For millions of people around the world, the impeachment trial of United States President Donald Trump was a spectacle – and a rather sad one at that. It was the spectacle of a President with an almost cultish following, including yes-men in high elected positions, making a mockery of one of the most serious trials in American history. But it is not just this trial, but rather how Mr Trump has treated the office of President of the United States and what we might expect from his remaining time in office – 11 months or 4 years 11 months – that has people talking.
Following Mr Trump’s acquittal, the President was quick to take show a degree of vindictiveness that would have surprised any neutral observer when he started taking revenge on those who supported the impeachment process. Within hours, he was ending his association with officials inside and outside of the White House who had testified. First t(w)o go were Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his brother Yavgeny (who had no involvement in the trial). Also quickly removed was the United States Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, despite Republican resistance. And it is feared that others will follow suit in the coming days and weeks.
Toxic – and potentially damaging to relations with New Zealand, if people knew – was his decision to award radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Mr Limbaugh, after the Christchurch terrorist attacks labelled the event a “false leftist flag” event, which in other words meant leftist interests somehow staged it.
Perhaps most damaging is the attack on the United States Constitution, which Mr Trump and all incoming elected officials have to swear to uphold. One of the most notorious is his offer to hold the G7 Summit at a Miami resort he owns, and thereby conduct personal business, whilst holding the office of President. As a Constitutional violation this is quite severe. The emoluments clauses provide for ensuring that no elected official shall accept foreign titles, presents, emoluments, offices or any other such gift from a foreign head of state or head of government. Mr Trump tried to allege that his predecessor Barak Obama did a deal with Netflix or a deal for a book whilst in office. But as Netflix is not a foreign government or representative of a foreign government, his argument falls flat.
But in terms of danger, the evolution of Mr Trumps following from being loyal supporters to that of a cult like group evokes dark echoes of the supporters of past global leaders. With a television channel (Fox), and a group of hand picked commentators telling one what to think When supporters go from saying that something their hero allegedly did “simply did not happen” is one thing. But to have said alleged incident then go to “okay it did happen, but what is it to us?” and then to “okay it happened, but we don’t care” is a clear evolution into blind following of the leader. The final stage, normally after a disaster or significantly adverse event is “okay this happened, but we didn’t know it would…”.
As this Presidency heads towards the end of its first term, many commentators will be nervously watching to see how much worse it can get. But one thing is for certain. Regardless of either its – hopefully – decisive defeat, or a victory that serves to divide America possibly for generations after Mr Trump leaves office, it is hard to see how the conduct of No. 45 is going to help America’s prestige around the world.