On the right, this denial took the form of a concerted attempt to just ignore Trump’s Twitter feed, to play “hear no evil” with his toxic rhetoric while steering his administration back toward precisely the stale orthodoxies that his campaign had rejected. For every figure who tried to make something substantive out of Trumpism (Josh Hawley) or repudiate its moral turpitude (Mitt Romney), there were many more Republicans who behaved as though Mike Pence had been elected president, answering Trump’s excesses with a public shrug and an off-the-record lament, and governing as though they had been given a mandate to do just the Republican usual — cut taxes on high earners while pretending to cut spending, with Trumpian populism reduced from its initial economic ambitions to a constant owning of the libs.
In the center, any sustained reckoning with the failings of the neoliberal era was eclipsed by a self-flattering narrative of liberalism desperately imperiled, authoritarianism on the march, that allowed pundits and ex-officials to posture as Resistance leaders and pretend to be pontificating in the shadow of a 1930s-style putsch. The major centrist project of the Trump era wasn’t a sustained reassessment of where its leaders had gone wrong; it was the hysterical overhyping of the Russia investigation, in a paranoid style that made seedy Trumpian malfeasance out to be a vast Kremlin conspiracy, the casus belli of a new Cold War.
Finally, on the left there were some attempts, via the Bernie Sanders movement, to build a left-wing politics responsive to the appeals of right-wing populism. But the gravitational pull of the cultural left was the stronger force, dragging Sanders away from his economics-first message, his skepticism of identity politics, toward a woke socialism that appealed to neither the white working class nor the African-American voters who ultimately made Joe Biden the Democratic nominee.