Did President Trump strategically stoke the fire of nationalism or did the timing and execution go wholly wrong? It has gone to the extent of threatening any possible re-election in 2024.
Almost next to what Abraham Lincoln faced a “threatened journey” to the White House in 1861, the inauguration ride of President-elect Joe Biden is no different. In fact, it’s the most gripping political drama ever for American and global media to witness in the last 150 years of US presidential history.
The events preceding Biden’s final entry into the White House included a cliffhanger election, a long wait for poll results and the legal battle to “own the Presidency” finally. And if these were not enough, the storming of Capitol Hill by pro-President Donald Trump supporters last week are sure to haunt Biden till he finally settles down in the White House’s Oval Office as US’ 46th President.
The nightmares about a repeat of President Lincoln’s inauguration days may not be over for him yet as the mounting threats of fresh violence and the unprecedented security and intelligence surveillance in place ahead of the 20 January inauguration take us back to “dark history in American democracy”.
Famous Presidential predictor and a history professor in American University, Allan Lichtman says: “The closest analogue would be the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln in 1861. Tensions were so high over slavery that southern states had seceded from the Union between Election Day and Inauguration Day. The threats to Lincoln were so credible that he had to sneak into the capital under the cover of darkness.”
In 2021, it’s not rosy for Biden either. Many flights to DC have been cancelled, Amtrak has suspended some services and Metro will be off-services in Washington DC area on Inauguration Day as many states have also declared closure of offices fearing violence in the capitals.
Will this go as the “ugly and dark legacy” of the Trump-era or a subtle nationalism, which many, including the US media, failed to acknowledge first in 2016 and then in 2020? Presidential election results apart, the insurrection and the Capitol storming, which saw among protesters an Olympic swimmer, a firefighter and now even President Trump facing conviction over “inciting the mob attack and bringing American democracy to its darkest day ever,” is more than a mere “political protest”.
A former diplomat and an expert on South Asia affairs in Johns Hopkins University, Professor Walter Andersen sees the protest “positively”. “The attack on the Capitol was both disturbing and unprecedented. It reflects the divisions in the country and hopefully President Biden will be able to restore some measure of reconciliation between the different points of view. This tolerance of conflicting views is after all the essence of democracy.”
Andersen added, “Will these events be a legacy to the Trump era? Too early to tell…But I am basically an optimist. Recall we just had an election with a massive turnout and a shift in ruling parties. Keep in mind that the presidential vote was relatively close and the two houses of the Congress have a virtually even split. To achieve anything, the two sides therefore need to work together. Biden having spent most of his adult life in Congress knows this very well.”
Lichtman, who has never been wrong in predicting the Presidents and their terms in the last 40 years, said: “The insurrection at the Capitol was a culmination of the Trump presidency. For his full term Trump has lied to the American people, claimed absolute presidential power, divided America along racial lines, cozied up to the extremist far right, including white supremacists, and undermined our democratic elections. In the two months leading up to the mayhem he riled up his extremist followers with grossly false claims that he won the presidential election in a landslide, but felonious Democrats had stolen it from him, and direct action was needed to ‘take back the country’.”
Lichtman added, “I did not necessarily see the events that led to the second impeachment coming. However, when I predicted in 2016 that Trump would be elected and then impeached the traits that I identified explain both impeachments. I explained that Trump has a history of inveterate lying, disregard for the law, and no concern for anyone but himself. I also explained that he has never been held accountable for misdeeds throughout his life and considered himself invulnerable.”
But with all the current events in global eye, US’ own global stature and its strategic business worldwide have got deeply impacted. Andersen says: “There has been some damage, but the negative consequences are likely to diminish over time. A large part of the problem was style and wording and I don’t see US strategic interests as basically undermined. Europeans are concerned by Russian expansionism and Asians by a Chinese variant. They want a strong America and hope that the internal divisions will diminish.”
The JHU’s diplomacy expert is hopeful that the US is the only country that can meaningfully contain this assertiveness. “What is likely to occur is a growing cooperation of countries that feel threatened—and that suits US interests,” Andersen told this newspaper.
Still for Biden, it’s a road burdened with immediate damage control measures and pacifying warring groups.
Lichtman says: “White nationalism is a continuing threat to the nation and to the Biden presidency. It must be contained through vigorous law enforcement and prosecution, and through bipartisan condemnation. Also, Biden can stave off the most serious threat through policies that actually improve the lives of ordinary Americans.”
Added Professor Andersen: “The Biden administration and the Democratic Party will have to show tolerance of opposing views if this national divisiveness is to be reduced. He would have to restrain the far left, which seeks revenge just as the Republican far right must be restrained. They are the ones who brought the violence in DC.”
Andersen says, “Keep in mind that in recent national elections the outcome between the parties left the two sides relatively equal with Republicans only slightly behind. Any effort to silence one side or the other will only stimulate resistance and stoke anger.” So going by Prof Andersen’s take, did President Trump “strategically stoke the nationalism fire” or the timing and the execution went wholly wrong? It has gone to the extent of threatening his re-election in 2024 and causing an end to the most “infamous Presidential era in American history”.
In the last week before he exits the White House, President Trump’s job approval rates are the lowest ever, much to the delight of Democrats and many Republicans keen to take a chance in 2024. He currently is a diminished figure, says Andersen, adding, “his (Trump) continued hold on such a large part of the American public that supported him will depend on how well Biden is able to revive the American economy and keep restraints on China and Russia—and on whether the Democrats seek to silence Republicans politically.”
If either of these fell short, he will likely receive significant support of people discontented with the situation. That is how he won in 2016. It’s not over yet between Biden and Trump if the latter is not convicted.