By Tom Arms
Donald Trump is on trial in the US Senate. The Republican Party is on trial. America is on trial. The likely verdicts are: Not Guilty, Guilty and Guilty.
This will undermine democratic values and the rule of law which underpins it. This is bad for America and bad for the world. The United States is more than a nation. It is also an idealised aspiration.
Trump is accused of inciting an insurrection. He is alleged to have provoked a mob to attack Capitol Hill in order to reverse an election in direct contravention of his oath to “preserve and protect the constitution.”
Prosecutors (aka House Managers) from the House of Representatives have laid before America’s senators what Republicans admit is a “compelling” case against the ex-president. But the smart betting is that they will still vote to acquit the president.
Trump did more than give an incendiary speech on 6 January. His crime was committed over several months. Before the election, he prepared the ground for insurrection by claiming—without any evidence—that the mail-in voting system would result in massive fraud.
Then, as the vote went against him, Trump attempted to stop the count in key states. When the result was clear he refused to concede defeat and challenged the vote in 86 different court cases. He lost all but one. Trump still refused to concede and repeatedly tweeted the fraudulent lie that he was the victim of fraud.
He tried to bully Georgia’s top election official into fabricating 11,780 votes in that key state. He failed. Increasingly desperate, Trump demanded that Vice President Mike Pence reject the Electoral College vote when Congress convened on 6 January to certify the results. Pence refused. His oath to defend the constitution was more important than winning an election.
Trump now summoned his supporters—which included violent right-wing militia groups– to a Washington rally on 6 January while Congress met in its certification session. The president exhorted them to “fight like Hell” to “Stop the Steal” and to “march up Pennsylvania Avenue” to Capitol Hill. His personal attorney Rudy Giuliani said it was time for “trial by combat.”
The mob acted as instructed. They broke into the icon of American democracy and demanded the death of Vice President Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Five people died and 140 Capitol Hill policemen were injured.
Trump watched on television and did nothing. Terrified Republican Congressmen called him from a besieged Capitol begging him to call off the mob. He did nothing. His own staff begged him to stop the riot. He did nothing. It took Trump three hours before he called on the rioters to stop, and then he described them as “patriots.” Trump has yet to show any remorse for his role in the riot and continues to claim that the election was stolen.
Trump’s defence is that he was exercising his First Amendment right of Free Speech and cannot be held responsible for how others interpreted his words. Furthermore that Democrats are hypocrites because they had used the same or similar language. They also claim that the ex-president has been denied “due process” because witnesses weren’t called. And finally, that the trial is unconstitutional because it is being held after the president left office.
The House Managers have already rebutted these arguments. Trump knew the impact of his words. In the weeks before 6 January, the FBI intercepted emails revealing right-wing militia plans to storm the Capitol. These plans were reported by the media and communicated to the White House. Trump could have used his speech to defuse the situation. Instead, he pulled the trigger of a weapon that was primed and loaded. Arrested rioters have told the FBI that they believed they were instructed by the president to storm the Capitol and that he would block their prosecution.
Democrat politicians have used intemperate language. But they were not the president. Their language was not a sustained effort aimed at subverting the constitution. It certainly did not result in the storming of the Capitol, five deaths and 140 serious injuries.
As for the due process, the House Managers did not call witnesses because the witnesses are the congressmen who impeached the president and the senators sitting in judgement.
Donald Trump will almost certainly be acquitted because 17 Republican senators are needed to vote with the Democrats to reach the two-thirds majority required for a guilty verdict.
The latest opinion polls show 80 per cent of America’s Republicans still support Trump. He is a vindictive person and is reported to have said that he will seek revenge against anyone who votes against him. Republican senators are scared. They are putting their jobs before their principles and before their oath to protect the constitution. They are guilty of cowardice and of breaking that solemn promise. The Republican Party is guilty because they support Trump and Republican senators. American voters are guilty because they continue to vote them into office.
One of the current international ironies is that Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are on trial at the same time. The two men have one of the closest personal relationships on the world stage—dating back to the 1980s when Netanyahu was in New York as Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Now he is on trial at the same time as his American buddy for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. In true Trumpian style, Netanyahu claims that the trial is a “coup to oust a sitting Israeli Prime Minister.” The trial takes place in the middle of Israel’s fourth general election campaign in four years and is expected to be in full swing when voters troop to the polls on 23 March. It will have an impact. But possibly a more important factor will be the role of Israel’s Orthodox Jewish parties who have been a mainstay of successive Netanyahu coalitions. Orthodox Jews are making themselves unpopular by defying the government’s lockdown restrictions. Many are also refusing to participate in Israel’s world-beating vaccination programme. This is creating a backlash against Orthodox Jewish parties. Coupled with his trial, this could bring an end to Netanyahu’s long stranglehold on Israel’s premiership at the same time as his American friend’s career is heading towards the toilet bowl.
Joe Biden also has a long and generally friendly connection with Netanyahu. The difference is that it is linked to his years as a senator and vice-president and is based more on national interests than personal ties. Those national interests are likely to mean that the US embassy remains in Jerusalem and that the US continues to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Biden will also build on the diplomatic recognition of Israel by key Arab states. However, there will be differences. Israel was a prime mover behind Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran Nuclear Accord. Biden is trying to revive it. Trump cut off US aid to the Palestinians. Biden restored it. Biden has said he supports the “two-state solution”. The Kushner Plan attempted to kill it. On top of that, President Biden has served notice on Saudi Arabia that it will take a closer look at its human rights policies and withdraw support for its genocidal wall against the Yemeni Houthis. Saudi Arabia is Israel’s closest secret ally in the Arab world. However, there may be military-oriented economic constraints on Biden’s human rights-focused policy towards the Saudis. The US is the world’s largest exporter of weapons with sales totalling $47.2 billion in 2020. Their biggest customer by far is Saudi Arabia. Despite overwhelming evidence, Trump refused to accept that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi because, he said, it would jeopardise arms sales to Riyadh.
President Biden’s foreign policy focus shifted to China this week with this first presidential phone call with Xi Jinping. He spent three hours haranguing the Chinese leader about Hong Kong, Taiwan, the South China Sea and the Uighurs in Xinjiang. His emphasis was on human rights violations. Xi was unhappy. The issue of human rights, he maintained, was an internal Chinese matter, and the US had no right to interfere in China’s domestic affairs. The plight of the Muslim Uighurs is receiving increasing international attention. Britain’s Liberal Democratic Party has called for a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics because of what they call a genocide in Xinjiang. The Johnson government has so far rejected the proposal. But it might find more fertile ground in Washington. It would be ironic if it went ahead. The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics heralded the return of China to world affairs. A boycott in 2022 could mark the falling of a new bamboo curtain.
When I was in Cuba a few years ago there were only 127 different types of businesses allowed to operate as private enterprises. Most of these were involved in the tourist industry and designed to draw in much-needed hard currency. This week it was announced the government would allow more than 2,000 different types of businesses to enter the private sector. The change is due to several factors: The utter failure of Cuban socialism and the need to repair relations with post-Trump America. One of many policies Trump reversed was the restoration of relations with Cuba. And then in the dying days of his presidency, Trump went one step further by re-designated Cuba a terrorist state. It was a clever move because it will take Biden almost a year to untangle the legislative knots involved in such a designation. Cuba’s government hopes that their latest move will encourage him to their island county up the priority list.
The received wisdom following the recent military coup in Myanmar/Burma was that the Burmese people would quietly—albeit reluctantly—accept the end of the country’s experiment with limited democracy. This proved to be wrong. This week tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets. Water cannon, rubber bullets and even live ammunition failed to deter them. At least one protester has died. Thousands have been arrested. The reason that many observers thought the response would be more quiescent is the Burmese military’s well-known reputation for violence. In 1988 an estimated 30,000 were killed when protesters turned against the military government. In recent times, the army’s virtual crackdown against the Rohingya Muslims has reinforced the belief of a hard-nosed military. But that is not to say that all the generals are vicious thugs. There is a faction of political pragmatists who know that the Army’s long-term interests are badly served by screwing down the lid of Burma’s pressure cooker politics. At the moment they appear to be in the minority. But if the demonstrations and the international outcry continue their star is likely to rise.
There are disturbing reports from India of a government crackdown on press freedom in the world’s largest democracy. Sixty-seven journalists were arrested in 2020 and more than 200 were physically attacked. The World Press Freedom Index has moved India to 142nd place out of 180 monitored countries. One news website was told that its offices would be burned down if an article critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not removed within 15 minutes. Possibly the most vocal of the government’s media critics has been the news magazine Caravan. The government has brought 10 sedition cases against the magazine’s publisher, editor and executive editor. In 2014, Modi said: “democracy will not sustain if we don’t guarantee freedom of speech and expression.” How true.
Ducks like water. But at Gold Beach in Queensland, Australia there is one duck that has taken this truism to a new level. The pet of a local surfing family is appropriately named “Duck” and he has followed the family tradition by mastering the art of body surfing. The locals love him and have no qualms about being “all out for a duck.”