Articles – The Centre for Independent Studies

Republicans will pay for Typhoon Trump

Tom Switzer

07 January 2021 | The Australian

In nearly 30 years of closely following US politics, I have seen a great many astonishing developments. But never anything remotely like the political typhoon that has swirled through Washington in recent weeks.

Indeed, it is extremely hard to understate the significance of the ensuing electoral chaos: with likely Republican losses in the two run-off Senate races in Georgia, Donald Trump has damaged irreparably his own cause in a hitherto safe conservative state.

And as bizarre as it sounds, it is entirely reasonable to believe the outgoing President wanted the Republicans to lose the two Georgia Senate seats. (The last time a Democrat unseated an incumbent senator there was in 1986.) This is because, in his mind, a dual loss would have supported his fallacious allegations of widespread voting irregularities.

After all, if the Republican Senate candidates defied the “crooked” system and, as was expected a few months ago, won the run-off elections, then how to explain Trump’s own defeat two months ago? Besides, if the system really is “rigged” against the Republicans, why should they bother voting anyway? Somewhere, Woodrow Wilson — who sought to make the world “safe for democracy” — is rolling over in his grave.

Remember, since the November 3 presidential race, Trump has embarked on a hopeless campaign to overturn the result of the election that he lost. He consistently has cited electoral fraud to explain his defeat without providing any evidence.

Making matters worse, in a leaked conversation this week, Trump pressured Georgia’s chief election official to “find” him enough votes to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the state. On Thursday AEDT, as congress gathers to tally officially the electoral college votes cast for the Democratic president-elect, several Republican senators are indulging Trump’s ill-fated attempts to delegitimise the presidential election outcome.

Meanwhile, Trump has tried to veto conservative defence and COVID-relief legislation, which has put his own party’s legislative leadership in a serious bind. No wonder many college-educated Republicans in Atlanta’s suburbs — think Sydney’s Warringah electorate in 2019 — have turned against Trump with a vengeance.

Has a US president ever been more indifferent to political sanity and reality? Has he ever tried to cling to power by subverting the will of the electorate and undermining public confidence in the electoral system?

For his opponents, Trump’s self-inflicted wounds have been gifts that keep on giving. If Georgia falls, Democrats will control both houses of congress and the White House, while Republicans will engage in a brutal and deeply unedifying row as leading conservatives blame Trump for the shambles. An incoming Biden administration, aided and abetted by activist left-liberal politicians, not only could repeal many Trump policies but also could push a “progressive” agenda that would make self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders proud. A Republican Senate would block Biden’s ability to indulge the Democratic left. With a Democratic upset in Georgia, though, all bets are off. The consequences could reverberate for another generation.

The other consequence of Trump’s unfathomable selfishness concerns the US as a whole. Since the election, a lame-duck sore loser has been incapable of providing the coherent leadership the nation needs at a time when the US is in a terrible state.

The pandemic has killed more than 350,000 Americans and has led to others losing their jobs, their businesses and their livelihoods. Despite Trump’s pledge to make America great again, the nation is badly off track and there is a haemorrhage of confidence in the future.

In fairness, Trump is a symptom, not cause, of America’s broader cultural crisis. In 2016, he upset the metropolitan sophisticates and won power by tapping into legitimate anxieties about globalisation, illegal immigration, endless wars and identity politics. As a result, his America First populism has enthused millions of Americans.

Trump also has chalked up some successes. After the Obama era of stagnation, his tax cuts led to a booming pre-pandemic economy of low unemployment, wage growth and productivity gains while his deregulation agenda spurred a boom in gas and oil production that has made the US energy independent for the first time in generations.

However, for all his proverbial fire and brimstone, Trump was unable to change much as president. He did not make peace with Russia. Neither did he end the forever wars of the Middle East. He did not build his wall with Mexico.

Although he has rightly railed against identity politics, on his watch cancel culture has swept across American institutions. And although his court appointments generally have been sound, his personal history (he has been married three times and has been subjected to several sexual harassment claims) is too chequered for him to have been a convincing champion for family values.

Trump also has coarsened public discourse. True, he faced a fanatical media and political opposition that never accepted his victory in 2016. (There was no Russian “collusion”.) However, his narcissism, his Twitter storms, his divisive governance, his erratic temperament, his personalising disputes, his making needless enemies (including on his own political side) — all this means US politics has not been so poisoned and polarising since the civil war in the 1860s.

Trump’s unhinged and self-serving attack on the legitimacy of the US government represents a new low. As a result, Republicans have paid a big price in Georgia. So has democracy in America.

Tom Switzer is executive director of the Centre for Independent Studies and a presenter at the ABC’s Radio National.

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