Trump’s dangerous rhetoric as polls draw near

Trump’s dangerous rhetoric as polls draw near

Donald Trump’s political intent was not even hidden behind a fig leaf — it was clear that he wanted to polarise US society using the legal route

Sachin KalbagUpdated: Thursday, November 23, 2023, 07:31 PM IST
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Former US President Donald Trump | File pic

Donald Trump is putting American democratic institutions and processes under severe stress, more than what he did as President between 2017 and 2020 — be it the judiciary, law enforcement or the legislature. Just this past week, a lower court judge in the state of Colorado said that the former occupant of the White House engaged in the insurrection of January 6, 2021, but that he should remain on the ballot for 2024, a move Trump’s opponents say is unconstitutional.

Trump is already at the centre of series of federal and state level lawsuits on serious charges under several laws that include, among others, one that is used to try underworld criminals and large-scale white-collar crimes.

On January 6, 2021, thousands of Trump supporters charged at the Capitol, the seat of the American Congress following his defeat to Joe Biden in the 2020 elections. Five people died as a result of the violence (though not all of them on the same day), 138 police officers were injured and four policemen died by suicide over the next seven months. The monetary damage to the building alone was nearly $3 million.

Prosecutors say Trump not only incited the January 6 violence, but personally masterminded the post-election shenanigans to try and render Biden’s election null and void. He did not succeed.

These are serious accusations and many of them fall under the classical definition of sedition. Several of his co-accused and his lawyers have confessed to playing a part in Trump’s alleged crimes, but the former President seems to have a Teflon coating; nothing ever sticks.

Therefore, many ask this question: Will the next few months determine how resolute American democratic institutions are, or will Trump’s increasingly foul rhetoric (America, like India, is going to the polls in 2024) encourage his base to thwart any sort of legal consequences for his alleged actions?

The answer is complicated.

During his presidency, Trump installed three right-wing justices to the US Supreme Court to scuttle, among other things, abortion rights of American women and also advance his anti-immigrant policies. He appointed 54 judges to US Courts of Appeals (roughly equivalent to High Courts in India), and 174 judges to District Courts (roughly equivalent to Sessions Courts in India). While US governments have the right to appoint judges, Trump’s political intent was not even hidden behind a fig leaf — it was clear that he wanted to polarise US society using the legal route, despite serious sexual assault allegations by four women against Brett Kavanaugh, one of his Supreme Court appointees.

As the US presidential election draws near (less than a year to go) and the legal pressure on Trump grows, his rhetoric is becoming increasingly extreme. So much so that The Economist magazine — not a left-liberal publication by any stretch of the imagination — had put this headline on its cover last week: ‘Donald Trump poses the biggest danger to the world in 2024’.

Why? Trump has been publicly announcing his plans for his possible second term as President. One, he will use the Justice Department to go after his political adversaries. Two, he intends to carry out an extreme immigration crackdown including sweeping nationwide raids, giant camps and mass deportations. Three, his staff has already begun screening thousands of potential candidates for their ideological leanings to appoint them to key government posts so that power can be centralised at the White House.

In a recent speech, he said, “We pledge to root out communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country.” ‘Vermin’ is the same vile epithet the Nazis used to describe Jews in the 1930s and we all know what that led to.

Trump’s utterings make the rhetoric of his Republican predecessor George W Bush decidedly saintly in comparison.

The problem for Joe Biden who, as of this week, is still running for re-election is that he is behind Trump in all the polls because many of his backers think he is not mentally ‘there’ on account of his old age — he turned 81 on November 20. On the other hand, Trump’s constituency adulates his pomposity and grandiloquence. Therefore, Biden is losing voters (especially among Blacks, Muslims and on-the-fence independents), while Trump is gaining numbers so rapidly that he has pushed the White House incumbent to second place in almost every nationwide survey. Even in his own party, Trump is so far ahead in the polls that he does not even bother to participate in the Republican presidential debates.

What does this mean for the United States? Admittedly, American society, which is already torn at the edges because of ideological differences, will be cleaved in half and, given that hundreds of newly-appointed government officials will have pledged their loyalty to Trump, we could well have an authoritarian regime that has few checks and balances in the executive branch of government.

For Indian skilled workers who look to working in the US as a distinct advancement for their careers, there is an existential threat. Breaking News: Trump does not like immigrants and he will do all he can to push them out of the country. This is not an assumption, he (as also his Republican rival Vivek Ramaswamy) has said so many times in public.

In his first term, according to an investigation by Forbes magazine, “Members of the Trump administration waged war behind the scenes against companies and foreign-born scientists and engineers… Trump appointees turned U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) into an organization opposed to the immigration of high-skilled foreign nationals on H-1B visas.”

Republican senators such as Chuck Grassley and Jeff Sessions not only chastised major tech companies for their H-1B visa applications, but also introduced legislation to add sweeping restrictions for this visa.

If Trump’s speeches have an impact on the November 2024 mid-term polls, it is quite likely that both houses of Congress could go to the Republicans (at present, they hold the majority in the House, while the Democrats have the advantage in the Senate).

If this happens, what happens next is just a fait accompli. Trump will have complete control over the legislature, the executive and judiciary. The American experiment as we know it, could come to an abrupt end.

Sachin Kalbag, Senior Fellow at Takshashila Institution, is a former Washington Correspondent. He has held senior editorial positions at national newspapers that have won several awards under his leadership. Reach him at sachin@takshashila.org.in. He tweets at @SachinKalbag.

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