Trump, Iran and Reelection

Amid an impeachment that seems to be going nowhere in the United States Senate with its Republican majority, everyone is wondering whether the confluence of the beginnings of war and the ongoing electoral process will ultimately lead to the reelection of President Donald Trump.

It is hard to tell, but it is clear that the presidential campaign and the imminence of war go hand in hand. How do people in the U.S. experience calm after the storm that was escalation with Iran?

The possibility of unjustified war represents a great change for this new American decade. However, some things are not new. It is not the first time that war has been justified by lies that later proved to be [part of] a scheme.

Let us recall the second war in Iraq and the false argument about weapons of mass destruction. Trump is not as innovative as it may seem. But there is a big difference: In this time of “post-truth,” not even acts of war present themselves as such. After several often contradictory explanations, Trump ended up claiming that the reasons behind his actions do not matter.

Therefore, we experienced an internationally extreme situation with the tempo, actions and words that Trumpism has inured us to. That is, there was little change in the way “us” and “others” are perceived. And for a few days, the outside war became another part of the reelection campaign. But for now (only for now?), attention has turned to everyday crises, such as impeachment, recurring legal scandals and the American leader’s archetypical words of fury and discrimination.

For many pundits in the U.S., the assassination of Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani in Iraq without any trial or a declaration of war and when there was no imminent danger, had clear propagandist aims. In this context, Trump cared little about concrete and true data: that the assassinated individual was a murderer and that Iran is an autocracy, or a “terrorist regime.”

Neither did he care about information that was probably false, that Soleimani was planning imminent terrorist attacks on American embassies. The Iranian commander was eliminated for electoral reasons. The idea was to generate popular support, while at the same time trying to avoid the political trial that is underway in Congress.

Some heard fascist echoes in this merging of international and domestic policy, and not without reason. However, circumstances are different. Trump is not a dictator, and for now, his powers are limited. He cannot easily conjure up invasions if he does not have the support of Congress, with which Trump maintains a serious conflict that is getting ever closer to a constitutional crisis, one that the country is avoiding only because the Republican Party has become the Trumpist Party.

In the context of a reelection campaign and an uncertain impeachment process, it is necessary to remember that Trump is not an undisputed leader. The American president won a presidential election in 2016, but he did not win by a wide margin (as most populist regimes have done many times in the past). But it was, nonetheless, an election victory by virtue of the vote of the people as a whole.*

Trump won in the Electoral College, and two years later, his party lost the election of the House. And yet, he constantly claims that he and the people are the same thing. This idea of unity, which, in fact, implies a union between a segment of the population and its leader, has resulted in the antidemocratic notion that the opposition is not legitimate. No one can claim that Trump stands out because he reads up on matters, or because of his geopolitical notions or knowledge of the Constitution. Nor does he stand out for his respect for the law and the separation of powers, or for his tolerance of speakers with whom he disagrees. The independent press is a problem for the leader in the White House.

Trump is not a political theorist, nor a populist theorist. The contrary is closer to the truth. And yet, his authoritarianism within a democracy has some similarity to businessman Silvio Berlusconi and to Trump peers Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. In sum, Trump represents the populist leader archetype, but none of his colleagues have made actual war a central aspect of their policies. On this point, Trump was closer to fascist leaders of the interwar period for some days.

Within the context of the Iranian conflict, Trump will never accept that Democrats have legitimate reasons to oppose Trump’s risky moves in the Middle East. Therefore, Democrats and the people who vote for them are, according to Trump, “vicious, horrible people.” The American leader and his voters are the true people, a racial − and racist − community that plays at waging undeclared war and making this third decade of the 21st century dangerously evoke the century-old shadows of the 1920s.

*Editor’s note: Trump lost the popular vote in 2016, but won the majority of the votes in the Electoral College.

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