Suppose former U.S. President Donald Trump wins the election in November …
If such a hypothesis had been put forward just over three years ago, the U.S. would have laughed it off as inconceivable, reeling as it still was from the shock of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack in 2021. Back then, Trump supporters — who one could classify as far-right (although we cannot sum up the left-right distinction in American politics purely in economic terms) and who had fully bought into the conspiracy theory that Trump had won the 2020 election but fallen victim to election fraud — were apoplectic over Biden “usurping” the White House.
Conversely, the American left, which includes some Democrats and many emerging voices that have lost faith in the mainstream Democratic Party, and which considers itself the champion of democratic values and institutions, sees the Capitol attack as proof positive of Trumpian ideology having led to moral turpitude within the Republican Party. On Jan. 13, 2021, the House of Representatives voted 232-197 to impeach Trump, but with 57 members of the Senate voting to convict and 43 voting to acquit a month later, the necessary two-thirds majority was not reached, resulting in a failure to find Trump guilty. Some Republican members of Congress later distanced themselves from Trump or responded to him evasively to divert attention. At the time, it looked like it was game over for Trump.
Why Has Support for Trump Risen Rather than Fallen over the Past Few Years?
More than two years ago, polls by Reuters/Ipsos and others showed that President Joe Biden’s disapproval ratings were beginning to outstrip his approval ratings. This was not because of Republican supporters, among whom anti-Biden sentiment had always been high; rather, it was because Biden was gradually losing the support of swing voters and those who otherwise leaned Democratic.
A Gallup poll early last December showed that Biden’s approval rating was hovering near the lowest level it had reached since he took office, at about 39% — the worst performance early in an election year in recent memory of any incumbent U.S. president seeking reelection. A New York Times poll at the end of last year showed that out of the six major battleground states, five (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania) favored Trump, with Biden ahead of his rival only in Wisconsin, by 2%.
With the support of minorities, conservative white males, and other groups, Biden defeated Trump in these six states in 2020. The 2024 election, however, could see these voters switch to supporting Trump or a third-party independent candidate.
Turning again to the Republican caucuses, Trump won more than half the votes in the state of Iowa, forcing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, once regarded as “more Trump than Trump,” to drop out of the race. A week later, Trump won the New Hampshire primary with 55% of the vote compared to his sole remaining opponent, Nikki Haley, who took 43%, making Trump the nonincumbent president with the highest number of votes in a Republican primary in that state in the last 70 years.
South Carolina, where Haley served as governor for six years, will hold its primaries on Feb. 24, and if Trump wins more votes than Haley, it will basically mean Haley’s 2024 presidential aspirations will have fizzled out.
Trump’s return to the White House is no longer a distant dream, but a real possibility: His victory in the Republican primaries is almost beyond doubt, and he is more likely to win this year’s election than Biden. This commentator puts the odds at between 55% and 45%.
To the great surprise of many a political commentator, the assorted trials, media ridicule, social media bans and post-Jan. 6 loss of supporters Trump has faced do not seem to have overly fazed him. But it is the surprise evinced by these “experts” that is perhaps the most surprising. After establishment elite Hillary Clinton’s 2016 defeat at the hands of Trump, surely the American system’s mainstream cannot still be oblivious to the bare facts of psychological truth, as reflected in the bipolar “parallel universes” being torn apart today.
In 2020, I wrote an article titled “Who’s Afraid of Trump?” Looking back at it more than three years later, it confirmed that we should not underestimate the stubbornness of human nature, nor ignore the power of anger.
Manufactured Contradictions between Ourselves and the Enemy Are at the Heart of Politics
As renowned psychologist Joshua Greene has pointed out in his book, “Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them,” humans are always trying to establish the internal solidarity of “Us” by setting up and competing with an imaginary enemy, “Them,” and it is only in this way, through “crisis discourse,” that we can promote intragroup cooperation. Without the existential contradictions brought about by this external enemy, there would be no need for internal consistency.
In his analysis of the relationship between the regime and the people, German political theorist Carl Schmitt emphasized the “state of exception” and defined the “sovereign” as the one with the absolute power to decide on it. Philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s book “State of Exception” argues that seemingly democratic and mature regimes like those of the U.S., the U.K. and European countries govern by “states of exception” — both in their infinite expansion and amplification of the definition of terrorism, and in using the war on terror as justification for the suppression of dissent, for digital surveillance and regulation, and for the exploitation of people in body and in mind.
The author is an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong’s Department of Philosophy and a research fellow at its Centre on Contemporary China and the World.
Editor’s note: This article concludes with Part 2 tomorrow.