By María Isabel Puerta Riera
A massive fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, & articles, even those found in the Constitution.
Donald J. Trump, December 3, 2022
The Age of Reality TV in the White House
The arrival of Donald J. Trump to the White House was probably a sign of frustration from the electorate with Washington D.C. political elites. At the same time, it represented the desire to bring a successful businessperson to take charge of the country and change its course. In that yearning was a strong critique of the culture of corruption associated with the country’s political class, hoping to drain the swamp. In any case, Trump’s election cast doubt not only on the pollsters who initially labeled Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party candidate, as the winner but also on experts who never took candidate Trump seriously.
However, disbelief about his triumph does not invalidate the early perception about the strength of his political competency, mainly because Donald Trump was a widely known figure, from the pages of entertainment magazines to his status as a reality TV star. Hence, from the beginning, starting with his decision not to disassociate himself from his family business up to his departure from the White House, the former president accumulated at least 3,700 conflicts of interest registered by the NGO Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). While there were cases beyond a mere conflict of interest, the truth is that there wasn’t a legal framework to investigate and sanction such an inappropriate situation. This echoes the warnings made after Watergate about the weaknesses of a political system depending on the presidency to self-regulate when it comes to moral and ethical issues.
There are two perspectives we have to differentiate while addressing Trump’s practices in the White House that respond to different strategic objectives. On the one hand, there is the angle of Trump as a businessman that collided with the unwritten rule about the need for the appearance of good conduct. This could be seen when Trump brought his daughter and son-in-law as advisers, despite the reaction in public opinion about the inconvenience of those appointments, demonstrated when it was revealed that Jared Kushner was denied the security clearance that allowed him unrestricted access to classified information. And that it was ordered by the president, despite his legal advisers’ opposition.
The other was undoubtedly the political approach. Since the beginning of his term, it was clear that power and permanence in the White House were a priority for former President Trump. In May 2017, when the investigation into the interference of the Vladimir Putin regime in the 2016 elections began, one of the many political crises of his administration started a yearslong confrontation with the media, leading to the accusation of the press embodying the enemy. The investigation conducted by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who ran an extensive probe into Russian interference and possible ties to then-candidate Trump’s campaign for nearly two years, kept the country on tenterhooks. In the course of it, it was not infrequently feared that Trump’s pressure on his Attorney General and the Department of Justice would end up repeating the experience of the Saturday Night Massacre of the Watergate scandal. Despite the speculation of the president’s guilt, the long-awaited report commissioned by special counsel Robert Mueller did not clear up the existing doubts. Although no accusations were made against the then-president, he was not explicitly exonerated either. Nonetheless, Mueller’s report referenced the need to limit the power of the presidency to protect political institutions from abusive exercise.
A Former President and a Persistent Threat
It didn’t take too long for the former president to be under scrutiny again for his abuse of power. In early September 2019, an anonymous whistleblower’s formal complaint submitted to the Congressional Intelligence Committee revealed the contents of a July 25 call between Presidents Trump and Zelenskyy. On September 24, the head of the Lower House of Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, announced the beginning of the impeachment process of President Trump. President Donald J. Trump was charged with high crimes and misdemeanors on December 18, 2019, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. On January 5, 2020, he was acquitted by a majority in the United States Senate.
In an unprecedented event, and after the assault on the United States Congress on January 6, President Donald J. Trump was again subjected to an impeachment procedure for inciting insurrection on January 13, 2021. Once more, as in his first impeachment proceedings, he was acquitted on February 13. The assault on the U.S. Capitol has shocked beyond the country’s borders and is one of the latest examples of democratic erosion. The internal repercussions are no less severe given that despite the connection between the former president and the insurgents, the Republican Party, after the first reactions of condemnation, has contributed to the normalization of the situation, amplifying the features of post-truth built from desires instead of reality.
The former president was convinced that he had won, although we now know this is not the case. Trump kept losing the cases he had introduced to dispute the electoral results, proving the triumph of President Biden instead, but, far from forcing him to recognize his victory in the race, he deepened his denunciation of electoral fraud. After announcing a third run for the presidency, the former president is now demanding to dismiss the Constitution of the United States based on an unclear interpretation of the First Amendment regarding Twitter’s content moderation policy back in 2020.
Break It All
The country continues to debate the democratic processes and institutions that have made the American experiment an aspiration for many others. At the center, there is an ongoing attempt to question the system, sowing distrust precisely on the principles that have sustained -not without flaws- the current social contract. A majority of Americans believe the former president’s movement threatens democracy, yet he is doubling down on his attempt to retake the White House.
The wounds left by the Trump presidency, and the aftermath of January 6, 2021, continue to affect democracy in the United States. Distrust in the institutions and the electoral process has been the direct consequence of the fabrication of a plot of electoral fraud without evidence, with severe repercussions for the future of democratic institutions.
In a two-party political system, the failure of the opposition party to recognize the rules of the game means that the foundations of democracy are eroded. This legacy is destroying the waning trust that already existed in political institutions. If the constitution is the next victim, there is little left to do if the Republican Party remains silent while its leader tears down not just their party but the American political system.
About the Author
María Isabel Puerta Riera is a Political Scientist teaching U. S. Government in Florida interested in U. S. and Latin American Politics.
This is an excerpt from an upcoming book chapter on political scandals in the Americas.
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