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What's your takeaway?

That question has increasingly become a part of our common dialogue, especially in relation to politics and public affairs.

Dictionary definitions of this term refer to "a key fact, point, or idea to be remembered."

So, what is our takeaway from these many months of verbal jousting and political demagoguery, conspiracy theories, irresponsibility and misinformation?

In other words, what is the impact and longer-term significance of this undemocratic and cowardly carnival?

If nothing else, the takeaway question provides us with a framework or matrix for an answer.

In addition to the political connotations, "takeaway" has taken on increasingly widespread use in the food category. That's due to restrictions and limitations in on-site food consumption in this pandemic period. Takeaway or carry-out meals and snacks are a result of what has become a takeaway society.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge sided with a large group of Republicans – more than 100 members of Congress and 17 other attorneys general -- seeking to invalidate the presidential election results and millions of votes. All of these political gyrations occurred at a time when the deadly devastation of the coronavirus was setting daily records. Although there has been an extremely important and remarkable breakthrough on vaccines, enormous problems remain.

And what is the takeaway in political terms? In many respects, it comes down to Donald Trump's aspirations and future course of action. Will he or won't he run for president again? Or will he fade from the spotlight? Will he play the role of a Machiavelli or of a McCarthy, relying on his here-to-fore unrivaled power base, particularly within his own Republican Party?

Will the mealy-mouthed segment of the media allow Trump to repeatedly evade the truth? Some insist and falsely proclaim that Trump won the election, chanting his latest mantra or slogan: "We Won!" – even though the Electoral College certified the Biden election earlier this week. And Trump continues to encourage "denial" protests.

The Supreme Court has provided its own version of a takeaway and Trump wasn't very pleased when the court unanimously repudiated him in one sentence. Trump and his allies have lost dozens of challenges to the election's outcome.

The takeaway also delivers some critical messages to Democrats. Regardless of the Democratic capture of the White House, Republicans made a strong showing in Senate races.

Trump can complain that he wasn't really a loser in the presidential race, and, in his world, he is never a loser and wasn't a loser in the recent election because, in his view, the voting involved massive fraud. And, of course, he was unwilling to acknowledge that Joe Biden was the winner.

Whatever role Trump may play in future electoral politics (and it is hard to see the parade marching by without him as the drum major), it is unlikely he would readily yield his dominance in the GOP. For many, that raises another takeaway question: Is there anyone who might be a future challenger to Trump? The takeaway answer is that Trump's actions and his rallying points will almost certainly have major influence in determining who might emerge as a Republican standard-bearer. In the forefront of Republican hopefuls is Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a staunch conservative closely aligned with Trump.

There are, of course, a number of potential challengers, but they are very careful to position themselves close to and supportive of Trump, but maybe not too close if it appears Trump won't become a formal candidate.

This might bring the "Great Mentioner" into play. That refers to the media role in tabbing certain potential candidates as rising stars and giving those candidates a boost in the process. Names pop up such as Sen. Ted Cruz (earlier called "Lyin' Ted" by Trump, but who now wants him to be one of his attorneys) or Sen. Marco Rubio (who called Trump a pathological liar) or Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and Trump's ambassador to the United Nations, or Mike Pence, the loyal vice president, who failed to play a significant role in informing Americans about the dangers of the virus. Pence had insisted that there was not going to be a "second wave" and that this threat was "overblown" by the media.

Trump's moves, whatever they may be, including the improbable development that he won't seek the presidency again, will almost certainly have major influence on what fate awaits other GOP aspirants. Would he be content to be the puppeteer, pulling the strings of others while reaping dubious financial rewards? And there are always television talk shows – a network, perhaps.

While some elements of the media are captive, we need to be able to rely on responsible news outlets to counter the Trump propaganda.

The legislative branch, under Republican control, is timidly playing the political angles and has mostly avoided confronting the vital issues facing the nation, including the desperately needed relief package. Having worked as a staff member in the U.S. Senate for more than a dozen years, much of that involving work with the legislative leadership, I have witnessed Congress when it has been determined to act – not allowing itself to be stifled by petty politics in a complex and contentious situation.

The current tragic toll mounts by the minute. More Americans have already died from covid-19 than in four years of World War II combat.

The lack of leadership in certain corners of Washington has been painfully obvious.

The divisions within our society are deep and sometimes angry, and progress in dealing seriously with them is essential.

Hoyt Purvis is an emeritus professor of journalism and international relations at the University of Arkansas. Email him at [email protected]

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