By Arab News
By Dr. Amal Mudallali*
Washington is using the word “historic” a lot these days. Last week, for example, two “historic” events happened on the same day in the American capital.
One was the third indictment of Donald Trump, a first for an American president, especially in the form of a federal indictment. The other was the downgrading by Fitch of the US debt rating from the highest AAA level to AA+.
Both events were branded historic by the American media and political observers, who tried to pin the responsibility for both on either the Democrats or the Republicans, depending on political affiliations or leanings.
The bigger story of the two was the indictment of Trump in connection with his alleged efforts to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election. He appeared in federal court to face charges of “conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy against the rights of citizens, and obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding.”
These are serious charges that go to the heart of the democratic system and the peaceful transfer of power. The New York Times wrote that this “third indictment in four months gets to the heart of the matter, the issue that will define the future of American democracy.”
Trump pleaded “not guilty” and called the situation a “very sad day for America.” Describing the indictment as “persecution of a political opponent,” he claimed he is leading President Joe Biden “by a lot” in opinion polls and dismissed the case as a politically motivated attempt to prevent him from running for election.
“So if you can’t beat him, you persecute him or you prosecute him,” he said. “You can’t let this happen in America”.
It is clear that his strategy, and that of his team, is to win this case in the court of public opinion before any trial takes place in judicial courts. Trump’s claim that the indictments he faces are politically motivated is certainly a belief shared by many of his supporters.
According to a CBS poll in June, 76 percent of Republican primary voters said they believed this to be true in the case of the indictment over his alleged possession of classified documents. The poll also revealed that 61 percent of the Republican voters who were questioned had not changed their opinion of Trump as a result of the indictment, and 41 percent said it had made them view him in an even more positive light.
A new ABC poll after the third indictment showed that support for indicting the former president fell along party lines too. In the poll 89% of the Democrats believed Mr. Trump “should have been charged with a crime in this case,” compared to 14% of Republicans who believed that.
These polls are but one more illustration of the political fault line and deep divisions in the country along party lines, raising concerns that they are starting to have real consequences for the country and its financial and economic stability.
Experts are worried about the message these repeated political confrontations are sending to the financial markets, and to the world in general, about the health of American democracy and the country’s economic and political stability.
The most glaring illustration of this concern came on the same day Trump was indicted for the third time, as if to make the point in unmistakably stark terms. It was, however, a coincidence that Fitch, the ratings agency, downgraded the US debt rating on the same day the former president was accused of inciting political instability.
Fitch cited “a steady deterioration in standards of governance over the last 20 years” and added that the “repeated debt-limit political standoffs and last-minute resolutions have eroded confidence in fiscal management.”
Fitch’s director, Richard Francis, explained to Reuters the specific concerns that led to the downgrade, saying that “you have the debt ceiling, you have Jan. 6. Clearly, if you look at the polarization with both parties, the Democrats have gone further left and the Republicans further right, so the middle is kind of falling apart.”
In a story headlined “Yet another Trump ‘indictment’: Fitch blames Jan. 6 for US credit downgrade,” New Republic magazine described the coincidental timing of the two announcements as “a weird stroke of irony.”
Not surprisingly, the White House saw it as vindication of its claim that the attack on the Capitol, and the hard-line tactics of Republicans in blocking the president’s agenda in Congress, have contributed to the economic woes of the country. Spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre was very clear about where the administration believes responsibility for the downgrade lies.
“It’s clear that extremism by Republican officials, from cheerleading default to undermining governance and democracy to seeking to extend deficit-busting tax giveaways for the wealthy and corporations, is a continued threat to our economy,” she said.
The White House is, and should be, concerned because the 2024 election campaign is already underway, in the court of public opinion and in actual US courts. The Biden team knows that Trump and his campaign will use the downgrade to attack Biden and his economic policies as “disastrous Bidenomics,” as they put it, regardless of whether or not the Fitch data and analysis were “outdated,” as Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen suggested.
This 2024 presidential campaign is shaping up to be the most contentious and divisive in American history, not only because of the deep divisions in the country, or the increased role of artificial intelligence in the spreading of fake news, but because it is obvious from last week’s developments that Trump is not taking hostages.
In a message posted on his Truth Social platform, he wrote: “IF You Go After ME, I’M Coming After You.” His campaign defended the message as being “the definition of political speech.” But some commentators, and Justice Department prosecutors, saw it as a threat and expressed concern that the former president might disclose in his social media accounts information that is important to the cases he faces.
But the main concern is what Trump would do if he does return to the White House. According to the New York Times, he and his allies “are planning sweeping expansion of presidential power over the machinery of the government” and to “centralize more power in the Oval Office and his hands.”
After reviewing “his campaign policy proposals and interviews with people close to him,” the newspaper wrote: “Mr. Trump and his associates have a broader goal: To alter the balance of power by increasing the president’s authority over every part of the federal government that now operates, by either law or tradition, with any measure of independence from political interference by the White House.”
Moreover, the language of the former president is clear about his intentions should he win the election. During a speech in Bedminster, New Jersey, after his second indictment in New York, he laid out his plans very clearly.
He announced he would “appoint a real special prosecutor to go after the most corrupt president in the history of America, Joe Biden, and the entire Biden crime family.”
But most importantly, he said:” I will totally obliterate the deep state. We know who they are. I know exactly who they are.”
No presidential candidate has ever used this kind of language.
If any of this comes to pass it will be truly “historic” and America, as we know, it will cease to exist as a democracy in which the transfer of power is a normal, peaceful and orderly process. But this is what Trump and his supporters believe the Democrats are doing to him now, through the indictments. And that is why the 2024 presidential election will be truly historic.
- Dr. Amal Mudallali is an American policy and international relations analyst.