The enduring power of Trumpism in the face of judicial verdicts

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Mark Twain, Donald Trump

In 1897, the great American satirical writer Mark Twain famously quipped, “the report of my death was an exaggeration” upon hearing rumors of his ill health. This sentiment resonates strongly today with former President Donald Trump, who, despite being found guilty on 34 counts, continues to wield significant influence over American politics. Trump has transcended the traditional boundaries of a politician governed by the rule of law and has become a personalistic and populist phenomenon with a profound, and potentially dangerous, capacity to mobilize masses around any issue he deems important.

After eight years in the national spotlight, Trump’s strategic gamble on a base that mirrors his own image is proving successful. His supporters increasingly disregard constitutional norms and institutional principles of governance, including the peaceful transfer of power and the separation of powers. This shift is evident in Trump’s personal vendettas, baseless accusations against rivals, and explicit incitement to chaos and insurgency. The storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021, after Trump refused to concede the 2020 election, stands as a stark testament to this reality.

Trump’s sense of invincibility and infallibility has only grown. During his 2016 campaign, he brazenly claimed he could shoot someone on a New York street and still be elected. This audacious statement has borne fruit, as he continues to rally support through populist slogans like “Make America Great Again.” His strength draws from a coalition of isolationist anti-immigrant groups, extreme white Christians, fundamentalist evangelicals, rural conservatives, and various racist factions.

Trump has been bolstered by two key factors during Joe Biden’s presidency. First, the Biden administration’s performance has been seen as lackluster, with the aging leader lacking the charisma needed to galvanize the nation. Second, there has been a global rise in blatant populism, often intertwined with racism, from Western Europe to Brazil, Argentina, and India. This trend has provided fertile ground for Trumpian populism and the Christian right in America.

The transformation of the Republican Party under Trump has been profound. Once a “big tent” that accommodated both conservatives and moderate classical liberals, the GOP has increasingly become a platform for those pledging absolute loyalty to Trump’s ideology. Moderate liberal Republicans, especially in swing states like the northeast and the Great Lakes, are expected to dwindle significantly within the next four years. The potential for an internal war within the Republican Party has largely vanished, with the struggle for leadership now a competition among contenders seeking to outdo each other in their adherence to Trump’s positions and beliefs.

The recent judicial verdict against Trump might paradoxically create momentum for his campaign. As the countdown to the 2024 election begins, the indictment could bolster the two most effective tactics Trump has employed: claiming victimhood and promoting conspiracy theories. His supporters are easily convinced that hostile forces in Washington, led by the Democratic Party and liberal groups, are conspiring against him. The courtroom verdict is likely to reinforce their belief in this perceived injustice.

Moreover, Trump has consistently managed to portray himself as a victim of a grand conspiracy, which has only solidified his base’s loyalty. This dynamic could hinder the emergence of any Republican figure with even a minimal degree of independence from Trump’s line, should unforeseen circumstances prevent Trump from running in November. The fervor surrounding Trump’s campaign will likely dominate American political discourse in the coming months, influencing the trajectory of the world’s most powerful nation and its global engagement for decades.

Trumpism’s resilience in the face of judicial verdicts and democratic norms is indicative of a broader trend of populist movements gaining traction globally. In many democracies, traditional political structures are being challenged by leaders who prioritize personal power and populist rhetoric over institutional integrity and rule of law. This phenomenon is not limited to the United States but is evident in various countries where populist leaders have risen to power by appealing to nationalist, isolationist, and often xenophobic sentiments.

The implications of Trump’s continued influence are profound. If his brand of politics continues to dominate, it could lead to further erosion of democratic norms and institutions. The peaceful transfer of power, a cornerstone of American democracy, may be jeopardized. The judiciary, which has traditionally been seen as an impartial arbiter of justice, could be undermined as Trump and his followers cast doubt on its legitimacy. The separation of powers, designed to prevent any one branch of government from becoming too powerful, may be weakened as executive overreach becomes normalized.

For the American people, the next few months will be crucial in determining the future of their democracy. The outcome of the 2024 election will not only shape domestic policies but will also have far-reaching implications for America’s role on the global stage. A Trump resurgence could lead to a more isolationist foreign policy, affecting international alliances and global stability. Conversely, a rejection of Trumpism could signal a recommitment to democratic norms and a more collaborative approach to global issues.

The enduring power of Trumpism highlights the challenges facing democratic societies in the 21st century. The rise of populist leaders who flout democratic norms and undermine institutional integrity poses a significant threat to the stability and functionality of democracies around the world. As the United States navigates this tumultuous period, the choices made by its citizens and leaders will have profound implications for the future of democracy both at home and abroad.

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