The maverick former president is back. And yes, we're gonna need a bigger boat.
On Saturday, January 15, after what seems like an eternity spent in hibernation, Donald Trump emerged from the political wilderness. At a rally in Florence, Arizona, wearing that unmistakable red hat, Trump took to the stage, all in the hope of "saving America". Saving the country from what, exactly? Those on the opposite side of the political aisle, of course.
The author Charlotte Bronte had warned readers that life was too short to be spent “nursing animosity or registering wrongs”.
Trump, clearly no fan of Bronte, is still nursing plenty of animosities and registering numerous wrongs. Or perceived wrongs. At the recent rally, Trump repeated false claims that the 2020 election was quite literally stolen from him. But what was the purpose of the rally? Although he has yet to officially throw his MAGA hat in the proverbial ring, there appears to be little doubt that the former president will run for reelection. The rally, we’re told, was a soft launch for 2024.
Trump, like all of us, has an ego. However, the 75-year-old’s appears to be slightly bigger than the average person’s, and considerably more fragile. Right now, his ego is bruised, and a return to office appears to be the only cure.
Unlike the first time around, Trump returns as a steely political veteran and a person with a firm hand on the Republican Party. According to some prominent pundits, Trump is not just the most powerful person in the Republican Party, he basically owns the Grand Old Party.
In 2015, when he first announced his intentions to run for arguably the most important job in the world, Trump was ridiculed and underestimated in equal measure. This time around, however, few people underestimate his ability. And for a good reason.
After a year in office, current President Joe Biden finds himself struggling for support. According to the latest poll numbers from Gallup, Biden has an approval rating of just 40 percent. As much as 56 percent of respondents, meanwhile, disapprove of his leadership.
The latest research by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, published January 13, “finds that 44 percent of Americans disapprove and 39 percent approve of President Joe Biden’s overall job performance as President”.
His net approval rating is at minus 5 percent; that’s two points lower than in Redfield’s polling on 18 December.
That is not to say that Biden would seek out a second term in office. At 79 years of age, it’s unlikely that the current president would have the willpower or the energy for a second term. But, considering that vice president Kamala Harris appears to be actually doing worse than Biden, the Democrats now find themselves in an unenviable position.
As the analysts at Redfield note, “Vice President Kamala Harris’ net approval rating has also worsened compared to 18 December, decreasing four points to -8 percent this week."
"In our latest poll, 43 percent disapprove (up 2 percent) and 35 percent approve (down 2 percent) of Kamala Harris’ performance as Vice President, with a further 19 percent neither approving nor disapproving (up 1 percent).”
Signs of an impending civil war
Trump, like the apex political predator that he is, senses a whole host of weaknesses on the left; chances are he’ll look to exploit them. If he does, he’ll have plenty of support on the right.
According to the Pew Research Center, “Two-thirds of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they would like to see former President Donald Trump continue to be a major political figure for many years to come, including 44 percent who say they would like him to run for president in 2024.”
What would the United States look like under President Trump? What effects would he, a highly divisive character, have on a country that has never been more politically divided, a country that appears to be ungovernable, according to some prominent authors?
The US may very well be headed for another civil war. Would a second term under Trump push the country to the brink? In truth, we simply don’t know.
Outside of the US, what would his return to office mean for the broader world? What would it mean for US-China relations, for example? Considering Trump’s history of making controversial comments about China, as well as China’s less than favourable views on Trump, one needn’t be a political scholar to see how Washington-Beijing relations could deteriorate even further.
What about the Middle East? Would a Trump presidency help or hinder the US?
TRT World reached out to William Reno, a professor and chair of political science at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Illinois, for his opinion.
“The US's dominant role in the Middle East,” which was “established when Egyptian president Sadat's decision in 1972 to throw the Soviets out of the country and the settlement of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, is unambiguously over and will not be restored,” according to Reno.
“Russia's military presence in Syria and its diplomatic support for Syria's regime has to be taken into account.” Moreover, “commercial deals with China give governments in the region more leverage vis-a-vis the US (and everyone else).”
Then, of course, there is the question of Iran.
As Reno noted, “Iran's development of precision-strike weapons capabilities in addition to its nuclear programme has shifted the regional power balance.”
So much has changed since “the second half of Trump's first term” with Iran's Revolutionary Guards using “increasingly accurate ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and drones to attack ISIS, Saudi oil facilities, a US airbase in Iraq, an oil tanker off Oman's coast, and Kurdish militias in Iraq.”
Reno continued, “Should Trump 2.0 decide to put serious pressure on Iran, that country would have much greater conventional strike capabilities in the past, and more leeway to target US allies or other targets that would undermine US interests.”
As for Israel, it’s "just another Middle Eastern country," he said.
Asked to expand on what exactly this means, Reno said, “in the sense that other countries in the region (UAE, Saudi Arabia) openly work with it as a strategic partner. This somewhat lessens Israel's dependence on US security guarantees. It also represents somewhat of a risk to the US, insofar as greater autonomy for Israel to pursue its own interests could drag the US into disputes/conflicts that are not necessarily of direct US interest.”
Moreover, “Trump's reputation for flexible and contingent deal-making alienated many traditional US allies in the 1.0 term and would be sure to do so in a 2.0 presidency. This means the US would have little choice but to go it alone in pursuit of its interests in the region.” This sort of behaviour “has made it common for many officials in the region, including ones with a generally favourable view of the US as a whole, to hedge their bets and leave doors open to deals with others (Russians, Chinese, Turkiye, etc).”
The American dream
John Chalcraft, a professor of Middle East history and politics at the London School of economics, told TRT World that "a Trump presidency would greatly increase tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia – and thus heighten the risk of war and violence. It would also, most likely, embolden right-wing Israeli governments, and fortify Israeli apartheid."
Chalcraft warned that a Trump presidency would likely "embolden Israel to be more aggressive against Iran, and Saudi Arabia to be even more aggressive in Yemen. More generally, a Trump presidency will exacerbate both economic inequality and dictatorship, as well as xenophobia, misogyny, and homophobia."
So, should Trump return to office, he will be faced with a number of Sisyphus-like struggles, both at home and abroad. A lot has changed since his first term. The country, reeling from the effects of the coronavirus, appears to be staring down the barrel of a crippling economic reckoning.
On the global stage, things don’t look much better, especially after the disastrous evacuation from Afghanistan. The American dream isn’t dead, but it’s certainly in critical condition. Can Donald Trump bring it back to life? If Dr Chalcraft's words are anything to go by, the answer is a resounding no.