Donald Trump is “our own American war criminal”, said writer Carl Bernstein, famous for his Watergate journalism, on 25 July.
Bernstein cited Trump “fomenting a coup to hold on to office” and his “homicidal negligence” (not mistakes) over Covid which led to extra “tens of thousands of people” dying.
Trump’s Covid demagogy still weighs heavy, as the Delta variant sweeps the USA. In areas where only about 20% voted for Trump in November 2020, 60% of the population is fully vaccinated; in areas where 80% voted for him, only 30%.
Mark Milley, chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has not disputed the report in a recent book that as he observed Trump’s plans up to the 6 January Capitol riot, he said: “This is a Reichstag moment... The gospel of the Führer”. (When Hitler was first made Chancellor in January 1933, many conservatives thought coalition-government constraints would control him. Hitler kicked aside the traces by exploiting a fire at the Reichstag [parliament] in February).
Milley had been worried about Trump straight after the November 2020 election, and consulted Trump’s former National Security Adviser H R McMaster. The Trump axis was “some of the weirdest shit ever”, McMaster told him, an alliance of “extremists”, QAnon, evangelical Christians, Tea Party conservatives, and white supremacists. “They’re not going to succeed”, Milley told his military colleagues. That US democratic structures were too resilient was not his argument. Rather: “you can’t do this without the military... the CIA... the FBI. We’re the guys with the guns”. Milley made plans for how to block attempts by Trump to use the military to create a crisis which Trump could exploit between November and January.
In the event Trump was not coordinated enough to test Milley, or to push through against his own more sober-minded aides who blocked him sacking Milley. He continues, however, to sustain a political base. 70% of Republican voters believe Trump really won the November 2020 presidential election. Only 40% say they have confidence in the US electoral system. 29% think Trump will be reinstated as president before the end of 2021.
Using that base, Trump is going after the few Republican members of Congress who have spoken out against him since 6 January, putting Trumpist candidates in place everywhere in primaries for the 2022 elections. In the USA’s loosely-structured party system, usually dominated by factors of local candidates’ personal connections and fund-raising, nothing like this loyalty drive has ever been tried before.
Republicans in state-level politics are vying to see who can be most Trumpist. Texas Republicans are pushing heavy curbs on voting rights, have legislated to allow individuals to sue anyone who “aids or abets” any abortion after six weeks, and vow that if the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs Wade (ruling state criminal laws against abortion before 24 weeks unconstitutional), then they will ban abortion completely.
Much depends on whether the US left can rally to push back the Trump movement on the streets and undercut it politically.