Will we ever see an end to The Donald Trump Show?
The drama over his indictments is doing great damage to American democracy.
In a perverse way, the wave of indictments against Donald Trump is a win for both Trump himself and for his so-called progressive tormentors. Trump can use the indictments to stir up his rabid base, and Joe Biden can do the same for his equally blinkered supporters.
But, in doing so, they both do great damage to America’s tottering democracy. After all, neither side is offering what most Americans are looking for. Just 35 per cent of all voters want to see Trump’s name on the ballot again. And fewer than half of Democrats, and only one-quarter of all voters, want President Biden to run for another term.
Trump has always been a moral reprobate, an unapologetic liar and an at-best dodgy businessman. Yet he does have an instinctive feel for the mood of largely neglected blue-collar Americans and the denizens of Main Street.
To be sure, Trump performed a service by giving voice to the long-ignored concerns of America’s working class. According to the less-than-sympathetic Guardian, the vote for Trump in 2016 represented a ‘rebuke to an economic system’ that has left workers ‘humiliated and hopeless’. Or as the American Mind recently put it, he has served as a kind of ‘wrecking ball’ to the political establishment.
In 2016, Trump focussed on popular concerns, like border control, the loss of jobs to China and keeping energy prices low. But now the indictment drama takes focus away from these issues, placing attention simply on Trump. He no doubt revels in this, but it does little good for anyone else.
Republicans aren’t helping themselves either. Many in the party dismiss Trump’s numerous indictments as utterly baseless. So instead of using the legal storm to challenge Trump’s attempt to become the Republican presidential nominee, they are encouraging his efforts. In reality, they are setting the stage for his nomination and more-than-likely loss in the 2024 election.
There is some truth to Trump’s charge that the FBI and the Department of Justice are all too often working as tools of the White House. This is a sad tendency that goes back at least to the Woodrow Wilson administration’s ‘red scare’ tactics of the 1920s. Some of the indictments – particularly those concerning the hush-money payments to pornstar Stormy Daniels – were hardly worthy of a criminal case. In contrast, the charges relating to Trump’s retention of hundreds of classified documents, including highly sensitive materials concerning nuclear weapons and other national-defence secrets, do raise serious questions. More critically, so does the inquiry into his alleged attempt to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results.
Trump’s main Republican challenger, Florida’s Ron DeSantis, has at least acknowledged the gravity of the charges. At the weekend, he said that when he was a naval officer, had he taken classified material back to his apartment, it would have led to a court martial – his first real shot across the bows of the former president. Yet despite the indictments and Trump’s clear record of intemperate actions, a surprisingly large contingent of his supporters in Congress and throughout the Republican Party apparatus continues to worship at his feet.
The big GOP donors may want another nominee, but they are running up against the Trump cult. This still appears to be the party’s dominant faction, backed by Trump’s claque of right-wing media enablers, such as Fox’s Mark Levin and Sean Hannity. These pundits are desperate to keep the Trumpian stench in everyone’s nostrils, claiming his smell is the only authentic one. It also tells us something of the moral collapse of America that so many – including those professing attachment to traditional values – can rally to such a clearly corrupt figure.
Many Democrats and their media enablers are more than happy to see Trump dominating the Republican Party and dragging it down. Indeed, Democratic oligarchs were funding Trumpist candidates in the 2022 Midterm primaries for precisely this reason. The mainstream liberal media continue to carry relentless coverage of various forms of MAGA-branded Republican extremism. But their focus on Trump is not doing the Democrats any favours in the long run. He is effectively allowing an unpopular and allegedly corrupt Biden to make his case as the ‘lesser evil’ candidate and campaign for a second term, which will likely erode support for the Democrats in the long term.
Critically, Trump has also inadvertently accelerated the Democrats’ own rapid move towards a kind of progressive authoritarianism. The Twitter Files showed how the Democrats were willing to use the tech platforms as a weapon of political censorship during the 2020 presidential election. And former army intelligence officer Jacob Siegel has since revealed collusion at the highest levels between tech oligarchs and the CIA, the FBI and the military.
Once upon a time, liberals would have worried about such collusion. Not anymore. Trump may act like an authoritarian, and his lack of regard for democratic procedures makes him unfit for office. But he seems to have inspired a more effective form of authoritarianism among the Democrats and their corporate allies, especially among the predominantly liberal media. Indeed, the newspapers have played their assigned role, brushing the devastating Hunter Biden laptop scandal under the carpet and demonising anyone, such as the anti-woke DeSantis, who might get in the way of their preferred Biden-Trump scenario.
The Trump effect also accelerates the Democrats’ move towards becoming a party of the elites – or, in the words of the late historian, Fred Siegel, an ‘upstairs, downstairs coalition’. The Trump base, largely rural and exurban, is widely dismissed as ‘deplorable’, to echo Hillary Clinton, and thus deserving of little concern. Indeed, many on the left seem determined to alienate these voters. Even suburbanites, the majority of the US population, are now facing the Democrats’ contempt, with the Nation recently describing the suburbs as a nest of racism, homophobia and transphobia.
The Democrats were once focussed on the economic concerns of working people. Now, the party dismisses working-class concerns while embracing the preferences of the gentry, favouring Net Zero energy policies, racial quotas and the promotion of gender ideology. In the future, the Democrats will pay for this agenda.
Most Americans, according to one recent poll, already think Biden’s policies harm the working and middle classes. Although unemployment is low, almost half of US workers now work in low-paid jobs – a higher proportion than before the pandemic. Meanwhile, inflation has lowered income levels across the US.
The Democrats’ extreme cultural agenda clearly offends the cultural values of much of the population, including many minority groups. Overreach on some issues, notably parental rights, appears to have created a situation where, as Gallup suggests, social conservatism is stronger now than any time in the past decade. All this presents an existential threat to the Democrats’ long-term future.
There is a fundamental disconnect between the Democrats’ current cultural and economic agenda and much of the populace. It’s not surprising that Democratic strategists place their best hope of success on the Republicans selecting a toxic figure like Trump, who chases potential Republican voters, particularly suburban women, towards candidates like Biden. At some point, Trump will be gone, allowing a less abrasive conservative – say Tim Scott or Nikki Haley – to fill the breach. This is a role DeSantis could still play, if he runs less as a Trumpist and more on his record of creating one of America’s outstanding red-state success stories.
It would be far better for the country if our political debate focussed not on Trump’s indictments and misdeeds, but on the issues that impact the economy and class – falling wages, the decline of basic industries, flagging productivity, collapsing infrastructure and a flawed medical system. But this is unlikely to surface, from any side of politics, as long as Donald Trump continues to dominate our political landscape.
America must move on from Trump.
Joel Kotkin is a spiked columnist, the presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His latest book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, is out now. Follow him on Twitter: @joelkotkin
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