Many questions surrounding fateful issues in the US remain unanswered. Some, such as whether the US Supreme Court will overturn Roe vs Wade – the ruling that protects a woman’s right to have an abortion on the grounds that the foetus is part of her body – are of little concern to us here in the Arab world. Other issues concern us to some extent in that they affect how the US government works. An example is the question of a possible ban on the filibuster because of how this practice affects the legislative process. Originally conceived as a means to protect the parliamentary minority’s right to speech, the filibuster involves speaking at great length in order prevent the passage of a particular law.
According to Senate rules, senators can speak for as long as they like on any subject. It initially took a two-thirds vote to end a filibuster, although this majority was reduced to 60 votes in 1971. The filibuster might force a parliamentary majority to negotiate with the minority in order to reach a compromise on controversial parts of a proposal. But what happens when compromise is impossible, as is the case more and more? They shut down the federal government by preventing the passage of the federal budget act. A bipartisan is needed if an agreement is to be reached at all, though this is generally only a stopgap measure.
The Supreme Court, the highest judicial body, has powers and jurisdictions that balance and check the authority of the executive and legislative branches. But a certain element of luck plays a part in its constitution. Unlike elected officials in executive and legislative government, the terms of Supreme Court justices are unlimited. Once appointed to the court, they serve on it for the rest of their life. The US Constitution did not stipulate a set number of judges on the Supreme Court, though the custom for decades has been nine. Trump had the good fortune to be able to choose three justices, making the ratio of conservatives to liberals on the bench six to three. The Democrats want to restrict or even abolish the right to filibuster, yet they are now feeling generous towards the Supreme Court, hoping to increase the number of judges in order to restore balance and keep the US justice system from collapse.
The most exciting question and the hardest to answer is whether the former US president Donald Trump will run for the presidency again in 2024. Although Trump has taken every opportunity to drop hints that he does plan to be the Republican candidate, he has yet to come out and say this openly. Apparently he likes to keep people guessing. His close associates say he will run, but they also know that everything he does is calculated to strengthen his voter base. At this point, saying nothing works in his favour makes his existing base, who support him unconditionally whether he is in the White House or out, cling to him more.
Trump has two main goals to accomplish before 2024. The first is to ensure the victories of his supporters in the midterm congressional elections in 2022 and to other important posts in state elections. The second is to eliminate all potential rivals in the Republican Party primaries. He wants total control of his party while managing his campaign against the Democratic candidate, be it Biden or someone else. Accordingly, Trump opposes all Republicans within the party who are playing both sides of the fence, who have bridges with the Democrats or, worse, support his main Republican opponent, the representative of the moderates, Liz Cheney, whose defiance against Trump’s hegemony and prominent status in the party, as well as the fact that she is a woman, give her distinct advantages.
One of Trump’s avenues back to the White House begins at a point that most Americans have grown fed up with: his rejection of the results of the last presidential elections. Trump continues to claim that the polls that gave Biden a win were rigged and that even dead people voted. Trump has never won a single suit challenging the results in this state or that, and none of the audits and recounts have altered the results in any significant way. All that he has reaped has been growing dislike for him and the Republicans because of the unfounded charges he hurls against Democrats, the electoral system and mail-in votes, and more importantly because of his attacks on civil servants involved in the electoral process, many of whom were members of the judiciary and of unassailable integrity. Trump probably knows all this, but reiterates the accusations anyway out of the conviction that repeating a lie will make it true.
Trump’s other main route back to the White House rests on the failure of the Democrats and, specifically, Biden. The handling of the departure from Afghanistan, impasses on the national budget act and infrastructure bill, and problems fighting Covid-19, which has taken more lives in Biden’s term so far than it had during the same number of months under Trump last year, have not reflected well on the current administration. Two major factors are working in Trump’s favour. The first is the pressures the Democratic Party progressives are putting on Biden. With virtually every bill he proposes he has to overcome resistance from progressives even before dealing with the obstructionism of the Republicans. Pressures from the left have also opened the Democratic Party to the charge of being “socialist.” Secondly, by pressuring Biden, Trump whips up his base the effect of which is to force the Republican right to cling more closely to Trump, increase their donations and drum up votes. In addition to the foregoing, the Democrats have given Trump the opportunity to portray their party in the way the Republicans always have, as the party that spends too much and is weak on foreign policy (even though it was Trump, himself, who pushed for withdrawing from Afghanistan and the entire Middle East). The ease with which Biden returned to negotiations with Iran gave Trump additional fodder to call the Democrats “soft.”
So, will Trump become president again on 20 January 2025?
Most likely not. For one thing, there are still a couple of dozen civil and criminal lawsuits hanging over his head, and at least one of these could end with a conviction. Secondly, the ongoing stream of tell-alls about Trump published by family members and others close to him has revealed a lot of damaging information. There are also the investigate works such as Bob Woodward’s and Robert Costa’s recently released “Peril”, which sets out to document the degree of peril to which the US was exposed under Trump.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 October, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly