Pclaiming what’s going to happen is a popular way to shrug off taking responsibility for helping to determine what’s going to happen. And it’s something we’ve seen a lot with doomspreading prophecies that Donald Trump is going to run for president or even win in 2024.
One of the assumptions is that Trump will still be alive and competent to run, but the health of this sedentary shouter in his mid-70s, including the after-effects of the Covid-19 he was hospitalized for in 2020, could change.
Look to external issues too, for whatever the condition of his own health, his financial health is under attack, with businesses losing money and some banks refusing to lend to him after the storming of the Capitol.
It’s also worth remembering that he lost the popular vote by millions in 2016 and by more millions in 2020; he never had a mandate. The Republicans are clearly gearing up to try to steal an election again, but their chances of winning one with Trump as candidate seem slim. Currently, he is creating conflict within the Republican party with his insistence on controlling it for his own agenda and punishing dissenters.
Another assumption we make when we assess Trump’s prospects is that he won’t be locked up in 2024, or that his reputation, such as it is, won’t be severely damaged even in the eyes of some who voted for him before. Even in the past couple of weeks his standing has shifted significantly. Former attorney general Bill Barr is now speaking up – to promote his book about him – about how Trump was clearly advised that his claims of election theft had no basis and that his strategies to overturn the results were illegal. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has woken up people around the world (or at least those who were dozing) to Vladimir Putin’s malevolence and reminded Americans of how eagerly Trump allied himself with the Russian dictator, personally and politically. Suddenly a lot of Republicans are trying to scurry away from their own pro-Putin record, which may mean distancing themselves from Trump as well. His 2019 withholding of military aid to Ukraine to try to pressure Ukrainian president Zelenskiy into supporting his lies from him is also being re-examined under the harsh light of this war.
Additionally, Trump is facing many criminal charges, from allegations of financial dirty dealing by the Trump Organization in New York (Trump has called the various probes into the business “politically motivated”), to an investigation into whether Trump and his allies subverted election results in Georgia, where Trump claims election fraud took place. Just last week, the January 6 committee laid out a series of potential charges against the ex-president, including conspiracy to defraud the American people and obstructing an official proceeding of Congress. Trump’s domestic status seems to be shifting rapidly. He is also facing so many lawsuits that both CNN and NBC published indexes of the cases. Last month news broke that Trump had left the White House with classified documents, which he claimed he had a right to take to his home from him. That could be a felony, though how much appetite the Biden administration has for jailing a former president remains to be seen.
Among the large array of civil charges Trump faces are E Jean Carroll’s allegations of defamation over his insult-laden denial that he raped her (he has responded that he was simply responding in the line of “official duties”) and former consigliere Michael Cohen’s case that his return to prison was triggered by Trump after Cohen released a revealing memoir. There are also suits holding Trump responsible for the January 6 insurrection both from members of Congress, and two policemen injured in the mayhem. In February the courts ruled that these civil suits can go forward, and Trump lacks the immunity that would protect him from them. Trump has initiated lawsuits of his own, but a great many have been dismissed, although he is still suing his niece, Mary Trump, for disclosing tax information about him. She in turn is suing him and two of his siblings de ella, alleging that they defrauded her out of much of her inheritance (which they deny).
Though the 14th amendment of the US constitution should ban all insurrectionists from running for elected office, it seems unlikely to be applied to 21st-century candidates the way it was to former Confederates. But still, the Georgia and New York charges are serious. All of which is to say that the road from early 2022 to late 2024 is bumpy for Trump. Popular opinion is fickle; George W Bush is Trump’s age and clearly a permanent has-been. Even Barack Obama, at 60, has strolled offstage.
But even if Trump is not indisputably in the running, Trumpism is running rampant, and it’s a force to contend with in political races across the US. Trump was a super-spreader of his brand of amoral self-interest that tramples fact, truth, law and rights. The man himself is sulking in his private club in Florida – enduring effectual exile from New York, Washington – and Twitter – but to a degree, his work is done. He has got an already corrupt political party to embrace his tactics and values from him. The brazen lies of prominent figures in the party show that they’ve abandoned all ethics and standards, and will happily violate the oaths they took to uphold the constitution. Viral Trumpism has already merged with conspiracy theories such as QAnon, with anti-vaccine cults, with white supremacists and neo-fascists, and with the gun-fetishising groups that continue to have an ominous presence in public life.
I sometimes think of the American right as a pot on the boil; what’s inside is concentrating as it shrinks. The Republican party seems to be losing ground: a Gallup poll from January found that 24% of eligible voters considered themselves Republican, down from 31% in November 2021. That’s a reminder that news stories revealing that a majority of Republicans believe something could actually mean that only a small minority of Americans do.
There have been high-profile defections and general atrophy in the age of Trump. That’s the shrinking. But then there’s the concentration that renders those who remain more furious, more closed-minded, more ready to jump on any bandwagon that looks as if it leads to power, and even more rigidly committed to an increasingly rightwing agenda, even though – or maybe because – that means minority rule.
For progressives, Republican desperation is a good sign, in its way. A popular party doesn’t have to suppress votes and steal elections. A party aligned with the will of the people doesn’t need to lie and cheat. Trumpism seems like a last gasp, a desperate last chance to hang on to what’s slipping away. The old Soviet-satellite aphorism “You can cut down the flowers but you can’t stop the spring” applies nicely.
The future of this country is white-minority. Yet the Republican party has done its best to alienate everybody else, while the rising majority of Americans support reproductive rights, climate action and many economic justice measures. The long-term progressive future of the United States seems almost inevitable. But with Trumpism still a force, the short-term future is alarming and unpredictable, and the damage may be lasting; whether it’s the prevention of climate action or the infliction of literal and financial violence on poor and marginalized people.
Enemies of authoritarianism and white supremacy have their work cut out, but the task is clear and straightforward: to protect the democratic process, upholding voting rights and free and fair elections, to try to win those elections for progressive candidates, and to articulate and defend the values behind those objectives.
Trump is treading water, but this is how resistance to Trumpism works, and how it can prevail if enough people work at it hard enough.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism