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Trump’s Shadow Looms over Biden’s Presidency

Trump’s Shadow Looms over Biden’s Presidency

Friday, 15 January, 2021 - 12:30
Elias Harfoush
Lebanese writer and journalist

Normally, US presidents become history once their terms have expired. They retire on their farm and keep themselves busy writing memoirs and remembering the leaders they met, the deals they made, the laws they signed and the capitals they visited. They become outside the world of politics and decision-making. The US doesn’t have room for two presidents. Mid-day on January 20 separates this term from that.


On Mid-day next Wednesday, things will be different. True, Joe Biden will enter the White House, unless something even more exceptional occurs and prevents this from happening. Donald Trump will leave. But… will Trump really go? The forty-fifth president won’t have his hands on the steering wheel or his finger on the nuclear button. He won’t get Air Force One or the armored presidential limo. But the shadow of his stay at the capital of global decision making will not disappear. He has 74 million American votes in pocket, 11 million more than those allowed him to arrive at the White House in 2017. These millions aren’t going anywhere. They are staying in US cities and rural areas for the next four years of Biden’s term. They don’t accept the legitimacy of any president who isn’t Trump.


Trump’s shadow will loom over Washington during his successor’s inauguration ceremony. The fact that he will break with the US custom of attending the ceremony and the presence of over 20,000 armed forces to protect the capital from another “insurrection” affirms that apprehensions about the absent president who is leaving office and the impact of his future steps control the coming administration.


It will not be easy to get rid of this man’s legacy or his shadow. He came from outside the establishment and the party. His presidency became a milestone, and, like his character, it was different. The man doesn’t respect traditions or taboos; he has his personal constitution and laws. It is on this foundation that Trump built his broad popular base, a sample of which we saw at the “insurrection at the Capitol” on January 6. Under the slogan “you’re all traitors,” these protesters raised the gallows and guillotines in the face of Biden’s victory, bringing to mind the revolution that ended with the decapitations of Louis XVI and poor Mary Antoinette. Even Vice President Mike Pence’s name was on the gallows erected facing Congress, alongside the names of the other “traitors:”: House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, several Democratic state governors, and the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Liz Cheney, who is the most prominent member of the Republican Party to have voted against Trump, who said, “We got to get rid” the likes of her.


Those protesting against the “steal” of the elections and Trump being denied the presidency wanted their message to reach those who want to hear. It is a revolution against everything that American institutions represent: the headquarters of the executive authority at the White House, the center of legislation at the two chambers of Congress, the judiciary’s highest body, the Supreme Court. All of these institutions are accused of committing extraordinary fraudulent actions to prevent Donald Trump from realizing his historic right to remain in the White House: Trump is our president, and we do not recognize any president but him.


The slogan of Trump supporters’ revolution against American institutions was raised alongside slogans of the extremist and fascist movements of the American right and white-supremacist groups. The movements that had no luck in the ballot box and found their new calling in supporting a president in whom they see a genuine reflection of themselves, whose unconventional rhetoric allows him to defend them, even when they plan on attacking federal government headquarters. This was apparent in his call for them to march towards the Capitol to pressure the men and women of Congress to refrain from confirming Joe Biden’s victory.


Trump’s shadow will not leave Washington. It will be hard to ignore him while Congress votes to confirm Biden’s cabinet picks as he begins his term. The House vote in favor of impeaching Trump for violating the constitution and instigating an insurrection will make matters harder for Joe Biden, whose term was supposed to signal a new page being turned after the past four years, a new page that would allow for the reunification of the US as he had promised. Instead, his term will begin with Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, before the vote on the resolution that deems him ineligible to assume the presidency. It will set a historic precedent, as Trump will be relaxing on the beach in his Florida resort while lawmakers in Congress are busy determining his illegibility for office.


Many would prefer for Trump’s legacy and the disputes that emerged during his term to be forgotten. If only this page could be turned. His opponents in the Democratic Party obviously prefer this, as do the Republican members of both houses of Congress who have been applauding him over the past four years, knowing that his support ensured that they would win their legislative seats. These Republicans know that Trump will continue to be an obstacle, whether they hope to run for the presidency in 2024 or obtain the votes they need from the electorate to retain their seat in Congress.


However, there is little to indicate that most Republican members of Congress are ready to relinquish their support for Trump or stop defending him. Despite the hurdles facing his political future and the fact that he had been impeached from the House of Representatives for abuse of power twice, the Republicans did save him from conviction the first time, and they could perhaps save him a second time.


Numbers don’t lie, and they affirm the Republicans’ reluctance to abandon Trump. Despite the siege of the Capitol on January 6 and the confirmation of his defeat by state councils and the courts, the fact remains that 147 members of Congress (139 House representatives and 8 Senators) voted against confirming Biden's victory.


Joe Biden’s ability to stitch America’s torn social fabric back together will hinge on the Republican Party leadership’s readiness to take part in this process and leave Trump’s legacy behind, a legacy that harmed the party’s image to the same extent that it drew votes. In other words, it depends on the extent to which Republicans are prepared to reclaim their party from the “Trumpists”, whom Donald Trump Jr. called the real Republicans on the day of the assault on the Capitol.


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