The last Trump?

I started composing a social media post about United States President Donald Trump’s first impeachment and wondered: How did an ordinal adjective get in there?

Past presidents are often remembered for only one thing. Richard Nixon: Watergate. Jimmy Carter: Iran hostages. Both of these presidents did a lot more than that; in fact both have enduring legacies, some parts good (even Nixon — he was quite the environmentalist), some bad.

If you had to pick one thing Trump was remembered for, up to the first week of January, it would’ve been a very different thing. At time of writing, the frontrunner is fomenting a seditious riot; by the time he leaves office, it could be a second impeachment.

Yet through all this, his following on social media has been firm in denial. Storming Capitol Hill was a peaceful protest. If it wasn’t, Black Lives Matter (BLM) is more violent.

One tweet captures the opinion you don’t say out loud. “This is not America,” a woman said to a small group, her voice shaking. “They’re shooting at us. They’re supposed to shoot BLM, but they’re shooting the patriots.”

Really? People trying to overturn an election by force are “patriots”? There is a group police are supposed to shoot and another group they are not supposed to shoot?

Welcome to Trump’s America.

These attitudes have always been there but he has brought them to the surface.

Black people are acceptable targets for police violence; white people — especially those with a fascist agenda — are not.

Of course this is exactly what Black Lives Matter and Antifa have been saying all along, whereas the right has misappropriated the language of liberalism to claim that there is no racism in policing and any disproportionality in violence is because black people are disproportionately violent themselves.

Yet here we have a group aiming to overturn an election result in “trial by combat” in the words of Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. He may have meant it metaphorically, but these are risky words to use on a fired-up crowd not versed in the finer points of language.

As more and more evidence surfaces of violent intent — police injuries and one police death; growing quantities of firearms, ammunition, molotov cocktails and bombs have already surfaced — expect more misdirection. Claims that those are false-flag operations by Antifa, for example, are a common ploy. But that is not going to work when the people arrested in flagrante delicto are hard-right activists.

I have by no means read a large fraction of the filings and judgments in more than 60 failed lawsuits that attempted to overturn the election, but many have been shockingly poorly crafted and thrown out for lack of standing (the wrong litigants suing the wrong people in the wrong court about the wrong issue, or any combination of the above). Those that did get to argument were erroneous in law or lacked evidence.

Let’s focus on two of the more bizarre cases. The first is the attempt by the state of Texas to overturn elections in four other states. Six Supreme Court justices threw it out for lack of standing (elections are owned by the states; Republicans claim to be jealous protectors of states’ rights); the three who would’ve heard it said they wouldn’t have granted relief. Texan House member Louie Gohmert in an equally bizarre case attempted to enjoin Vice-President Mike Pence to overturn the result at the final hurdle, when electoral votes are counted.

Though I am neither a US citizen nor a lawyer, these suits were patently ludicrous to me, so how could someone like Ted Cruz, with a magna cum laude (the second-highest level of distinction) doctorate in law from Harvard, not know this? Indeed, he pronounced himself ready to argue the Texas case in the Supreme Court — surely a piece of theatre he couldn’t have wanted to eventuate, because he would have made a supreme fool of himself. Then again, he had no compunctions against joining the insurrection against counting electoral votes that dwindled from 12 to 13 senators to six in one vote and seven in another.

Perhaps an African perspective helps here.

I see vultures circling a corpse. Cruz and Trump’s other Republican backers have ridden Trump to win their agenda of packing the courts with right-wing judges and policies favouring inequality as far as they can. They know that he is politically dead. And they are jostling for a frontrunner to take over his base.

Their problem, as anyone who has watched Big Man politics in Africa will tell you, is that as long as the big man is still alive, moving too fast to grab his legacy is not a formula for survival.

And the problem specific to the US is that the Trump base is a minority. Detach it from what is left of the regular Republican vote and it is an even smaller minority. The attempted putsch will leave the Trump base even more isolated from the mainstream.

And Trump’s legacy? I mentioned impeached twice as a new one in the offing. How about destroying the Republican party? He isn’t done yet.

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Philip Machanick
Philip Machanick is an associate professor of computer science at Rhodes University

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