What now? In Iowa, the predictions proved accurate: it was bitterly cold, just over half of the participants in the Republican primaries of four years ago went to vote, and Trump outpaced his rivals by a lot, getting more than 50 percent of the vote. This result makes the political-judicial tangle around his candidacy even more intractable. Five trials await him in the coming weeks – but which jury will have the courage to convict him and which judge the courage to send him to jail, as he deserves?
Trump is a would-be dictator who wants to (and could) come to power by being voted in, like Mussolini and Hitler. And the threat of jail is not enough to stop him: his supporters seem to not care about the trials against him.
Instead, they are seen as evidence of the “persecution” he is supposedly being subjected to by his lifelong enemies: the Democrats, the newspapers, the intellectual and financial elites.
He himself confessed not long ago, answering an interviewer’s question, that yes, he would like to be a dictator, but “only for a day”: just enough time to deport a few hundred thousand people to Mexico. It might have sounded like a line meant only to fire up his rallies, but in recent days his lawyers have filed a motion before three federal judges that confirms people’s worst suspicions. His conception of the president’s powers is that he would be immune from prosecution even if he were to order the assassination of political opponents, unless he is impeached and removed from office beforehand.
That is a rather remote possibility, given that no U.S. president since 1878 has ever been found guilty by the Senate and removed from office (in 1974 Nixon resigned without being convicted). In other words, the president of the United States, an office that the American founding fathers intended to be efficient but of lesser importance compared to Congress, would be transformed into an absolute monarch, with arbitrary life-and-death powers at his disposal.
It is (for now) unthinkable that the justices would accept such a twisting of the Constitution, but during these weeks the Supreme Court will also have to deal with another of the problems that arose on January 6, 2021 when Trump incited his supporters to march on Congress to prevent the certification of votes for Joe Biden: do his actions on that day make him responsible for an insurrection?
The question is not merely academic, because an amendment to the Constitution passed after the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment, contains a clause that prevents those guilty of insurrection against the government from holding any public office afterwards.
The amendment was obviously intended to apply to former Southern politicians and generals, who benefited from generous treatment after Lincoln’s assassination, but it had never been applied since. Today the question is whether it can be applied to Trump, and in what way. In Colorado and Maine, the courts gave an affirmative answer; in other states, a negative one. Now the question is in the hands of the Supreme Court, where six out of the nine justices are ultraconservatives.
At this point, it is logical to ask: how is it possible that a politician indicted for no less than 91 crimes, all more or less related to the failed attempt to remain in power after losing the 2020 election, can not only be running for the White House but be virtually certain of the Republican nomination. The answer lies in the fact that Trump was elected to the presidency in 2016 in part because the public disliked Democrats more than him, a sentiment that is once again widespread this year: Joe Biden is at an all-time low in approval ratings, despite the economy doing well.
After the violent onslaught of January 6, 2021, many supporters had abandoned him, and Trump looked like a man who had not only lost the election but also his mind. It seemed inconceivable that he could be a credible politician again. Instead, in these three years Donald Trump has regained almost all the political capital he lost back then: in the polls he is back above where he was in November 2020 and, if the vote took place today, he would be ahead 46 percent to Joe Biden’s 44 percent in the popular vote.
Also playing in the would-be dictator’s favor are the rifts within the Democratic coalition that elected Biden in 2020: in the polls, when asked about their voting intentions, 18-29-year-olds seem to prefer Trump to Biden 49% to 43% because of anger over Biden’s unconditional support for Israel, despite mealy-mouthed reproaches about “excessive” bombings or the need for a ceasefire. This is a radical fracture, and young people, even more than women, are the backbone of the Democratic electorate: if Biden doesn’t get their vote, Republican victory is assured.