statue of liberty

Guest columnist Will Cooper deliberates Trump's effect on America and how long-lasting these effects have influenced America's new stresses.

Donald Trump’s presidency was an unprecedented stress test of America’s constitutional democracy. The nadir of Trump’s four years in office was on Jan. 6 when a mob of his supporters ransacked the U.S. Capitol while Congress was certifying the 2020 presidential election. On that day — under the backdrop of a global pandemic and bitterly divided populace — Donald Trump’s America plunged below rock bottom.

Ultimately, America’s key institutions — battered and bruised — survived the Trump presidency. Congress certified the election results. Trump left office. And Joe Biden was inaugurated on time. 

But the drama surrounding Trump continues. As a civilian, Trump no longer enjoys the legal protections of the presidency, including immunity from indictment. The Department of Justice and Congress are broadly investigating the events surrounding the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Congress released notes taken by then-Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue revealing Trump’s attempt to pressure then-Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen into saying the election was corrupt. “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me,” Trump told Rosen in late 2020.

In New York, Trump’s company and its Chief Financial Officer have been indicted. The charges allege that the Trump Organization kept two sets of books: one for lenders (showing rosy financials to attract good financing terms) and one for the tax authorities (showing lousy financials to reduce tax liability). The indictment also alleges the Trump Organization evaded millions of dollars in taxes by paying secret bonuses to employees. 

In Georgia, Trump is under criminal investigation for his activities after the 2020 presidential election. He pressured local election officials to reverse the results and “find 11,780 votes.”  From a legal perspective this may be more troubling than his speech on Jan. 6, when he spoke in a public forum with First Amendment protections. In Georgia, by contrast, Trump tried to intimidate officials into committing election fraud while outside of public view.

Moreover, the government is investigating Trump’s friends Tom Barrack, Rudy Giuliani, Roger Stone and Steve Bannon. None of them are necessarily above turning on Trump in exchange for leniency. And Trump, of course, can no longer dangle presidential pardons in exchange for loyalty.

It will be very hard for Trump to sweep the table and avoid liability across all of these various legal matters — not to mention those that may be occurring outside of public view.

Meanwhile, Trump keeps on lying about the election. “We were doing so well until the rigged election happened to come along,” he told the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in July 2021. “This was an election where the person that counts the votes was far more important than the candidate,” he continued to a raucous, adoring crowd, “They failed to call out the late night ballot stuffing that took place in Georgia.”

And Trump remains the most popular Republican politician in the country. At a July 2021 CPAC conference Trump had an approval rating of 98 percent and was the choice of 70 percent of CPAC attendees in the straw poll among potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was second at 21 percent. And by August, Trump had amassed a $102 million political war chest. He is still a dominant force in American politics.

What, then, does the future look like? 

America withstood the Trump presidency. But it remains a dysfunctional and vulnerable nation. Tens of millions of Trump supporters are refusing to wear masks or take COVID-19 vaccinations. Demagogues are lining up on state tickets in droves. And partisan-driven false narratives still pound the airwaves and fill the headlines.

America has reached new heights of scientific and technical achievement. Yet it has also descended to new lows of irrationality and political toxicity. “Human rationality is very much in the news,” Harvard professor Steven Pinker noted recently, “as we struggle to understand how an era with unpreceded scientific sophistication could harbor so much fake news, conspiracy theorizing and ‘post-truth’ rhetoric.” This irrationality is no longer at the fringes of society: it has reached the highest levels of power in the world’s most influential nation. The longer this goes on the more the fabric of American democracy frays. The farther America deviates from the mean the more difficult it will be to revert back. 

And, at the center of the storm, remains Donald Trump, the primary threat to American democracy and still, the most powerful Republican in the country — by a mile.

The Trump presidency may be over. But the American stress test continues.

William Cooper is an attorney who has written for The Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel and USA Today, among others.

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(2) comments

Facts and Logic

Is it really the "Donald Trump" stress test America is facing?

See, I keep seeing things like total chaos and disarray currently in Afghanistan, something that never happened under the Trump administration.

As far as Covid and those "evil" Donald Trump supporters not masking and getting vaccinated, African American vaccination rates are lower than that of other ethnic groups (https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/latest-data-on-covid-19-vaccinations-race-ethnicity/). Is there some hidden Donald Trump support in this community? I don't think so, and I'm not sure how other Covid problems are the fault of the Trump administration.

And as far as the lawbreaking morons who invaded the Capital, guess how long they were there for? Four hours, give or take. Then they were kicked out and governmental processes continued - there was never any true threat to American democray. Was it awful and illegal? Absolutely... but it never threatened the continuation of America's systems. Personally, I'd look at mass rioting and looting, attacking of police officers and federal buildings, and millions of dollars in damage done to America's major cities for months as more threatening - especially since this lawlessness was condoned by major Democrat politicians.

And you know, let's not even talk about how people feel about the election, after all, it seems to me there was this hashtag going around in 2016, #NotMyPresident. Have a little shame here, let's not pretend the election questioning is on only one side of the aisle. As Hillary Clinton herself said regarding the 2016 election, "There was a widespread understanding that this election was not on the level...We still don't really know what happened." Now I'm not an expert, but that sounds an awful lot like questioning the outcome of an election that didn't go your way!

My point is not that the Trump administratioinwas uniquely clean and perfect, I think we can all agree that that is not necessarily true. My point is that it is truly pathetic that in order to distract from the Biden's administration's massive failures in Afghanistan, at the border, and on Covid-19 we must all be forced to focus on a past president who has not been in control for over six months!

Iowa State Daily, you publish an awful lot of Will Cooper's writing, which seems to be rather biased. Can't you find a right wing writer to publish? Or maybe a writer who at least pretends to be in the middle? Or are you afraid of what they will write? Are you afraid people will read it?

J. T.

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