by Frank Schnittger
Fri Jan 8th, 2021 at 06:10:45 PM EST
Trump Says He Could 'Shoot Somebody' and Still Maintain Support
Donald Trump said Saturday that his supporters are so loyal that he would not lose backers even if he were to shoot someone in the middle of downtown Manhattan.
"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, okay, and I wouldn't lose any voters, okay?" Trump said at a rally in Sioux Center, Iowa as the audience laughed. "It's, like, incredible."
Trump's whole Presidency can be seen as a political experiment to see how far he could push the boat out on political extremism and still retain political support. Indeed his approval ratings have rarely slipped below 40%, and currently stand at 42.4%. Not enough to secure re-election, obviously, but enough to make it a contest. It is worth noting that his 74 Million votes in the General Election is the highest ever attained by any presidential candidate bar Joe Biden, who obtained 81 Million votes.
So what does this say about the state of the US polity...
Watching the horrified and aghast anchors on US news channels as the events on Capital Hill unfolded, I found it hard not to laugh. It is not that I doubted the seriousness of the situation, but that I wondered what aspects of the event they found surprising. Trump has been inciting crowds to anger and condoning violence since forever. He even told his rally supporters that he would meet them on Capital Hill. They could justifiably feel they were only carrying out his orders, or at least acting in accordance with his will.
As calls for Trump to broadcast to the nation and appeal for calm grew ever louder, Trump is reported to have been engrossed in the TV coverage, watching in approval, and of no mind to call on the protestors to cease and desist. Presumably he was hoping that the protestors would succeed in preventing the electoral college votes being certified, and somehow derail the transition process. No one had ever been able to stop him before, so why should he stop now?
And truth be told, the majority of Republican leaders have been more than happy to ride on his coat-tails to victory. There was no outrage against democratic norms that was a step too far for them. Even now, after the Capital Hill invasion, 8 Republican senators and 139 congressmen heeded his call to oppose the certification process. The undermining of US democracy cannot go far enough, as far as they are concerned.
So what further outrage awaits us in the last 12 days of his Presidency? A nuclear strike against Iran's uranium re-processing centres? A calling in the army to make life difficult for attendees at the inauguration ceremony and celebrations? A pre-emptive pardon for himself, his family, supporters, and those who invaded the capital buildings? It seems unlikely that Democratic calls for his impeachment or removal from Office under Article 25 of the constitution will succeed.
It is easy for those of us in Europe and with relatively little "skin in the game" to take a dispassionate and even Machiavellian approach to the next few days: Leave him to stew in his own juices, and keep the Republican party as divided as possible for the next few years. A Trump dominating conservative airwaves will skewer any attempts by other conservatives to move on and regain positions of influence in the Mid-terms and beyond. But this is perhaps to underestimate the damage he can continue to do in the next few days and years to come.
Those US citizens I have spoken to seem terrified at the damage he could yet do. Perhaps I underestimate the appetite for continued violence and extra-constitutional action by his support base. Perhaps I over-estimate the revulsion of a large majority of Americans at what happened on Capital Hill. Perhaps it is not the seminal moment I expect, discrediting Trump and Trumpism for the foreseeable future. Perhaps it will not so much divide conservatism as embolden it.
Many Democrats are determined to impeach Trump to disqualify him from future office and to prosecute all those who invaded Capital Hill. Their sense of justice and the integrity of the democratic process has been offended, and there is no doubt such actions are objectively justified. But is seeking to make Trump and his supporters a martyr politically wise, especially given the violent origins of the American Revolution which have been used to justify violence ever since?
Only time will tell. But viewed from afar, it is as easy to see the events of Capital Hill as the end of a far right insurrection, as the beginning, clearly marking out those who support democracy from those who support autocracy, and marginalising those who were once part of the far right mainstream. It may only have been one battle in a long war, but it is hard to see it as one which the far right and white supremacists have won.
The Georgia run-off senate elections indicate there has been a 2.7% shift from Republicans to Democrats between November 2020 and January 2021. This was before the events on Capital Hill, of course, but may reflect public reaction to Trump's refusal to accept the election result and the Republican split on the $2,000 pandemic payments. Compared to Nov. 2020, turnout was higher in Democrat majority areas, and in counties with higher proportions of Black and less educated voters. It may only be a straw in the wind, but Trump seems to be as good at mobilizing a majority of voters against him, as he is at mobilising his base. Long may that continue.