A Tale of Liars and Bidens: A comment on the State of the Union of the USA
BY TOM LOWE
There are many words that one could use to describe Donald Trump’s impact on US politics, but ‘trailblazer’ is certainly one that wouldn’t cross many people’s minds. Nevertheless, Trump was the first President to have no prior military or government service, the first incumbent to visit North Korea, the first to be impeached twice, and is now the first to have been criminally charged. For better or for worse, Trump is a
Unsurprisingly and in very Trump fashion, the former President denies each of the 78 criminal charges that have been levied at him. These range from sexual abuse allegations, to conspiring to reverse the 2020 election results, to obstructing Congress’s certification of said results, and more recently, illegally hoarding classified documents from the White House in his personal residence in Mar-A-Lago, Florida.
If found guilty and handed the maximum sentence for these charges, Trump faces hundreds of years in prison, although judging by recent FiveThirtyEight polling it seems that allegations of criminality and corruption does not sway Republican voters. During his 2016 election campaign, Trump boasted proudly that he could stand on Fifth Avenue in New York and ‘shoot somebody and [he] wouldn’t lose any voters’, and in 2023 he enjoys a comfortable 30-point lead over his main Republican rival, and man with no criminal charges, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis occupies what can only be described as the ‘typical Republican voter’ area of public support – lower taxation, less government intervention, and ‘greater’ personal freedom. Trump’s brand of conservative nationalism is distinct from this, with a greater emphasis on the populist positions of ‘Draining the Swamp’ and breaking down the barriers that separate the Washington elites from ordinary, hardworking US citizens. The two are also divided on the legitimacy of the 2020 election, with DeSantis recently stating that ‘of course’ Trump lost the election fair and square, putting himself at odds with Trump’s lies about electoral fraud that are supported by an estimated 70% of Republicans.
There is nothing in the US Constitution that prevents Trump from winning the Presidency if he is found guilty and sent to prison, and his massive lead over DeSantis seems to suggest that he is in the driving seat for winning the Republican nomination next January. Trump’s former Vice President, Mike Pence, is also running to be the Republican nominee, but given his polling is nine points lower than DeSantis himself, it is extremely unlikely that Pence poses any real threat to Trump’s campaign.
Pence is yet another example of a prominent Republican who has denied Trump’s lies of electoral fraud, a position that placed him in the target of the January 6th rioters, many of which were heard yelling chants of ‘Hang Mike Pence’ as they stormed the Capitol. Undeterred by threats to both his political career and life, Pence has continued to speak out against Trump, claiming that he has no regard for the US Constitution or the sanctity of the office of the most powerful person in the world.
Of course, if found guilty, Trump would face an immense struggle to actually win the Presidency itself. Moderate Republicans would likely flock to the Democratic nominee and Trump’s support among politicians in Washington would all but collapse. This isn’t even mentioning the logistical impossibilities of governing from a cell, especially when one considers that Trump wouldn’t be able to install his now-infamous ‘Diet Coke red button’ in prison.
On a more serious note, no matter what happens in the coming weeks regarding the charges, or whether Trump secures the Republican nomination or not, he will remain a significant force in US politics for years to come. His poisonous and fascistic rhetoric of proclaiming himself the ‘only person’ who can save the US has portrayed him as something of a martyr for many Americans, a strongman who can lead them to some distant victory. This is extremely dangerous, Trump’s fearmongering has already led to riots at the Capitol, and as we have seen, there seem to be very few limitations on the lengths the former President will go to in the name of self-preservation.
The US’ political system is certainly inherently flawed, with an outdated Electoral College, a regularly gridlocked Congress, and major concerns about lobbying and insider trading. However, no matter what he says, Donald Trump may just be the last person in the world you would want to dismantle these issues. Trump’s four years in office were almost entirely self-serving and full of broken promises, with lie after lie after lie being told. He did not ‘Drain the Swamp’ and bring power back to the people, he sewed divisiveness and fanned the flames of polarisation along racial, class, and gendered lines.
Despite this, in his desperate attempts to cling to power, Trump may have set the foundations for his undoing. He has divided the Republican party with his lies about electoral fraud, and less and less people are willing to support a man with 78 criminal charges against him. He is likely to be less popular with the general public in the runup to the 2024 election than he was in 2016 and 2020, making his chances of winning the Presidency slimmer every day. Trump may have a large portion of Republican voters under his thumb, but his actions after losing the 2020 election will likely mean he’ll never step foot in the Oval Office again.
The chances of Trump winning the Presidency again are also likely to be determined by the perceived competency of his likely Democratic rival, current President Joe Biden. If someone had asked me a year ago who would win in an election between Trump and Biden, I would have said Trump, due to Biden’s Presidency looking dead in the water, facing a likely Republican landslide at the upcoming November midterms. However, asking me the same question today would be a completely different answer – Biden has the edge on Trump at this moment in time.
Not only is Trump trapped in a whirlwind of criminal conspiracies, sex scandals and court cases, but Biden has seemed to have shifted his Presidency up a gear. Democrats actually had a net gain of one Senate seat in the midterms, defying expectations as it is extremely rare for an incumbent President’s party to gain seats during these elections. These results breathed new life into Biden, who has become far more aggressive and less conciliatory after tapping into his newfound strength after the midterms. In a recent election advert, Biden is seen drinking from a mug that depicts ‘Dark Brandon’, an alter ego of his created by the Internet that seeks to ‘destroy all forms of malarkey’ and take a hard-line stance against Republican regression.
Combining this more aggressive nature with his two landmark domestic achievements – The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, and the polls currently show Biden and Trump being essentially neck and neck. Whilst it is too early to truly see the effects of this set of long-term legislation, it demonstrated Biden’s ability to pass legislation both with bipartisanship (the Infrastructure Bill saw 19 Republicans support it in the Senate, and 13 Republicans support it in the House), and without (the Inflation Reduction Act received no votes from any Republicans in Congress).
Despite this, it would be naïve to call Biden’s Presidency so far a great success. Reforms that have been passed have not gone nearly far enough to enact meaningful change. Biden’s presence at COP26 felt lacklustre and may have incentivised China and India to lower their climate commitments, his student loan forgiveness programme has failed to get past the courts, and his administration failed to codify Roe vs. Wade, which was struck down last summer by the Supreme Court.
When one couples this with growing concerns about Biden’s age and frailty (despite being only two years older than Trump), it places him in a significantly weaker position in the eyes of the public. It is looking increasingly likely that 2024 may be an election on the exact same premise of 2020 – people will only vote for Biden because they don’t want Trump in power. Even then, this may not be a guarantee as Biden’s (dis)approval rating currently stands at -13.7%, with Trump’s being -16.2%. Can Biden really convince a large group of voters to support him just because he isn’t Trump for a second election in a row?
It is not a radical to state that the US has never been more divided than it is right now. Traditional partisan divisions once symbolised the main divides in US politics, but the impact of Trumpism has led to even further divisions within those divisions. The US is fragmented despite Biden’s best efforts to reconciliate and allow Americans to heal.
With all of this in mind, is it any wonder why public trust in the US government has reached record lows? We shouldn’t be surprised at the meteoric rise of populists like Trump, when traditional politicians such as Biden offer little to no meaningful alternative or change. Biden even stated on the 2020 campaign trail that ‘Nothing will fundamentally change’. It has reached a point where this article is not necessarily a comment on the State of the Union, but rather a comment on the State of the Division.
Image: Flickr/ US Capitol