Why does Trump have financial problems
Few people know about US politics as well as Daniel Benjamin. He is a foreign and security policy expert and was a diplomat under Bill Clinton. He has also written speeches for the President. He was the counter-terrorism coordinator under US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Since spring 2020 he has been President of the American Academy in Berlin, one of the most important US think tanks outside the United States.
SZ: Mr. Benjamin, Donald Trump's presidency is ending. Joe Biden will be sworn in as the new President of the United States at twelve noon in the Capitol. Despite this, impeachment proceedings are still ongoing. Trump is the first president to be tried twice. Was it the right decision to start this process so close to the end of his term in office?
Daniel Benjamin: Whether it was tactically smart is the wrong question. It was morally imperative. What Trump has done is so completely at odds with our constitution, with the rule of law, that there was simply no other way. If there is no impeachment in response to an anti-government insurrection, when does it follow? It was inevitable.
What did you think when you saw the pictures of that uprising, the pictures of the storming of the Capitol on January 6th?
I lived a few blocks from the Capitol for 20 years. That was my home. Seeing an armed riot there really upsets you. There was something funny about some aspects. The guy with the horns on his head, all the other weekend warriors. But in the end it was a very serious security breach at the Capitol, five people lost their lives. And it could have been a lot worse if the MPs hadn't been brought to safety quickly. The President's words that led to this were totally unacceptable.
Did something bad end that day? Or has something even worse started?
That's the big question. It was definitely some kind of revelation. The danger posed by right-wing extremists in the USA had long been known. Sometimes it was a little bigger, sometimes a little smaller. But now it is clear how enormous the threat really is. It is so great that the country's internal security will probably be in jeopardy for some time to come. There are thousands incited by Trump's rhetoric about violence, who believe their election was stolen - for which there is no evidence whatsoever. And they believe they are entitled to act as if the only thing that matters is Trump, not democracy. This is a serious situation for the USA.
Hatred, violence, brutality. Is that america?
Unfortunately, this is de facto America today. The past decades have been characterized by increasing social division and polarization. Much of what we see now belongs to a longer development. Resistance to the government, resistance to the civil rights movement, resistance to demographic change in the country: it has always been there. It was always dangerous too. Think of the Oklahoma City bombing in the mid-1990s. But at that time the security forces were very effective in fighting right-wing extremist militias, which were quickly crushed. However, they came back during the Obama years in response to the first black president. And under Trump, those forces have gotten completely out of control. The resentment was heightened by the president. We must not shrink from the thought: This is America too. It's America's ugliest side. That doesn't include all or a majority of America, but it is part of America. We must deal with this threat now.
What is the role of the Republican Party?
Mitch McConnell, the powerful Senate majority leader, broke with Trump after storming the Capitol. He realized - much too late, but at least - that this development has gone far too far. For decades, the Republicans practically accepted extremists into their ranks, co-opted them. Now the party is divided into a populist-nationalist wing and the traditional pro-business wing. The question that no one can answer right now is: Can the old Republican Party be restored?
Why didn't the Republicans react sooner?
I'm sure Senator McConnell has bitten his lip a lot over the past four years to avoid saying what he thought: That this guy is breaking everything. But McConnell was convinced that the power of Trump and the power of the base was too great for the party not to alienate itself from this base. But that has changed because of the violence. And McConnell knew he had a choice to make. He decided against Trump.
The day the US Capitol was stormed, the world will probably never forget. Did that day help the movement that Trump is still talking about? Or did he harm her?
That's an open question. Many hope that this is the moment when the "White Supremacists" (the people who believe in the superiority of whites; Note d. Red.), the conspiracy theorists, the anti-democrats, that these people are now being marginalized. If Trump himself is no longer president, if he no longer comes back on Twitter and can no longer manipulate his fans so directly, then it could actually happen that way. Then that could be a turning point. But it could also be a moment for these people that incites them additionally. Much depends on how the discussions on the Internet develop, whether these people manage to reunite on one platform online. At the moment they are split up because Twitter has banned Trump and Parler is barely available.
Trump has not admitted his electoral defeat. How dangerous is that for democracy?
Admitting the loser is a fundamental part of democracy. What Trump did was to delegitimize Biden's presidency before it even began. That is completely unacceptable from a democratic perspective. He creates a myth. And this myth will live on after the inauguration. Much has been said that what we are seeing is the birth of a stab in the back legend. If the whole thing takes on a life of its own, that could be a problem for democracy. Two questions follow. First, what is Trump's base doing, especially the violent parts? Second, what about Congress? Will the Republicans try to stop everything the new administration is trying to do? While the Democrats have a slim majority in both houses of Congress, anything can happen.
Will Trump still try to pardon himself?
The latest reports say that he won't, but I can imagine that he will still be in the presidential plane on Wednesday Air Force One signs the papers on the way to Florida. He is unpredictable. That would then be a declaration of war against the American rule of law. A fundamental principle of our legal system is that nobody is allowed to judge themselves.
What will happen to him after January 20th?
Whether there are indictments by state authorities or not, Trump will be showered with legal troubles. These will cause him a lot of pain. Dozens of charges are being prepared in New York alone. He will also run into huge financial problems, with his company on the verge of crash landing. He's a guy who's fought countless lawsuits, an estimated 4,000 lawsuits. And lawsuits cost money.
Will he still try to play an important role in the Republican Party?
He has that for that standing, even after the Capitol storm. His popularity among Republicans is still high, with a third of America's voters on his side. If he finds a platform and if he manages to organize himself politically well, then he could remain a challenge for political America. For example, he might try to find people who are totally devoted to him and those in the primaries Midterm Elections compete against moderate Republicans. That would result in huge upheavals. There are all kinds of crazy scenarios. Some even suspected that he could leave the country too. The only thing we can say for sure is that he will have major legal and financial problems from January 21st.
As the 46th President of the United States, what can Joe Biden do now? More than 70 million voted Trump, 80 percent of Republicans believe the election was faked.
It is an extremely difficult situation to take over as President. I think Biden has to think very, very much about what he can do to win over at least a few of the Trump supporters, and especially moderate Republicans. Social programs that improve people's lives could help. I am thinking of better health care or the protection of the environment. Many states that vote Republican have tremendous environmental problems. Biden could campaign for a rise in the minimum wage or better equip schools. It is unclear what he will get from this through Congress. But I think he has to tackle things like that.
Did Biden promise too much when he said he would heal the land?
He had to say that, that's political rhetoric that goes with it. And of course, not every Republican will be a Biden supporter two years from now. But could it be that in a few years' time American politics will no longer be a struggle that is all about the complete destruction of the enemy? Maybe that is. It will be difficult, but it is possible. What a healed America looks like is of course also a question of perspective. But some of the demons released have to go back to the box.
Will Washington be peaceful on Wednesday?
The show of strength in Washington is extremely remarkable. The security forces will be prepared. But we must pray that none of the groups of security forces have been invaded by extremists. I am also concerned that there could be outbreaks of violence in other parts of the country. And even after today one must remain vigilant. The United States will face many challenges in the months ahead. I am optimistic when it comes to how much strength this country can muster to deal with problems. I believe that in the end, American democracy will last. But what is waiting there is an enormous challenge.
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