June 19, 2024
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Washington was a guiding light. Now it’s a case study in how democracy dies — Meanwhile in America

In a statement on Saturday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s spokeswoman praised Ugandans for braving “an environment of intimidation and fear” to cast votes in national elections. “We are gravely concerned by harassment of and continued threats to civil society,” Morgan Ortagus added, bemoaning reports of election irregularities and violence. “We urge all parties to reject violence and to use constitutional and legal means to address complaints.”
For most of the last 80 years, this would be a pretty standard statement consistent with America’s self-appointed role as a guardian of global democratic norms. But it’s awfully bold after the US President himself tried to steal an election he clearly lost and then incited a mob’s attack on Congress. US moral authority has been gutted — but credibility doesn’t seem to be a priority for the Pompeo team boasting about renewed American “swagger.”
But restoring American clout is not like flipping a switch: Many US partners aren’t sure Trumpism is gone for good. Shortly after winning the leadership of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party this weekend, Armin Laschet, warned, “Trust is what keeps us going and what has been broken in America. By polarizing, sowing discord and distrust, and systematically lying, a president has destroyed stability and trust.”

In nations historically indebted to the US for the preservation or restoration of their own freedoms, leaders used to cite Washington as a guiding light. Now the US is a case study in how democracy can die.

Security forces have clamped a ring of steel on Washington through Biden's inauguration, amid fears of violence. The National Mall is closed off, meaning there will be no huge crowd for the new President, and bridges over the Potomac will be closed.

Packing up

Navarro leaves the West Wing of the White House carrying a framed photograph on Jan 13, 2021.
The Trump White House is packing up to leave, and staff are taking their mementos with them. Above, Trade advisor Peter Navarro — an extreme China hawk who invented a fictional economics expert to bolster his arguments — was spotted exiting the West Wing last week with a framed photograph of Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the 2018 G20.
Trump with Xi on Dec. 1, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Brand damage

For someone who has long since given up caring about his job, Trump sure put up a pitched fight to keep it.

Of course, losing Air Force One will suck. No Marine band plays when an ex-POTUS walks into a room, even in gilded Florida exile. And the former reality show host has always been desperate not to seem like a loser. But he didn’t try to destroy democracy this year just out of personal pique — post-presidential life is likely to be especially uncomfortable for Trump because his company is a massive branding exercise. And when the name on the front of the building represents an international pariah, that’s a problem.
That’s what led the PGA of America to pull its 2022 major championship away from a Trump golf course in New Jersey. In another incalculable personal and financial blow to Trump, the PGA’s global counterpart the R&A won’t send its Open Championship to his Turnberry resort in Scotland. The President’s hospitality properties — often financed by massive lending — were already struggling amid the pandemic. Now, banks, financiers and management firms are cutting him loose. Plus, the President has a $300 million loan payment looming in a couple of years. And while he has millions of followers, most Americans can’t afford the luxuries offered by Trump hotels, exclusive clubs and condos.
The Trump Organization does have some valuable assets. And the President wriggled out of financial disasters before, with the aggressive use of the bankruptcy laws and the courts. But Trump has more to worry about than money. He’s facing multiple legal challenges relating to his own personal conduct and the way he ran his businesses. There’s possible legal exposure from his inciting of the insurrection on the Capitol and attempt to steal the election in Georgia, not to mention his coming impeachment trial.

Trump may be about to lose the two privileges of office that were perhaps most valuable to him — using the presidency to pitch resorts and hotels, and a Justice Department policy that considers sitting Presidents immune from indictment.