At the outset of an important election year four years ago, the looming question of whether Donald Trump would secure another term in the White House prompted me to turn to Constanze Stelzenmüller, a friend and a member of the Brookings Institution. I asked her to conjure up a long, typically German word that would encapsulate the constant, gnawing anxiety inspired by Trump’s tumultuous leadership. The result was a lengthy term with thirty-three letters: Trumpregierungsschlamasselschmerz – which Stelzenmüller cleverly abbreviated to Trumpschmerz, meaning “Trump-worry,” but on a much more intense level. I firmly believed it represented “the continuous pain or ache of the soul” brought on by the exhausting scrutiny of the slow-moving Trump car crash.
Once again, as 2024 approaches, America finds itself entrenched in a relentless bout of Trumpschmerz. Earlier this year, it was conceivable to hope for a diversion from this bleak state. There was a chance that Trump would confront repercussions for his unprecedented attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election or that a formidable Republican contender would emerge. In addition, there was the potential for Biden, who struggled with low popularity ratings in his first year, to step aside in favor of a younger Democratic candidate for the next term. However, none of these hopeful scenarios materialized.
The most extraordinary development in American politics in 2023 was undoubtedly the indictment of Trump in four separate criminal cases, comprised of a total of ninety-one alleged felonies. He became the first former President to face criminal charges and ended the year accused by the federal government of essentially attempting to mount a coup. The impact of these indictments on the impending 2024 race remains uncertain. As of now the indictment proved to be a political boon for him and contributed to his lead in the G.O.P. race.
A year ago, Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, appeared to be a viable contender to challenge Trump. However, his lackluster performance suggests that Trump remains unmatched. As Trump’s lead grows in the G.O.P. race, Haley’s prospects as the non-Trump candidate gain some traction.
The narrative of 2023 was not about the G.O.P.’s search for another Trump, rather, the lingering preference for the one they already have became apparent. Trump’s message remained consistent, centered on a theme of “retribution”. A large majority of Republicans favored him over other candidates.
If Trumpschmerz prevails in 2024, it will also reflect the missteps of his opponents this year and the failings of the political landscape. Trump’s resurgence and the uncertainties surrounding Biden’s chances underscore the possible challenges that lie ahead. Overall, the tenuous state of American democracy has led me to approach the New Year with a sense of full-scale dread. With these circumstances in mind, I suspect the coming twelve months will be arduous.