[Column] The most harmful legacy of Donald Trump

Posted on : 2020-12-01 17:39 KST Modified on : 2020-12-01 17:39 KST
The balloon of current US president was supposed to burst but will instead slowly deflate over an extended period
John Feffer
John Feffer
By John Feffer, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies

The balloon of Donald Trump’s presidency was supposed to end with a loud pop on election day. The polls suggested that Joe Biden would comfortably win the presidency, perhaps even in a landslide.

Instead, as election day turned into election week, the air has only gradually leaked out of the Trump balloon.

On election night, it looked as if President Trump had defied the polls once again by taking the lead in the key battleground states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Buoyed by more comfortable wins in Florida and Texas, the president declared himself re-elected on the early morning of Nov. 4. He insisted that the counting of votes be stopped in those states where he maintained a lead.

But Trump’s lead was an illusion: the infamous “red mirage. A huge number of people, more Democrats than Republicans, voted by mail this year. A few states, like Florida, counted those ballots as they came in. But other states like Pennsylvania, thanks to a law passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature, couldn’t start counting those votes until Election Day itself. So, Trump’s Election night lead was only temporary.

As the mail-in ballots have been counted, Wisconsin and Michigan turned blue the day after the election. Georgia has also narrowly shifted to Joe Biden’s column. And in the biggest prize, Pennsylvania, the president’s lead of more than 500,000 votes disappeared completely by Friday morning. A Biden win in Pennsylvania alone puts the Democratic candidate above the 270-vote threshold to ensure victory in the Electoral College.

Trump, instead of conceding, has claimed that the election was rigged. He continued to insist that the vote count stop in Pennsylvania, where he maintained a dwindling lead, even as he argued that the vote count continue in Arizona, where he was closing the gap with Biden. The Republican Party, for the most part, did not support the president’s muddled attempt to overturn democracy by effectively erasing hundreds of thousands of votes.

Trump still clings to the illusion of his re-election. His campaign has launched numerous legal challenges to the vote count in key states. He is pushing for a recount of votes in Wisconsin. It’s not likely that any of these will alter the outcome of the election. But well into the future Trump and his supporters will claim the 2020 presidential race was “stolen.”

The more immediate question has been whether a defeated Trump will actually leave the White House. During the campaign, he famously did not commit to a peaceful transfer of power. But it doesn’t look like Trump has much backing for a coup. The Republican Party has moved on. The presidential race aside, the Republicans had a very good election day. They turned back a number of Senate challenges and may well hold on to their majority (pending two run-off votes in Georgia). They picked up some seats in the House (though not enough to regain a majority). They also maintained their hold on a majority of state legislatures, which means that they will have greater influence over a redistricting process that has locked in their electoral advantage nationwide.

Republicans will discard Trump after having used him

The Republican Party, in other words, has used Trump to its fullest advantage — to bring more voters to the polls, to pack the courts with ideologues (including three Supreme Court appointments), to reduce the overall influence of the federal government — and now they will throw him away. He served his function, and he’s no longer necessary.

Of course, Trump still has a few months left in office. The more time he focuses on trying to prove that he actually won the election, the less time he will have to implement his agenda. Nevertheless, he will inevitably fire a few more people and pardon his cronies. He will push through several more executive orders to trash the environment and besmirch the civil service. He’ll try to use his office to direct a few more millions into the coffers of his businesses. And he will ignore all the pressing problems facing the US, including another wave of the pandemic that is killing more than a thousand Americans a day.

The dismal state of affairs Biden will inherit

When Joe Biden takes office in January, he will inherit a dismal state of affairs. The US continues to lead the world in COVID-19 infections and deaths. The US economy remains very fragile. The federal debt, under Trump, went up by over 35 percent.

On the world stage, the US lost whatever prestige it had when Trump took office. Trump failed to secure a deal with North Korea, a grand bargain in the Middle East, a replacement nuclear pact with Iran, a reset with Russia, or any of his other promised achievements. By exiting the Paris climate accord, the US relinquished any global leadership role in reducing carbon emissions. And, with the pandemic raging throughout the US, Americans are not welcome in other countries.

Thanks to Trump, the US is more isolated, crippled by disease and debt, and politically and economically polarized than it was in 2016.

The Republican Party, emboldened by their down-ballot successes on election day, will not be in a mood to compromise with the new president. Even if the Democrats win both Georgia seats and retake the Senate — achieve a 50-50 tie that the Democratic vice president can break — Biden will have a difficult time pushing through his domestic agenda on the environment, the economy, and health care.

The new president will have a freer hand in foreign affairs. Biden will move to repair some badly damaged European and Asian alliances. He will rejoin the climate accord and attempt a rapprochement with Iran. A less tempestuous relationship with China is probably in the offing, at least on economic matters, despite the harder line that the Democrats have taken over the last several years.

Trumpism will continue to survive

Even though Trump will no longer be president, Trumpism will survive — both at home and abroad. Trump-like leaders are still in place in Brazil, the Philippines, India, and elsewhere. They will make it difficult for the world to achieve consensus on major global issues such as the climate crisis, the current pandemic, and growing economic inequality.

At home, Biden faces a country where nearly 70 million voters supported Trump in this last election. They did so despite his impeachable crimes, his bungling of both the pandemic and the economic fallout, and his non-stop barrage of falsehoods. In losing, Trump still received more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016.

That is the most damaging legacy of Trump. The political cult he created will continue to wreak havoc long after he has been removed from the White House.

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