War against Trump compromises American politics

If Trump is undecided whether to be a candidate, now for sure the decision has been sealed for him. He has to show that he will not be defeated. He's that type of politician. We shall observe successive waves of accustions and acts of revenge, says Professor Zbigniew Lewicki, American affairs specialist.

TVP WEEKLY: Former U.S. President Donald Trump has been formally presented with 34 charges including falsification of business documents. Everyone is most excited by the information that before the 2016 elections Trump allegedly approved the payment of USD 130 000 to an actress in the adult film industry. This does not change the fact that it was the first time in history that a former president was charged with a criminal offence. Does that make him a contender for the presidency of the United States?   PROF. ZBIGNIEW LEWICKI: /Donald Trump still counts as a candidate for the presidency. There are no formal barriers that prevent an individual under investigation running for the office and become the president. Even an individual under sentence can run for office. At the beginning of the 20th century a candidate from the Socialist Party was incarcerated, but he got very few votes.

How does this whole affair, both legally and morally affect the political support for Trump?

    Opinion polls suggest that he has gained support. It arises not from a personal like of the man but from the way that he has been treated as a former president by the federal prosecutor. It’s the voice of a rebellion against the institutions of the state which for years have exhibited a degree of contempt and hatred against him and a willingness to destroy him at all costs.

Will this translate into electoral votes?

  It’s still over a year before the elections. It is difficult to predict what may happen. If the elections were to take place today then Trump could surely count on the votes of his new supporters. But emotions and memory fade with time. So we can ask what direction the trial is likely to take and what the verdict could be. If the aim was to push the former president onto the political backburner then the effects were the opposite. He will do everything to run and win. His supporters will remain his supporters, his opponents his opponents. But those in the centre could come out against the methods used against a political opponent.

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As a long standing observer of the American scene how do you gauge the events surrounding Donald Trump?

Many in the media and many politicians have been inimical to him right from the start. They wanted to compromise him and discourage him from entering politics. Evidence of this are two unsuccessful attempts at impeachment. The latest charges are an example to eliminate Trump from politics. If he wavered whether to enter the election race he surely must have decided to enter the fray by now. He has to show that he cannot be defeated. That is the sort of politician he is. We shall observe more waves of mutual recriminations and acts of revenge. The elites should avoid this situation as it is unnecessary and distasteful. To satisfy some groups would serve to compromise the entire political process.

Let us assume that Trump is the symbol of the split in America. What are the causes of this rupture?

The rupture has depended but it was the case as Trump was running for the presidency. In 2016 , Warsaw held an academic conference. A participant was one of the high ranking members of Barack Obama’s administration. She stated publicly that if the American electorate was stupid enough to elect Trump the impeachment procedures should be immediately initiated. The American democratic and liberal elites showed a reaction bordering on psychological hatred. This has worsened as Trump is not a conciliatory politician.

He is confrontational.

If someone has some gripes against him, and there are many, then he just multiplies them. Liberals hate those who like Trump come from outside the political system. Coupled with this is the important matter of American moral renewal. We saw a similar process that dated from the end of the 19th century. Then it was labelled progressivism. It doen't go by that name now but is based on the Americans reaching into their history to develop the art of self loathing and express regret that they were so horrible in the past. Conservatives or republicans will not tolerate such an idea, and so the ideological divide arose.
When the charges against the former president were heard, a crowd of supporters gathered in support in front of the Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York. Photo DAVID DEE DELGADO/ Reuters /Forum
Is the 1619 Project a part of this current? Nikole Hannah-Jones and the New York Times started it with her essay under the same title.

The 1619 Project is a prime example of historical and political aberration. She had no formal education as a historian and thought up the idea that the story of the United States should really start from the moment of the arrival of the first slaves on the American continent. This occurred in 1619 although it was unclear whether the arrivals were indeed slaves. There seems to be evidence to the contrary but this cannot be verified today. Moreover she thought that despite ignoring or belittling other historians' work that the history of the United States can be seen as one of the history of the negroes and their persecution. This is nonsense, without any historical underpinning. It does not stand up to scrutiny even for a master's thesis but it meets the needs, ideological and for self loathing. Obviously racism existed in America and will continue to do so for a long time to come. But this nas nothing in common with the rejection of the role of the Founding Fathers, exceptional American individuals and simple settlers who arrived in America 400 years ago and very quickly built a powerful country to which the slaves only contributed minimally.

So does the prospect of civil conflict threaten the United States? Or is it already under way as some would like to suggest?

Civil war does not threaten the United States in a literal sense. Civil war exists when we have two opposing sides or organizations or for example when one state is ready to fight another. But in the general understanding of the term it is a civil war between elites, political and cultural. But it does not involve the population as a whole. We engage emotionally with what is happening on the East Coast and to a lesser extent the West Coast. But in between is the real America which has problems unconnected to the 1619 Project, nor with political correctness or anything similar. There is nor reason to suppose a real civil war will happen.

What are the most important problems of the real America?

They are day to day problems. The social welfare system created under the presidency of Barack Obama was controversial from the beginning in that it was a social way of making everyone happy. For some this was easy but deprived Americans of their individualism. Some are able to take advantage of the system but many are opposed to the compulsory purchase of social welfare insurance and do not wish to be told how to spend their money. But unemployment is low by American standards. The standard of living is good and nothing truly bad is happening in the country. But the feeling of a threat or war is being engendered and this is within the elites which thrive on it. A normal American lives in a pretty decent country. There is work to be had so there's satisfaction with life generally. There is no national or state crisis in the country. There are no problems that can be construed as existential threats to the country.

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So is America still the best place to live?

If this was different there would not be so many who would want to emigrate to the States not to mention illegally. By comparison, in the other direction from America, a mere 40-50 thousand left citing dissatisfaction with their lives for example. America is still the place that excites so many around the world. It’s a place that gives people a second or even third chance to start all over again. Their history or practical achievements have no say. What matters is what the individual does there and then. It opens a career path to those who have been hurt by their experiences or their own incompetence. You can start afresh at any given moment. No other country proposes this to people. No other culture forgets human frailties as easily as America.

Why are Americans reluctant to accept changes in their status quo such as worker’s rights orgeneral access to medical insurance? Does that arise from their individualism?

Why should they want to accept such changes? That’s because the welfare state should be ideal and the American system, that the government is the best which governs the least, is worse? The Scandinavian system of social welfare is starting to decay. As president Eisenhower said if you want to feel safe and comfortable then go to prison.Ther you can get medical help, food and lodging etc. But this is not freedom

So how do Americans view freedom?

They believe in freedom in the fullest sense. I am the person I want to be. The state has no right to prevent me. Naturally I agree to pay taxes although even a fraction of Americans disagree but these are extremists. In our culture the government governs. In American culture this organisation is known as the administration a management. They are chosen to manage the national resources and foreign policy. Not much more lies within their purview. You surely cannot expect the chairman of the Polish petrol company Orlen to tell you how to live. They too do not expect this from the administration. If you buy car insurance, all well and good. If not, and someone throws a stone at your car then that’s too bad, you must accept the consequences. American freedom is deep and impressive. In Europe we find this difficult to understand as we have come to accept that the state will guarantee us welfare and medical support. A lesser matter is its quality. We accept that the state will care for us but does this with our money. An American opposes this. This is my money and I will decide how to spend it. It is a totally different mindset. The Declaration of Independence states that a person has the right to the pursuit of happiness. Every American child absorbs this from the age of seven or eight. No one tells you in school that you have the right to happiness. Our schools tell us that we have obligations, theirs that they have a right to happiness. The American system is no worse than ours. Others may say this but no one is ordered to live in America.

– In conversation with Tomasz Plaskota

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by Jan Darasz

Zbigniew Lewicki is a political scientist, American and English specialist, Professor of humanities, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University and the Vistula Business and Finance Academy Warsaw
Main photo: On April 4 2023 Donald Trump and his legal team appeared before the court in Manhattan to hear charges.Photo, ANDREW KELLY/Reuters/Forum
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