By Uchenna Ekwo
Whatever anyone thinks about Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States remains the most dominant political force in the country for about a decade and counting. Over the course of his entry into politics without any previous experience, Trump has mastered how to manipulate the rich, the poor, and the so called political class to his ultimate selfish advantage. With all his character flaws and scandals laid bare in course of his ascension to the Oval Office in 2016, he fought the media, judiciary, the legislature, and curiously the executive arm of government while in office and out of the office. To date, he continues to show utter contempt for the rule of law, disrespects law makers and law enforcement agencies, judges, defies Congressional subpoenas, and calls journalists enemies of the people.
The latest manifestation of Trump’s classical defiance to the rule of law is the ongoing battle with the Department of Justice in which the special counsel, Jack Smith indicted him on 37-count charges of multiple offenses related to confiscation, poor handling of national security secrets, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice. Instead of providing evidence to justify his claims of innocence, he is attacking the special counsel with pejorative language and also criticizing President Biden for what he phrased as “election interference.” The same is true of his supporters in Congress and some of his rivals in the contest for the Republican Party primary election. While Trump is presently ahead in the polls to win the GOP nomination, other candidates notably Ron DeSantis, Tim Scott, and Nikky Halley before the court verdict have leaped into making promises to grant pardon to Trump if he were to be convicted of the crimes alleged by the special counsel. None of them addresses the substance of the case but they figured out that the indictment is so serious that“Trump is toast if the allegations are true” as Trump-appointed Attorney General Bill Bar put it.
Given the current political climate in the United States, it appears Trump is seeking the presidency to halt or evade the legal challenges facing him and to satisfy his insatiable quest for power. Additionally, his presence in the race has forced his rivals to pledge allegiance to him, all of whom promised to pardon Trump if they won the presidency next year. Former Vice President Mike Pence could not understand why his fellow contestants in the GOP primary election made the assumption that Trump would be convicted. He reasoned correctly that a discussion about pardon is premature because Trump remains innocent until the justice system finds him guilty. Whether Trump wins the presidency, or any of the GOP candidates wins or President Biden wins reelection, what is clear is that Trump wants one of three things: presidency, pardon, or the power to continue to influence his captive supporters of about 30% of the US electorate.
The drumbeats of pardon, weaponization of the justice system, election interference, and the ignoble comparison of Trump’s woes with what happens in third world countries where leaders jail their political rivals should concern critical minded observers of the contemporary US politics. At the inception of the Trump administration in 2017, he fired the FBI Director James Comey that ultimately led to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Muller to investigate Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia in 2016 presidential election. Muller’s report was diluted by Bill Bar, the Attorney-General and buried the effort by Trump’s DOJ. The legal travails of John Bolton, the National Security Adviser under Trump over publishing his book “The Room Where it Happened” represented what could be described as weaponization of the justice system. When Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, his pressure campaign to overturn the will of the people was widely reported in the media. He attempted to use the Department of Justice to muddy the waters. But for the patriotism and resilience of top DOJ officials, Trump was determined to use the department as a tool to achieve his goal of staying in power. The refusal of Vice President Pence to use unconstitutional means to reject the certification of the electoral college votes was yet one out of many Trump’s attempts to interfere in the 2020 polls.
There were other brazen attempts at election interference such as the infamous phone call to the Georgia Secretary of State asking him to find votes anywhere to make him winner in the state. So, to accuse the Biden administration of election interference or weaponization of the DOJ is ludicrous and diversionary. It reminds one of the Orwellian world characterized by draconian control by propaganda, surveillance, disinformation, denial of truth (doublethink), and manipulation of the past. Trump and his acolytes understand the stakes and know better than they spew in the public domain. Throughout his improbable entry into politics in 2015, Trump has framed himself as an outsider and yet an insider. Such duplicity of purpose serves him so well and remains a magnet to many Americans eager to screw the system they believe is inimical to their interests. His mastery of the Orwellian double speak is legendary often making use of language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. As George Orwell points out in his book: “1984” “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.” After every crisis in his tumultuous presidency including two impeachments, two indictments so far, Trump often plays the victim card. Every now and then he tells his supporters “they’re not coming after me. They’re coming after you. I’m just standing in their way, and I always will stand in their way.” Of course this is political doublespeak and not true but his adoring crowds at campaign rallies believe it.
In the midst of all these issues, several questions persist. Why is it that no one is presenting a vigorous defense for the actions of the former president? How can the false equivalency of comparing Trump’s self-inflicted legal jeopardy with what happens in the third world where leaders jail their political rivals? Is this a coded way of saying that former presidents are above the law and thereby endorsing a two-tier justice system? The comparison with third world countries smacks of arrogance but what is true is that many third world countries have better leaders than Trump. Conversely, the reference to third world countries is perhaps another way of saying that Trump’s mien, conduct, and disregard for the rule of law are most suited for emerging countries. In other words, Trump is unfit for the exalted office of the presidency in a sophisticated country like the United States where the institutions of democracy proved inviolate, strong, and survived all attacks including the January 6th 2021 at the Capitol. Indeed, if Trump was president in the Middle East or some African country, he would have steamrolled himself into a second term even though the electorate rejected him.
As Trump gambles his way for the second time to the Oval Office, Americans must give serious thought to what another Trump presidency could accomplish. Should he win, the four years would be dominated by recriminations, retribution, hunting down perceived enemies, and upending cherished democratic ideals. Hardly will he be able to focus on the job. Already, the Republican controlled House of Representatives has opened the first salvo by voting to censure Congressman Adam Shiff, a Democrat from California and former Chairman of Intelligence Committee for doing his job in the last Congress for daring to hold Trump accountable for his actions. At this point, it is advisable for everyone to be careful with their utterances. Trump is innocent until the court finds him guilty. Political pundits including serving and past political office holders should tone down their rhetoric in order not to overheat the polity. America is based on the rule of law and not rule by men. The country will overcome this epoch like it did throughout history.
Dr. Uchenna Ekwo writes from New York. Follow him on Twitter @UcheEkwo