Whither American Democracy?

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Donald Trump was convicted of falsifying records to cover up a sex scandal, capping an extraordinary trial that tested the resilience of the American justice system

Asad Mirza | Clarion India

SOME rather perplexing developments took place in the United States last week: Donald J. Trump became the first president of the United States, sitting or former, to be transformed into a felon.

Trump was convicted on all 34 counts in the ‘hush money case’ for falsifying business records to cover a $130,000 payment to adult actor Stormy Daniels to buy her silence over an alleged affair.

Immediately after the verdict was announced, several American billionaires, including those who had distanced away from Donald Trump in recent years, pledged support to him. From Bill Ackman to Stephen Schwarzman, the American billionaires including the tech czar Elon Musk have fully backed the former president despite his conviction.

Some of the figures that have pledged support to Trump had publicly rejected him in the past over his role in the January 6, 2021 attack on Capitol Hill, but things have now changed and they seem to have flocked to him again.

The conviction or the baggage that Trump carries, ranging from the January 6 attack on the Capitol to three other cases against him, has not stopped many Wall Street billionaires from coming to his support. While some have said they are disillusioned with President Joe Biden, others have said they are concerned about rising anti-semitism in the country under his presidency.

Last week, billionaire Steve Schwarzman, the co-founder and CEO of Blackstone, said he would support Trump and will donate to him. Blackstone is an investment and real estate giant with a market cap of 144.27 billion dollars, according to Yahoo Finance. It has assets under management of more than $1 trillion.

Omeed Malik, President of 1789 Capital, has also supported Trump. He is one of the leaders of a fundraiser in New York for Trump where donations of up to $25 million were sought, as per a report.

Robert Bigelow, the owner of Bigelow Aerospace and Budget Suites of America, has also supported Trump. He has even paid Trump $1 million for his legal fees, as per a Reuters report.

Billionaire Bill Ackman, the CEO of hedge fund Pershing Square, has said he will not vote for Biden and indicated his backing of Trump. He denounced Biden as a wave of anti-Israel protests swept across the United States, which many criticised as being anti-Semitic.

Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, has also indicated his support for Trump in recent days. Trump has also been increasingly finding support among venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, which has long been a bastion of Democrats, according to The New York Times.

Prominent among the Silicon Valley supporters was Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk. The Wall Street Journal reported that he has become close to Trump in recent months and is holding multiple private telephonic conversations with him.

Musk, a known Trump supporter Trump, believes the conviction was driven by political agendas rather than a genuine pursuit of justice. This sentiment echoes the reaction of many Trump supporters who view the charges related to hush money payments as a minor offence that has been blown out of proportion.

This apparent shift of loyalty also makes us wonder about the basic logic of the decisions made by these billionaires. And as usual when you start removing layers then the ultimate answer found at the base or rationale for every so-what illogical move is: Money. Trump has promised to cut taxes for the wealthy and eliminate regulations. President Joe Biden wants the opposite.

While some billionaires have cited disillusionment with Biden’s policies and the rising anti-Semitism in the country as reasons for ditching him to support Trump, commentators have said the major reason is Trump’s proposed tax cuts.

Some of these business leaders have harshly criticised Trump in recent years. Following the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, JPMorgan Chase boss Dimon had said that he “strongly condemns the violence in our nation’s capital” and “our elected leaders have a responsibility to call for an end to the violence” and accept the election results. Blackstone boss Schwarzman called it “an affront to the democratic values we hold dear as Americans” and later said he would not back Trump.

Now, however, Schwarzman has said the US under Biden was heading in the “wrong direction”. He further said that the “dramatic rise of anti-Semitism” has made him support Trump.

Writing in The New Republic, Timothy Noah highlighted that the issue of anti-semitism does not entirely address the support for Trump, as he has been associated with the movement for years. Whitney Tilson, who previously ran hedge fund Kase Capital Management, told Bloomberg that business leaders were supporting Trump out of self-interest.

Meanwhile, in a rather bizarre and related development, as Trump’s hush-money trial inched towards a conclusion, the former US president compared himself to Mother Teresa further calling the charges ‘rigged’. “Mother Teresa could not beat these charges. The charges are rigged. The whole thing is rigged,” he said. The comments came in as he was leaving the court after the trial ended.

This sentiment brings us back home where we have our own godman, claiming he thinks that he was not biologically born. In fact, it proves the old dictum that religion continues to be the last refuge of scoundrels in power because it provides some sort of legitimacy and a cover against criticism by their opponents and world powers. It further confirms the view that political elites co-opt religion for their political gain.

However, despite the conviction, Trump, currently campaigning for re-election later in the year, remains eligible to both run for and be elected. Trump himself has dismissed the verdict, asserting that the American people in the upcoming presidential election will deliver the true judgment. Most surveys so far have shown that Trump may win the election.

The whole episode and its related developments make us wonder in which direction American democracy is headed.

 —–

Asad Mirza is a Delhi-based senior political and international affairs commentator.

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