- + Trump has come under fire for inciting an insurrection.
- + He has been criticised for spreading conspiracy theories despite the major loss of support.
- + Trump’s legacy is a deeply divided America.
Why is Trump’s heat level freezing?
Answer: Due to the losses of support and impeachment procedure.
After the victory of the Biden-Harris ticket, Donald Trump was prompt to react and claim election fraud. Trump contested the results and asked for a recount of the votes in many states especially in Georgia. Indeed, the recording of a phone call on December 23rd was released where Trump explicitly asks a Georgia official to “find the fraud” and that they would be considered a “national hero” if they were to do so.
This call was made in the context of an inquiry following alleged ballot fraud in the suburbs of Atlanta. Secretary of State, Raffensperger, who had launched the investigation, highly criticised Trump’s intervention. Trump then requested him to overturn the results and threatened him with criminal consequences. In early January, Trump turned to Pence to discard election results. Unfortunately for Trump, the Vice President admitted not having the power to block the Congress’ certification of Biden’s victory.
As a last resort, during a rally on January 6th this year, Trump encouraged his supporters to march to the Capitol and protest against the congressional certification. The crowd turned into a mob breaching the Capitol perimeter, toppling barricades and pushing back the police. The rioters, some armed, managed to enter the building while members of Congress and staff members were rushed into safety. Rioters were hostile, engaging in fights with the police and widespread looting.
A few hours after the arrival of the mob, Biden appeared on national television to denounce the riots and ask Trump to de-escalate the situation and end the siege. Despite the plea, Trump posted a video re-asserting his claim of a fraudulent election and praised the rioters even after asking them to leave the Capitol. Congress managed to reconvene later that night and confirm Biden’s victory.
Following the events in the Capitol, the House of Representatives launched a second impeachment procedure against Trump. Trump faces accusations of inciting an insurrection; the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi has held him responsible for posing a “clear and present danger to the nation”. Trump was forced to admit his defeat and the last days of his presidency were marked by yet another scandal.
Who is changing Trump’s temperature?
Answer: The growing discontent spreading across Trump’s staff, Congress and public opinion.
Trump has not been willing to let go of his theory of a fraudulent election which cost him a large amount of support and ultimately a second impeachment procedure. First, Trump has been criticised following his call with the Georgia official. Then, Pence, his right hand, thwarted his plan by openly admitting not having the power to overturn Congress contrary to Trump’s claims.
Trump’s loss of support increased after the Capitol riots. Multiple staff members resigned following the violent events such as the secretary of transportation, the former acting chief of staff or even members of Melania Trump’s staff. Furthermore, Trump’s behaviour led to a division within the Republican party, resulting in the most bipartisan impeachment in US history. The impeachment procedure was launched by the Democrats of the House of Representative, accusing Trump of inciting an insurrection. The majority of the lower chamber voted in favour of Trump’s impeachment; this includes all of the Democrats as well as ten Republicans, amongst who was House Republican number three, Liz Cheney.
Furthermore, Trump also lost support from public opinion, further increasing the division amongst Americans. According to a poll carried out by the Washington Post and ABC News, only 8% of adults and 15% of Republicans supported the events in Washington. Furthermore, according to another poll by ABC News and Ipsos Poll, the majority of Americans were in favour of removing Trump from office even before the Biden inauguration. Hence, many Republicans and Trump supporters gave up on Trump’s false claim of fraud and accepted Biden as the new American president.
At the international level, the Capitol riots were highly criticised by political leaders. The United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, considered the events “disgraceful” and the Prime Minister of Sweden, Stefan Lovfen, and of New Zealand, Jacinda Arden, underlined the threat to democracy caused by such riots. The leaders of international organisations such as the European Council, European Commission, United Nations and NATO expressed the same feeling. Trump appears to have lost his legitimacy and credibility as many international leaders asked him to admit defeat and act towards a peaceful transition.
One of the first consequences of Trump spreading conspiracy theories and inciting violence was his permanent ban from Twitter. Other tech companies such as Twitch, Reddit or Snapchat joined Twitter in banning Trump’s accounts. These extreme reactions led to a greater debate over free speech and the power such companies have in democratic societies. Despite the criticism of curtailing free speech, the tech companies raised the argument that as private entities, they have the right to moderate their platform as they wish.
What is driving Trump?
Answer: His unwillingness to give up the presidency and fixations on conspiracy theories.
Trump has been characterised by his very populist behaviour, passing his interest as that of the people. Trump believes he was to remain in office to continue to “make America great again”. His main goal was to hold on to his power at all costs. Indeed, the former president was ready to use his status to influence state officials and skew the results in his favour. He believes he has been robbed of his second presidency and tried to impose his will and overturn the election results.
Besides, Trump remains attached to public opinion and aims to convince a wider audience of the validity of his claims. He uses two strategies: discrediting his opponents and rewarding his supporters. For instance, Trump spread false rumours about the Secretary of State Raffenspenger. He claimed that the latter had a brother working for a Chinese tech firm. Considering the rivalry between China and the US, if not debunked, this could have led to increased suspicion towards Raffenspenger. This invalidated his criticism of Trump’s involvement in the Georgia fraud inquiry.
On the other hand, the Georgia official was promised to be recognized as a “national hero” for accepting Trump’s demand and overturning the vote results. In addition, while Trump gently invited rioters to leave the Capitol, he supported their ‘patriotism’ despite them breaching federal grounds and looting a federal institution.
As the first president to be impeached twice, the second one being the most bipartisan one in US history, Trump’s reputation is at its lowest. Besides, he lost all credibility at the international level as many leaders criticised his behaviour. Trump’s future in politics remains very uncertain.
What does this mean for you?
Answer: An incredibly divided USA raises questions about the stability and sustenance of democracy at large.
Trump has been dividing the public opinion since the start of his campaign and his last days in office have proven to be no different. His entire political career so far has created disagreements across the American political landscape, especially amongst Republican. However, following the recent events, the most pressing issue is not this polarisation but the threat to democracy.
Indeed, Mason and Kalmoe, researchers from the University of Maryland found that the share of Americans who consider it is “at least a little bit justified” to use political violence has risen to 20% which is twice as much as in 2017. While the rise can be observed for both parties, the Democrat approval remained stable. The Republicans, who had previously condoned violence, approved it more after the 2016 election, making the event a turning point in American democracy.
While the approval of political violence is on the rise as shown during the Capitol riots, a striking difference can be seen between the recent events and the Black Lives Matter movement last summer. BLM protests were a response to several deaths due to police brutality and against systemic racism. Protesters were regularly met with tear gas, rubber bullets and heavy gear. On the other hand, the mob which stormed the Capitol was fuelled by conspiracy theories and armed with guns, pipes, chemicals and even explosives. However, the police response was minimal. This only increases the visible inequalities and divisions in the USA.
What’s more, these events greatly tarnished the image of the United States; this unprecedented political violence was criticised worldwide. While Biden introduced himself as the president of unity during his inauguration, only time will tell whether he will be able to fix Trump’s damage and make America great again in the eyes of the international community. The new president has already started to reverse the Trump administration’s policies in key areas such as the coronavirus crisis response, the environment and immigration through fifteen executive orders.
The capitols riots also raised an important question: what does the rise of tech companies as major powers mean for democratic societies? Twitter justified banning Trump’s account based on his incitation of violence. Yet, be doing so, the company has curtailed free speech. Nevertheless, the unchecked power to unilaterally ban a user from such a widespread social media platform remains questionable, especially when concerning a political actor.