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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Donald Trump: Art Of The Comeback Or End Or The Road?

Donald Trump: Art Of The Comeback Or End Or The Road?

Even by the standards of a uniquely gaudy, attention grabbing, tradition-smashing career, Trump's arraignment in Manhattan marked an unprecedented low.
Donald Trump always wanted to be king of New York but Tuesday perhaps the most controversial US president in history instead walked into a Big Apple courtroom as a criminal defendant.

Even by the standards of a uniquely gaudy, attention grabbing, tradition-smashing career, Trump's arraignment in Manhattan marked an unprecedented low.

For a born showman who grew famous as a playboy real estate entrepreneur, then astonished the world by winning the presidency on a hard-right platform in 2016, his date with a New York State judge marks a moment of supreme peril.

But because this is Trump -- the man who ran for the White House boasting he could get away with shooting someone on Fifth Avenue -- the drama is also, incredibly, a kind of gift.

Already the first ex-president ever to be charged with a crime, he's busy campaigning to win back the presidency in 2024 and the more scandals he accumulates the more he feels able to promote his brand.

Opinion polls, making him the strong frontrunner for the Republican nomination, suggest that so far he's not wrong.

Wrecking ball

In doing so, Trump is pushing American politics ever further into uncharted territory.

To his millions of backers, the 76-year-old is the man who broke the mold with his White House win, defying political norms to champion what he dubbed the "forgotten men and women" of middle America.

To much of the country, though, Trump just broke America.

The Republican's first term began in 2017 with a dark inaugural address evoking "American carnage."

It ended in mayhem when the former entrepreneur refused to accept his defeat by Joe Biden, then goaded supporters into storming Congress on January 6, 2021.

In office, Trump upended every tradition, ranging from the trivial (what got planted in the Rose Garden) to the fundamental (relations with NATO).

And as an ex-president, his wrecking ball political presence continued to dominate an increasingly far-right Republican Party.

Entangled in mounting legal woes, he pushed his 2020 lies ever more vigorously -- arguably sabotaging his party's midterm performance last year by backing an army of election-denying candidates, who fared dismally.

Then, to the dismay of the few remaining moderates, he announced a run for 2024.

Teflon Don

Whether Trump can survive his New York troubles or a number of other legal probes is still up in the air. But he has proved repeatedly up until now an uncanny ability to slip his pursuers.

When the FBI searched his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida last summer to retrieve top secret documents Trump hoarded on his way out of the White House, opponents thought his time must be up.

But again, Trump defied norms, refusing to accept responsibility and insisting he was being persecuted.

He likewise claims that the charges in New York, related to allegedly paying an adult film performer to keep quiet on the eve of his 2016 election, are fabricated by leftwing foes.

In a statement minutes after his indictment first became public, Trump used his Truth Social app to complain of "Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history."

They laughed

Back in 2016, many Americans literally laughed at the prospect of a Trump White House.

Yet he defeated Democratic heavyweight Hillary Clinton.

And when Democrats launched two impeachment proceedings, the Republican Party backed him to the hilt. He was acquitted both times.

Offstage turmoil that might sink an ordinary presidency only fueled Trump's message of grievance.

Journalists became the "enemy of the people." Intelligence services and the FBI were demonized as the "deep state." Opponents in Congress were variously branded "crazy" and treasonous.

On the world stage, it was the same story. Trump turned US alliances into cut-throat business relationships.

Friendly partners like South Korea and Germany were accused of trying to "rip us off."

By contrast, Trump repeatedly declared respect for the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin or North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, with whom he said "we fell in love."

Autocratic drift

Prior to 2016, Trump was famous mostly for the ruthless character he played on reality TV show "The Apprentice," for developing luxury buildings and golf resorts, and for his former fashion-model wife Melania.

But academics noted parallels between Trump's evolution as a politician and those of autocrats in countries where democratic institutions exist only as facades, allowing populist showmen to take power.

He relished the controversy, joking -- presumably -- about changing the constitution to stay in power indefinitely. "It drives them crazy," he said.

But as the Covid tragedy spiraled, Trump looked inept, granting Biden an opening. The Democrat's old-school ways and calming centrist message propelled him to a comfortable majority.

It was then, as defeat became clear, that Trump yet again did the unthinkable by refusing to concede.

Now he is once more trying to tear up precedent -- running for the presidency as an alleged criminal.

But if Tuesday's case ends up going to trial, that relentless quest for the crown may depend not on the self-described "genius" but the regular folks watching him from across the courtroom: a jury of 12 ordinary New Yorkers.
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