Trumpistan

Published January 10, 2024
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy

JANUARY 6, 2024, fell on a Saturday, marking two years since a furious mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol and sent lawmakers scrambling to safe rooms and away to undisclosed locations.

Then vice president Mike Pence, who has withdrawn from the presidential race for 2024, was one of the targets, with many chanting “Hang Mike Pence” because they saw him as a traitor for certifying the election results. Since then, the FBI has systematically gone through CCTV and other sources to identify everyone who was involved in the insurrection. They have faced arrest and lost employment as a consequence of their actions.

This does not mean that their leader, former president Donald Trump, has changed his ways. In the run-up to this year’s election in the United States, he has said that, if elected, he will imprison his political enemies.

He has also suggested that Gen Mark Milley, the US military’s former chairman joint chiefs of staff, ought to be executed. He hates Gen Milley for, among other reasons, asking for flags to be lowered following the death of senator John McCain, whom Trump also hated and called a ‘loser’ because he was taken prisoner of war in Vietnam.

In short, Trump fully intends to use his political office during a possible second stint as a vehicle for exacting vengeance on just about everyone that he does not care for.

A Trump win may be entirely possible. He is leading Biden in all of the polls. The other Republicans running for the nomination have not even been able to come close to his numbers. As the first primaries in Iowa get underway next week, the two closest to him are Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and Trump’s ambassador to the UN, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Haley has largely steered clear of criticising Trump (even though she is running to take his place as the Republican nominee).

Haley is also still reeling from not having included “slavery” in her list of reasons why she thinks the American Civil War was fought when asked the question at a town hall. According to political analysts, if, by some miracle, Haley is able to bag the nomination, the clip in which a man in the town hall confronts her about not mentioning slavery will be plastered all over the media and destroy her chances in no time at all.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis — the conservative favourite — has proven a disaster for different reasons. Conservatives had raised DeSantis to godlike status as the successor to Trump because the former refused to adopt the same strict Covid protections that had been prescribed by other states at the beginning of the pandemic. His handling of the state’s public health and economic needs was widely celebrated in Republican circles and presented as a case study of how things should have been.

Alas for his cheerleaders, the series of debates showcasing the Republican nominees competing in the primaries have revealed DeSantis as lacking in charisma, wooden, and just lacking any spark that would make him relatable and appealing to the general electorate. Trump himself, it must be noted, has refused to participate in the debates altogether.

If young people and Muslims boycott Biden, it could mean an easy victory for Trump.

These primary opponents are unlikely to prove to be even the barest of bumps in Trump’s path to the nomination. The only scenario in which they become important or even the actual nominees is if Trump is barred from running for president.

This has already happened in Colorado, where the state supreme court has ruled that Trump’s participation in the insurrection on Jan 6 is reason enough to bar him from being on the ballot in Colorado. The case has grabbed a lot of attention, and the United States supreme court is expected to hear it in the next several weeks.

One would expect that, in the conservative supreme court, which has a whole bunch of Trump nominees in it, the case would be a slam dunk — that the state decision would be overturned and other states may be warned against similar decisions. However, conservative judicial doctrine has generally held that states have power over their own jurisdictions rather than being at the behest of federal institutions. Because of this, it is unclear exactly how the federal supreme court decision will go.

The Colorado decision is not the only one which could disqualify Trump: if he is convicted in the cases he faces in Georgia or Florida, he will then be a felon and, therefore, constitutionally ineligible to run for president.

If he is able to run, the Democratic nominee, President Joe Biden, may well lose against him. While the two are only points apart in recent polls, Biden’s numbers have been suffering because of the economy, where high interest rates have made credit almost unavailable to the American middle class.

Furthermore, Biden’s numbers are dismal in a category he has always led — young Americans under age 24 have turned hard against the president owing to his support for Israel and continued military aid to it. The battleground state of Michigan, which has a sizeable Muslim population (and which helped Biden reach the win in 2020), has also turned against him for the same reason. If young people and Muslims boycott Biden, it could mean an easy victory for Trump.

Punishing political opponents never does much for democracy. If Donald Trump is able to run and win the contest, America will be transformed in drastic ways and forever. The saving grace of 2016 was that Trump then did not quite know what the presidency involved.

In 2024, Trump is angry, vindictive and knows exactly how he will lay waste to the institutions that he thinks have betrayed him. Ironically, the ultimate decision of whether he does win seems to lie not with American voters but with the nine justices of the US supreme court.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

[rafia.zakaria@gmail.com][1]

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2024

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