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Donald Trump

Donald Trump. Photo: Michael Vadon / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0, license linked at bottom of article

On the final straight of the US presidential election, Trump’s authoritarian and reactionary agenda is edging the country towards political meltdown, argues Sean Ledwith

As polling day approaches, there are growing signs the incumbent in the White House is preparing to plunge the US into political chaos. Earlier this week, Trump and his Republican acolytes in the Senate fast-tracked the hugely controversial appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. This was a blatantly provocative move by the President, designed to secure his toxic grip on US society, regardless of the outcome of the election next week.

Supreme Court justices are lifelong appointments and can shape federal policy on issues such as abortion rights, gay marriage, and election law for decades to come. Barrett’s elevation to the highest court in the land is a disaster for most Americans who supported the progressive, pro-diversity agenda pursued by the judge she is replacing, the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Barrett is lauded by the evangelical right and is linked to a Catholic pressure group known as The People of Praise who have campaigned for the repeal of the historic pro-choice verdict in the case of Roe v Wade 1973.

Barrett openly called the reversal of this landmark judgement in 2006, describing its legacy as "barbaric". She was a member of George Bush’s legal team who controversially secured the Presidency for their man in the massively divisive case of Bush v Gore 2000. Barrett also clerked for the hard right judge, Antonin Scalia, who was one of those on the court who backed Bush in the 5-4 vote that controversially gave the Republicans the keys to the White House that year. In the first presidential debate with Biden, the President ominously said of the Supreme Court: "I think I'm counting on them to look at the ballots, definitely" a thinly veiled message to Barrett and the other conservatives that he will be looking to them for  a repeat of the 2000 stitch-up if required.

Turning the clock back

During her recent confirmation hearing in the Senate, Barrett was predictably cagey about her long-term intentions but her previous statements leave no doubt that she and the other two Trump appointees are now a major threat to abortion rights in the US. The Alliance for Progress, a pro-diversity lobby group noted her appointment

“threatens to turn back the clock on rulings about a woman's right to make her own reproductive healthcare decisions, as well as those that protect the rights of workers, the LGBTQ community, voting rights, and many other critical rights.”

Trump has cynically engineered this manoeuvre in an attempt to shore up his support among religious conservatives, knowing full well that it virtually guarantees the country will have to endure a bruising battle over social policy in years to come, regardless of who wins the battle for the White House next week.

Constitutional relic

Most polls now suggest Trump is heading for defeat next week. However, we should note they were saying the same four years ago before his disastrous elevation to the Presidency. The US still perseveres with an archaic and anomalous electoral system which twice this century has conspired to deny victory to the candidate who won the popular vote - with the Democrats losing out on both occasions.

The crazy electoral college mechanism was originally devised by the founding fathers in the eighteenth century as a ruse to safeguard the political power of the slave-owning states, and now functions to provide a stranglehold for smaller, predominantly rural and right wing regions of the country. Another occurrence of this bizarre outcome next week will surely trigger demands for an overhaul of this constitutional throw-back.

Throwing shade

Even if Trump does lose decisively there are ominous indicators that he will not go quietly. In the closing phase of the campaign, as he has clearly fallen behind Biden, the President has cynically tried to throw shade at the legitimacy of the ballot. Earlier this month, he claimed 50,000 postal ballots wrongly sent out in Ohio was evidence of a rigged election. In reality, the error was quickly corrected and a prompt FBI investigation discovered no evidence of fraud.

Postal ballots are a long-established component of the US electoral system with no significant history of misuse. Trump’s hostility to them is purely motivated by a justified fear that they are generally preferred by low-income Democrat voters whose work commitments prevent them attending a polling station on election day. Last summer, the delusional Trump even tried to suggest the election be delayed because of his totally groundless suspicious of its legitimacy.

No role for the army?

If there is any question mark over the result next week, real or imagined, Trump’s authoritarian and paranoid mentality could easily plunge America into a vortex of political turbulence. A few week ago Chief of Staff Mark Milley took the unprecedented step of stating explicitly the US Army will play no role in the outcome of the election:

“In the event of a dispute over some aspect of the elections, by law U.S. courts and the U.S. Congress are required to resolve any disputes, not the U.S. Military…I believe deeply in the principle of an apolitical U.S. military.”

Milley felt obliged to make what would normally be a superfluous declaration because of criticism of how he was seen to stride alongside the President amid Black Lives Matter protests near the White House last summer. If there is a repeat of the 2000 debacle in some form or another, the millions of Americans who have grown to despise Trump’s agenda of hate will need to take to the streets again as no other institution or constitutional clause can be counted on to fully protect their rights.

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Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch secretary. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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