Blake Fleetwood Opinion Original Trump

Most of My Friends Want Donald Trump’s Head on a Spike Paraded Down Pennsylvania Avenue

Donald J. Trump at Marriott Marquis NYC September 7th 2016” by Michael Vadon is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

By Blake Fleetwood / Original to ScheerPost

Putting Trump in jail will not solve America’s problems, as the mainstream media so unanimously suggests. In fact, this Trump mob feeding frenzy may be counterproductive to the goal of keeping him out of the White House. And it is certainly a diversionary tactic that  distracts from dealing with far more dangerous social problems.

The root causes of the January 6 Capitol breaching are much deeper than Trump’s reckless incitements.To paraphrase Billy Joel,  Trump “didn’t start the fire.” His ascendancy is a symptom of a free floating anger that has been smoldering for decades, long before Trump even appeared on the political landscape. And this outrage flares up spontaneously, like the wildfires in Hawaii,  and morphs from issue to issue without warning. 

Trump’s surprise outsider election win in 2016 —- and indeed even Obama’s election in 2008 — reflects this deep rage, and subsequent desire for change — stemming from the significant decline in the lives of ordinary Americans over the last 40  years. This anger is not limited to the U.S. Populism is on the rise across Europe and around the world, fueled by resentment against a disdainful elite political mainstream.

The simple reelection of President Joe Biden will not offer any respite from the ongoing attacks on jobs, living standards and democratic rights or the continued ascendancy of the War Party coalition of Democrats and Republicans.  

The Democrats plan to run a campaign based on their standard “stay the course, and everything is all right and getting better.” Trump, on the other hand, will campaign on the theme that it’s all rigged against you by the dark state. 

The staggering crisis of American democracy will be ignored once again to the greatest extent possible. The Democrats will try to frame the election as: “It’s us or a dictatorship.” But they will not face the unpleasant truth that the U.S. is now what former President Jimmy Carter said, “just an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery that has hijacked our democracy.”

Thus, we are faced with a Hobson’s choice: the dangers of dictatorship from all sides, not only from the degraded personality of Donald Trump, but also from the social and class tensions about who controls the wealth and power, ripping apart American society.

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These tensions have spawned a powerful desire for change in response to the staggering crisis of American democracy–and may well lead to the ousting of President Biden. 

 Consider this:

  • Americans born in the 1940s had a 92% chance of making more money than their parents. Millennials born in the 1980s have only a 50% chance of doing the same. 
  • Currently, the U.S. ranks 27th worldwide in upward economic mobility.

Ordinary Americans, without a college degree,  know the system is rigged against them, as Trump says. Why else, in these prosperous times for so many, are they living paycheck to paycheck, not able to afford a mortgage, or decent healthcare, or college for their kids.

Ordinary Americans want to blow up the system that traps them in with no hope. Trump listened to them in 2016. He presciently adopted their language and promised to shake up the status quo, keep us out of endless wars, clean out the Washington swamp and end the cycle of crony capitalism.

But obviously–and regrettably–Trump never kept his promises. 

Trump’s overblown rhetoric would have fallen on deaf ears if a significant majority of the population had not been so decimated. His message to the white working class was clear: 40 years of neoliberal policies by both elite Republicans and Democrats have ignored the plight of the majority. And the people believed him, because they could see that he was right. And he rode the coattails of these issues to victory.

For the 2024 presidential campaign, Trump is casting himself as a martyr—a Christ-like figure who is suffering. Moreover, he is also a persecuted savior who is taking hits on behalf of his silent majority base, the “deplorables,” who are under such economic, political, cultural and moral assault.

“They want to take away my freedom because I will never let them take away your freedom,” Trump told the crowd at a campaign event in New Hampshire recently. “They want to silence me because I will never let them silence you.”

Every fresh criminal indictment strengthens Trump’s political grip, brings in millions in fresh donations and advances his argument that he is the victim of a deep state conspiracy.

He decries the “witch hunt” and tries to convince supporters to see themselves in him. His base , and many independents, remain convinced that Trump is the innocent victim of attacks by a dark and poisonous deep state. 

The economic fundamentals that fuel this rage have not changed. The U.S. is called “A flawed democracy,” by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which ranks it 30th in the world. The United States was downgraded in 2016 because of factors dating back to the late 1960s which have eroded Americans’ trust in governmental institutions. The enormous influence of money in elections played a major role in the downgrading of U.S. democracy. German university scholars call America “a deficient democracy,” and give us a similarly low ranking.

 75% of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. — Only about 14% trust U.S. media (with Fox News at 23%). Mainstream print media averages a 24% trust factor  in You Gov polls, with the Wall Street Journal leading at 29%. 

David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, said recently that the number one most important statistic in his life covering this stuff, has been the erosion of trust in government. “Two generations ago, you asked people, do you trust the government to do the right thing most of the time, and 75 percent said yes. And now, what is it, 12 percent? 19 percent?”

Instead of weakening Trump, every arrest seems to give him new superman powers…for the time being. The publicity is enormous and non-stop–wall-to-wall by five major news networks. See Trump getting into a limo. See Trump get out of the limo. See Trump climb stairs to his plane with big “TRUMP” letters on the side. See Trump’s plane taking off. See said plane land. See Trump walking down stairs. See Trump get into a limo. It goes on endlessly like a Mobius strip.

The New York Times estimated that in 2016 Trump got $2 billion worth of free media attention and thus was able to spend less money than all the other major candidates. If Trump can keep this up, no other Republican stands a chance, with all the oxygen sucked out of the political landscape

Will Trump go to jail anytime soon?

To begin with, the outcome of the legal process against Trump is hardly assured, despite self-deluded exercises in gloating by the liberal media.

The short answer is: Not with this Supreme Court.

Trump will argue that he cannot get a fair trial and as the leading Republican candidate for president he should not be silenced. He will ask for delays, until after the 2024 election.  Tough Federal Judge Tanya Chutken will say nonsense and deny the motion. Trump will appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals, which will back up the judge. Then Trump will go to the Supreme Court. And we know what will happen. They will give him the delays that he wants.

Trump will bring up a slew of motions, about discovery, change of venue, applicability of the laws, which will end up the same way, given the current Supreme Court.

Special Counsel Jack Smith is going to have his hands full. It is not easy to prosecute high profile politicians, no matter how corrupt they may seem. The federal case involves novel applications of three criminal laws and raises the tricky issue of intent and freedom of speech.

Smith is not a partisan prosecutor. As leader of the Obama Public Integrity Section, he prosecuted both Republicans and Democrats. 

But three of his failed prosecutions stand out. 

He prosecuted former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, whose lawyers submitted a 70-page brief that proved that the law in question did not exist. Smith ignored it and won a conviction at the trial level that was upheld by the Appeals Court. 

But things turned out differently when it was brought up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court unanimously (9-0, liberals included) overturned the conviction in 2016. Chief Justice John Roberts said the government used a “boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute.” The justices warned about the “uncontrolled power of criminal prosecutors.”

McDonnell, who spent $25 million defending himself, called Smith “overzealous,” and claimed Smith would “rather win than get it right.” The New York Times at the time called it a high-profile DOJ example of several “visible efforts” where charges were unsuccessful.

Another failed prosecution in 2011 involved former senator and vice presidential candidate  John Edwards, who was charged with violating campaign laws. In 2012, a jury found him not guilty on one count and deadlocked on the other five charges, resulting in a mistrial. Significantly, the Justice Department decided not to retry the case.

In 2015, Smith indicted Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ),  for  accepting gifts from a Florida ophthalmologist in exchange for using his Senate office’s power to benefit Melgen’s financial and personal interests. The 11-week trial in 2017 ended in a hung jury, and the Justice Department again declined to retry the case

If Trump wins the election, all federal charges will go away… although state charges may linger on. Today the national polls between Trump and Biden are essentially even, 43% to 43%, and have been for some time. But national polls have consistently underestimated Trump’s eventual support in prior elections. 

As we all know, elections are not decided by national polls. If that were the case, Al Gore would have been president in 2000 instead of George Bush, Gore won the popular vote by 500,000 votes. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was ahead in national polls by 7%, right up until the election, which she lost in the electoral college. She won the popular vote by 3.8 million. Joe Biden was ahead by nearly 7% in 2023 and barely won the election. 

Looking at past results, Biden is going to have to be ahead in national polls by more than 7% over Trump for him to win a second term. Essentially, even national polls are not going to lead to a win for Biden against Trump, given our profoundly undemocratic system of electing presidents. If there is a recession next year, voters will turn away from Democratic Party.

Also, Biden may not get the huge African American turnout he got in 2020. Many Blacks thought they should have gotten more from Biden after their support in South Carolina jump started his path to the nomination. According to recent polls, Latino voters, the country’s largest minority voting bloc at 60 million, have become disenchanted with many Democratic issues. On the plus side for Biden, a huge turnout of women from both parties, spurred by abortion concerns, may well make up for these other losses. 

Today, democracy is under its greatest stress since the 1930s. Seismic economic, almost tectonic, changes—exponential technological advancements, manufacturing’s labor-free innovations, and globalization—have produced unfathomable riches for a miniscule elite and misery for ordinary Americans. 

In the last 12 months alone, the fortunes of the five richest Americans have increased by $300 billion, while life, inflation and high prices, brutalizes much of the rest of the population.

This new wealth has not “trickled down” and the resulting inequality may well trigger a dangerous time bomb that breaks the Golden Age of universal progress and dreams of upward mobility.

It hasn’t always been this way. In the period from 1933 to 1973, spurred by such government investments and a political will, the Gross Domestic Product grew by 5% annually, creating a broad American middle class. While average earnings quadrupled, the top 1% experienced a personal wealth decline from 48% in 1933 to 22% in the late 1970s. Today the top 1% have 33% of the national wealth. 

This is a volatile situation.  But don’t take it from me. Jamie Dimon, head of J.P.Morgan Chase, America’s largest bank, said, “the last recession has made capitalism itself unstable.” He called for fundamental reforms to save capitalism and bring some measure of equality to ordinary Americans. 

Former Goldman Sachs Chief Financial Officer R,. Martin Chavez echoed the same warning about saving capitalism: “You don’t want inequality to become so extreme that it leads to a revolution.” 

In 1848 Europe was engulfed by a wave of powerful revolutions against feudal power. The revolutions that swept from Palermo to Paris, Munich, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, Milan and even Venice, were inchoate, multifocal, and socially deep according to historian Christopher Clark.

These spontaneous uprisings arose as trust in the old regimes waned and economic inequality and freedom of the press emerged as issues capable of uniting heterogeneous disaffected elements against feudal power.

The destruction of agrarian life and the decline in living standards for the majority that came with industrialization and the emergence of capitalism, contributed to the scale and widespread nature of the discontent.

It could be argued that today’s arc of protest and civic unrest from the Arab Spring, to the Yellow Shirt strikes in France, to Occupy Wall Street, to the George Floyd eruptions, to the mysterious recent riots over a Playstation giveaway in Union Square, to Jan 6, may match the restless mood of the 1840s in Europe.

Moreover, increased anger and general discontent will also be exacerbated by recent climate change disasters, hurricanes, floods, tornados, wildfires, and extreme heat waves. 

Democracy and free market capitalism simply cannot survive such inequality for too long. But how long is too long?

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Blake Fleetwood
Blake Fleetwood

Blake Fleetwood was formerly a reporter on the staff of The New York Times and has written for The New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, The New York Daily News, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Village Voice, Atlantic, and the Washington Monthly on a number of issues. He was born in Santiago, Chile and moved to New York City at the age of four. He graduated from Bard College and did graduate work in political science and comparative politics at Columbia University. He has also taught politics at New York University.

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