The saddest consequence of Donald Trump

Jun 10, 2024
DONALD TRUMP mugshot from Futon County Sheriff's Office, 25 August 2023. Image: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

The saddest consequence of Donald Trump’s conviction is that it changes little. It may seem inconceivable that a convicted felon can run for President of the United States with a good chance of winning, but he would not be the first person to be elected after spending time in prison.

Trump will appeal his conviction and the process may well draw out long beyond November, as seems likely for the other cases where he faces prosecution. But even if he is sentenced he will use the conviction to present himself as a martyr, probably comparing himself to Nelson Mandela. Cynics might note that a better comparison would be with Mussolini, who had several spells in prison before becoming prime minister. Indeed the conviction seems to be strengthening support for Trump, who can present himself as victim of a vengeful Democratic establishment.

As Trump tours the country appealing to the worst sort of macho imagery he seems to magically obliterate the reality that he is only three years younger than Joe Biden and hardly the picture of a healthy septuagenarian. As someone of their generation I am concerned that neither have the mental or physical stamina for the job, but the constant refrain about Biden’s dowdiness and failing mental agility is somewhat misleading.

Biden walks and talks like an old man, but there is little evidence that he is not on top of the issues. Given the polarisation of American politics and the craziness of the Republican controlled House of Representatives Biden has been a remarkably effective President, the most progressive Democrat in the White house since Lyndon Johnson. Sadly electoral pressures are now leading him to reverse some of his own policies, most notably on immigration.

And like Johnson, Biden may well be undone by foreign policy. Both Putin and Netanyahu have strong reasons to continue their conflicts until the end of the year in the hope that Trump wins and changes America’s posture. In the case of the Ukraine War this could lead to an effective takeover of much of the conquered territories by Russia. And while there is an argument that the United States badly mishandled the end of the Cold War by pushing for NATO expansion up to Russia’s borders, this hardly justifies the carnage Russia has unleashed on Ukraine—or, indeed, the mass slaughter of its own badly trained and unwilling recruits.

In the case of Israel Biden seems to have forgotten his own warnings shortly after October 7th against allowing vengeance to determine policy. Ongoing American proposals for a ceasefire and increased humanitarian aid hardly compensate for the reality that Israel’s advance is only possible because of U.S. military supplies.

Rather as the war in Vietnam split the Democrats and allowed the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, so too might the war in Gaza ensure the defeat of Joe Biden. Palestinian Americans, an important constituency in at least one key state [Michigan] will find it hard to vote for Biden, despite the reality that Trump is likely to be even more supportive of Israel. At the same time Trump may attract some Jewish voters in key states like Pennsylvania and Arizona who feel Biden has been too soft in his support. Trump, like the Australian Liberals, has seized the opportunity to declare any opposition to Israel is anti-Semitic, a popular position with some right-wing evangelicals who manage to simultaneously praise Israel and despise Jews.

Just as many leftists argued in 1968 that the choice between Nixon and Humphrey was meaningless it is tempting to say that today. But that would ignore the reality that Trump Mark II is part of a global move towards populist authoritarianism which threatens all of us. His fondness for the most odious of dictators—remember his embrace of Kim Il Sung?—is a warning sign that his re-election is as serious a threat to basic notions of democracy as his opponents claim.

Yes, at best the United States is an imperfect democracy. The Economist rates it as a flawed democracy and puts it 29th in the world [we rank equal 14th with Uruguay]. But there is little doubt that a Trump Presidency would ensure a lower rating. For all its defects the Biden Administration does show a genuine commitment to the basic principles we associate with liberal democracy and Biden has appointed some genuinely impressive Cabinet members [compare his choices with those of Trump to head Immigration and the Interior].

Indeed if Biden wins it will be in part due to Trump’s overreach in appointing three arch conservatives to the Supreme Court. The decision of the Court to overturn the right to abortion, which had been established by the Court fifty years ago, is deeply unpopular, and may bring sufficient previously uncommitted women voters to turn up to vote against Trump in November.

Nothing in politics is inevitable. At this point in 2016 almost every commentator expected Hillary Clinton to win the election. Death, illness or assassination could still intervene—it is hard to imagine any scandal sufficient to disable either candidate. Even if Biden hangs on, it is likely that the Senate will fall to the Republicans—the worst-case scenario would see the Republicans hanging on to a slim majority in both Houses of Congress and the White House.

A Trump/Republican victory would give oxygen to every right-wing hate group across the world. In the increasingly unconvincing defence of AUKUS our political leaders like to speak of our shared values with the United States. This rhetoric becomes increasingly dangerous if the United States lurches yet further to the right. If a Trump victory means people like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Senator Ted Cruz can claim they speak for the majority sheer decency demands that Australia distance itself.

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