the hellish landscape

Image: Clara Figueiredo, untitled, essay. Digitized analog photography, São Paulo, 2019.


The Legacy of the Trump Administration

On January 20, 2017, Trump took his oath of office and delivered the “American Carnage” speech, describing America as a hellish landscape. So it all started. Trump promised to tear up the rules and limits to "dry up the swamp". He filled his government positions with political operatives and appointed his son-in-law Jared Kushner to manage so many projects it would have been comical if it weren't serious. The policies promoted by his administration were often hasty and ill-conceived; when the courts overturned them, Trump complained about the “Deep State”.

Days after taking office, he issued a travel ban aimed at Muslims, the first in a series of actions during his presidency aimed at subordinating people of color to white Americans. Racism in its rhetoric and legislation has attracted white supremacists and turned them into followers. On August 11 and 12, 2017, they rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia. His protest against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee turned into an attempt to create a political vanguard.

The “Unite the Right” demonstration ended in violence, injuring more than 30 people and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, whose last Facebook post, before joining the counter-protest in Charlottesville, read: “If you are not angry, you're not paying attention." Three days after the riots, asked about the violent protests in Charlottesville, Trump said that "you... had people who were very good people, on both sides." This has been interpreted, correctly, as Trump's defense of white supremacists and their gangs, a defense dramatically illustrated in the summer of 2020 when he and his Attorney General William Barr used federal troops against peaceful Black protesters. Lives Matter. In the spring of 2017, a new crisis loomed on the horizon. The FBI was investigating the presidential campaign's cooperation with Russian spies. Trump's former national security adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, had lied to the FBI about conversations with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and Trump pressed then-FBI director James Comey to stop the agency's investigation into Flynn. When Comey declined, Trump fired him, prompting Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein to appoint Special Counsel Robert Mueller (then Attorney General Jeff Sessions had turned down his appointment because he too had lied about Russian talks) to investigate ties between the Trump campaign officials and Russian agents.

Both the Mueller report and the Senate Intelligence Committee report (with Republican leadership) determined that Russian agents had interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump. They indicated that Trump campaign officials knew what the Russians were doing and were willing to accept their help. The Senate Intelligence Committee also noted that Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort provided sensitive inside information about the campaign to a Russian agent in Ukraine. Trump continued to call such allegations a “Russian Hoax,” but observers noted that, of all his feuds with other leaders, he seemed oddly solicitous of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump came to power with a booming economy. In the first three years of his presidency, the economy continued to grow, in part due to tax cuts that cut the corporate tax rate by 40%. Trump promised these cuts would be “rocket fuel for our economy,” but economic growth continued at around 2,9%, the same level since 2015, and more than 60% of the benefits from the cuts went to those top 20%. top of the economic ladder. Even before the pandemic, Trump's economic policies were projected to add $10 trillion to the national debt by 2025, an increase of more than 50%.

And then came the pandemic. At first, Trump downplayed the crisis. Afterwards, he insisted that the Democrats, who demanded that he stand up to her, were overreacting: he called her a Democrat “hoax”. The pandemic has sunk the economy, undermining its biggest argument for re-election, and in the summer of 2020, the government decided its best option was to reopen schools and the economy, and try to achieve herd immunity through infections. The result was a disaster. Today, on the last day of the Trump administration, the official number of Americans we lost to Covid-19 surpassed 400.000. That's about the same number of people we lost in World War II. The pandemic has driven 22 million people out of work and businesses out of business. As the faltering economy undermined Trump's re-election plans, he sought to destroy confidence in mail-in ballots by trying to get people to vote in person. So when that didn't work, he pushed the idea that the Democrats were going to steal the election. Even though his Democratic opponents Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the election by more than 7 million popular votes and secured the Electoral College with 306 votes to 232, Trump and his supporters continued to insist that the election was stolen.

On January 6, 2021, Trump and other senior members of his administration rallied their supporters to attack the counting of certified ballots for Biden and Harris. Emboldened by the President, the crowd marched towards the Capitol with the plan to stop the vote. They overpowered the police, killing an officer; broke into the building; and they were minutes away from successfully taking our elected leaders hostage, or perhaps executing them on the gallows they built.

In the wake of the Capitol attack, the House of Representatives impeached Trump for a second time – the first was in 2019, after he withheld resources destined for Ukraine, approved by Congress, in an attempt to intimidate the newly elected Ukrainian president into announcing a investigation against Joe Biden's son, Hunter, in hopes of undermining Biden as a potential rival in the 2020 election.

Soon, Trump leaves the White House tomorrow having to face a second impeachment trial in the Senate.

Trump split the Republican party. Its true believers intend to transform America into a right-wing, white, Christian nation, embodied in the 1776 Report presented yesterday by the government. In the waning days of his administration, Trump's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is clearly trying to position himself for a presidential bid in 2024, tweeting from the State Department's official government account a long list of what he considers his accomplishments. Today, Senator Josh Hawley, under suspicion of inciting the January 6 rioters with his support of excluding Biden's Electoral College votes, delayed the nomination of the Secretary of Homeland Security because he was contrary to Biden's plans to create an avenue for the citizenship of undocumented immigrants. Establishment Republicans are trying to regain control of the party. After the coup attempt in January, some companies announced that they would no longer donate to Republicans who voted for defying certified electoral votes, while others declared a moratorium on all political spending. The business turn against the Trumpist wing of the Republican party has strengthened the backbone of establishment Republicans. Today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) rose in the Senate and placed Trump at the center of the January 6 attack on the Capitol. "The crowd was fed lies," McConnell said. “They were provoked by the President and other powerful people.”

McConnell continued. He claimed that no party has a broad mandate after the 2020 election, which, he said, means Democrats have no right to move forward with a "radical ideological shift". He is referring, of course, to the plans of President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, plans that he has every intention of disrupting.

Today, President-elect Joe Biden arrived at Andrews Air Force Base. He traveled in a private plane, as Trump refused to extend him the traditional courtesy of a military plane offered by an outgoing president to an incoming one. Trump will not be present at Biden's swearing-in; he will leave for Florida in the morning. In his place, three of the other living former presidents will attend the inauguration: Republican George W. Bush and Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. It is a group of former presidents united to emphasize the peaceful transition of power. Trump will not be there.

The tide is already turning against him. Vice President Mike Pence announced that he will not be able to attend Trump's farewell ceremony, as he will instead participate in Biden's inauguration. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and McConnell — who will become Minority Leader tomorrow, once two Georgia Democratic senators are sworn in — won't be saying goodbye to Trump either: They'll be in church, with Biden. , before its inauguration.

Tomorrow at noon, President-elect Joe Biden will take the oath of office. He intends to bring government back to the principle that the Democratic party has held since the late XNUMXth century: that the federal government has a role to play in meeting the needs of ordinary Americans. He also took on the traditional Democratic idea that government should really resemble the people it represents. In an implicit rebuke of Trump's white nationalism, he assembled the most diverse ensemble of agents in American history. They are also extraordinarily well qualified and have many years of government experience.

Biden and Harris have already outlined a government very different from Trump's. Your first task is to fight the coronavirus. Biden wants 100 million vaccines in his first 100 days as president, and he is mobilizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Guard to make it happen. To rebuild the economy, they developed an aid package designed to protect children first, women and families second. He calls for an expansion of food stamps and the protection of rents and mortgages, as well as an expansion of unemployment benefits and a lump sum payment of aid.

Trump's rule may end where it began. This weekend, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny returned to Russia after his near-fatal poisoning by Putin agents in August. Upon his arrival in Russia, authorities immediately detained him. Trump has refused to join other nations in condemning the poisoning, but yesterday Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) demanded that the US hold Putin accountable for the "corruption and lawlessness of the Putin regime". Joining Romney in demanding new sanctions against Russia was a string of senators from both parties. The law is called “Holding Russia Accountable for the Malicious Activities Act”.

*Heather Cox Richardson is a professor of history at Boston College (USA). She is the author, among other books, of To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party(Basic Books).

Translation: Daniel Pavan.

Originally published in Letters from an American.



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