have a hard time understanding how any social worker could have ever supported him, let alone support him now, in face of Trump’s evidence-free insistence that the Biden victory was fraudulent and the related January 6 assault on the Capitol by his true believing storm troopers, explicitly intending to “stop the steal” by whatever means necessary. (Some social workers in fact have, and probably still do, support Trump; I know, because a few have emphatically told me so, in no uncertain terms; but that’s a story for another day.)

Attempting to hold Trump accountable for the violent January 6 attack is, of course, the point of the president’s impeachment for “incitement of insurrection” – the trial for which is going on in the U.S. Senate right now. What should social workers make of it all?

Whether or not one sees value in a conviction now that a defeated Trump is out of office, it’s easy enough to dismiss the January 6 melee as the welcomed last gasp of a disastrous, failed presidency. Trump the white supremacist, Trump the xenophobe, Trump the sexual predator, Trump the incompetent manager of the nation’s business (Covid response!), Trump the pseudo-populist authoritarian proto-fascist who wants to win at all cost, Trump the lying, corrupt and ego-maniacal narcissist…. Whatever your favored denigration, Trump is gone, done, politically cooked (and probably for good, despite the prattle about a presidential campaign comeback in 2024). So isn’t it time to get on with the work of confronting the cascade of crises facing the nation and the world? For progressives (which given their frequently proclaimed commitment to social justice, the vast majority of social workers certainly should be), isn’t it time to focus our energies on pressing the Biden administration to make the transformative changes we need to move in the direction of a more just society?

Yes, indeed, no doubt. But complicating the picture is the harshly unpleasant reality that very nearly half the American electorate (about 75 million) voted for Trump, despite his horrendous performance. Trump resonated with enough voters in 2016 to win the electoral college, and he somehow resonated with an even larger number in 2020. Many, many of those Trump supporters are the very people social workers insist they care most about – working class, low-income people, “ordinary” people living in declining communities with decaying physical and social infrastructure, ignored and marginalized by the educated and more affluent political and economic elites, people oppressed on all sides by anonymous forces making up a “rigged” system that they feel screws them over again and again and again. These people were, and are, deeply resentful and mad as hell. They’re looking for a leader that expresses their pain and resentment, and who can show them the way out. They make up a key component of the nation’s deep and constantly decried “polarization.”

The impeachment trial, whatever the outcome, will not alter this reality. But this reality is the one social workers must figure out how to understand and deal with.

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